The sense of touch. (Photo source: Fabrizio Verrecchia)

Touching Our Pain

An old perspective on touch — a new perspective on pain.

A few weeks ago at a new ministry for older parishioners, volunteers showed me a lovely quotation from Mother Teresa and asked if I could share a short reflection on it before their closing prayer. I obliged but have to confide here that her words were meaningful even on their own:

“Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus — a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.”

Once while visiting the house of a Catholic friend, I noticed on his desk a little glass jar filled with sand, and enquired. “It’s sand from Holy Land!” he proudly showed me, exclaiming, “You never know, Jesus could have stepped on this a long time ago!” He had collected it while on pilgrimage and now keeps this precious jar on his desk —sacred sand that Jesus might have touched.

Similarly, I have come across stories of people going to Jerusalem to be baptised in the River Jordan. Some of us might even know a friend or two who have had this privilege. They usually return sharing an experience of special joy, having been immersed in the same waters that received our Lord — extra holy water that Jesus might have touched.

Nothing wrong with these. They seem quite nice, in fact. But they raise the question: why would anyone take the trouble of bringing home sand from a foreign land, or travel across the world to be baptised in muddy, sticky river waters?

I imagine the rationale behind these devoted actions is actually the same. Perhaps our friends have even shared this reason with us: By touching something Jesus touched, I’m somehow touching Jesus. I’m touching God Himself. Although not necessary to Christian faith, they foster a deep sense of connection to the person of Jesus.

This got me reflecting. Those grains of sand that Jesus might have stepped on and those drops of water that might have touched his flesh were probably incidental. They were not integral to His mission. They were just there. What was integral though was what Mother Teresa described as Jesus’ kiss. The purpose of this man’s life was to go through pain in His love for us — to touch our pain Himself. We have a God who desired to touch something that we have touched. Jesus’ decision at Gethsemane was not a light one, but He said yes. And now God has a special connection with us, and likewise, we with Him — divine pain that we know He touched.

This pain was not incidental. It was intentional. It was an integral aspect in His mission of love. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus chose to be immersed in water as at the end of His ministry He chose to be immersed in pain. Towards the crucial climax of His life as He walked on the sand, He walked also in pain. In pain, God touched us, so that in our pain we can touch Him.

Perhaps like sand and water, there is something precious here. In holding our pain sacred and holy, we are touching something not merely touched by the Divine, but intentionally embraced by Him. As Mother Teresa said, “A sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.”

Basil Kannangara, S.J.