Once a man came to me, asking for help. He carried some deep wounds, not physical wounds, but emotional wounds to his soul.
What surprised me initially was that, while he was deeply wounded, he had not been severely traumatized either in childhood or adulthood.
He seemed to have just had to absorb the normal bumps and bruises that everyone has to absorb: some belittling, some bullying, never being the favorite, dissatisfaction with his own body, unfairness within his family and siblings, career frustration, unfairness in his workplace, the sense of being chronically ignored, the sense of never being understood and appreciated, and the self-pity and lack of self-confidence that results from this.
But he was a sensitive man and the combination of all these seemingly little things left him, now in late mid-life, unable to be the gracious, happy elder he wanted to be. Instead, by his own admission, he was chronically caught up in a certain wounded self-absorption, namely, in a self-centered anxiety that brought with it the sense that life had not been fair to him.
Consequently, he was forever somewhat focused on self-protection and was resentful of those who could step forward openly in self-confidence and love. “I hate it,” he shared, “when I see persons like Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul speak with such easy self-confidence about how big their hearts are. I always fill with resentment and think: ‘Lucky you!’ You haven’t had to put up with what I’ve had to put up with in life!”
This man had been through some professional therapy that had helped bring him to a deeper self-understanding, but still left him paralyzed in terms of moving beyond his wounds. “What can I do with these wounds?” he asked.
My answer to him, as for all of us who are wounded, is: “Take those wounds to the Eucharist.”
Every time you go to a Eucharist, stand by an altar and receive Communion, bring your helplessness and paralysis to God. Ask him to touch your body, your heart, your memory, your bitterness, your lack of self-confidence, your self-absorption, your weaknesses, your impotence.
Bring your aching body and heart to God. Express your helplessness in simple, humble words: “Touch me. Take my wounds. Take my paranoia. Make me whole. Give me forgiveness. Warm my heart. Give me the strength that I cannot give myself.”
Pray this prayer, not just when you are receiving Communion and being physically touched by the body of Christ, but especially during the eucharistic prayer because it is there that we are not just being touched and healed by a person, Jesus, but we are also being touched and healed by a sacred event.
This is the part of the Eucharist we generally do not understand, but it is the part of the Eucharist that celebrates transformation and healing from wound and sin. In the eucharistic prayer we commemorate the “sacrifice” of Jesus, that is, that event where, as Christian tradition so enigmatically puts it, Jesus was made sin for us. There is a lot in that cryptic phrase. In essence, in his suffering and death, Jesus took on our wounds, our weaknesses, our infidelities, and our sins, died in them, and then through love and trust brought them to wholeness.
Power to transform
Every time we go to Eucharist we are meant to let that transforming event touch us, touch our wounds, our weaknesses, our infidelities, our sin and our emotional paralysis and bring us to a transformation in wholeness, energy, joy and love.
The Eucharist is the ultimate healer. There is, I believe, a lot of value in various kinds of physical and emotional therapies, just as there is immeasurable value in 12-step programs and in simply and honestly sharing our wounded selves with people we trust.
There is, too, I believe, value in a certain willful self-effort, in the challenge contained in Jesus’ admonition to a paralyzed man: “Take up your mat and walk!” We should not allow ourselves to be paralyzed by hyper-sensitivity and self-pity. God has given us skin to cover our rawest nerves.
But, with that being admitted, we still cannot heal ourselves. Therapy, self-understanding, loving friends, and disciplined self-effort can take us only so far, and it is not into full healing. Full healing comes from touching and being touched by the sacred. More particularly, as Christians, we believe that this touching involves a touching of the sacred at that place where it has most particularly touched our own wounds, helplessness, weaknesses and sin — that place where God “was made sin for us.”
That place is the event of the death and rising of Jesus, and that event is made available to us, to touch and enter into, in the eucharistic prayer and in receiving the body of Christ in Communion.
We need to bring our wounds to the Eucharist because it is there that the sacred love and energy that lie at the ground of all that breathes can cauterize and heal all that is not whole within us.
Father Ronald Rolheiser, a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, is president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.