Even wounds can be transformed
I ALWAYS wondered why Jesus still kept the wounds on his hands and feet and in his side after he rose from the dead. Surely a risen and glorified body would be ‘perfect’ and without blemish? Surely the terrible events of the Cross should be a thing of the past and those disfiguring wounds glossed over in glory. And yet He chose to keep them. He did not hide or disguise them but openly showed them to his disciples.
Even wounds can be transformed.
With the resurrection, Jesus’ wounds were given a new meaning. They were now a sign of love shown, of the power of love over cruelty and death and the way love can give a new meaning to even the most negative of circumstances. Jesus’ wounds became a badge of love. The wounds of the past, for better or worse, have made us who we are and because of the Resurrection they can become a means to love in a new way.
David Forbah climbed trees for a living in the forests of south west Cameroon in West Africa. With a flimsy belt looped around the tree trunk and his waist, he would tentatively shuffle his way up palm trees with a machete in hand to harvest the palm nuts often 20 or 30 metres above the ground. These nuts would produce palm oil and David used the money he earned to support his wife, Mary, and their three children. It was lucrative but dangerous work.
One day while nearing the top of a palm tree he fell but somehow miraculously survived. He was, however, left severely crippled. In Europe he would have been confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his days but wheelchairs are not practical in the African bush. Instead he has to move very slowly on crutches.
Each day he leaves his house to go to the church to teach children preparing for Baptism and first Communion. For the able-bodied it would take five minutes, but for David (above) it takes 45 minutes.
I asked him one day what he thought about his disability. Was it a challenge to his faith in the love of God that he had been left so crippled?
He answered: "I thank God for my accident. I know people might find that strange but it is true. Before it happened I prayed, I went to Mass, I tried to be good, but God was not the centre of my life. I am not sure I would have become a better person as life would have gone on. The accident saved my life.
“In the beginning I was angry but then I found that I grew closer to God and I began teaching the children about their faith as a Catechist. God gave me a purpose in life. I was doing His work.
“I am not rich. I am a poor Catechist but my life is wonderful. My accident was the best thing that ever happened to me. Yes, I go very slowly, but with each step I take to go to the church to teach the children I say, ‘For you, Jesus... For you, Jesus... For you, Jesus.'”
David Forbah is a wonderful man. He is very respected in his community. People seek his counsel and advice. Long after he is gone those children he taught about God will remember him and be inspired by how he lived his faith.
In many parts of the world it is the Catechists who spread the Gospel. It is they who build up the Church and care for their people in remote villages which the world will never hear of. They are the great missionaries, the foundation stones that are hidden but essential to the life of the Church.
David preaches the Gospel, not just to children preparing for Baptism, but also to those who see him take each slow step towards the house of God. Simply walking with crutches is a witness to the power of God’s love to transform wounds.
Sometimes we can grit our teeth and try to keep going through our suffering, but when we move from that attitude to consciously offering our suffering in sacrifice, like David Forbah or St Thérèse of Lisieux, then we can actually experience the joy of the Resurrection in a real and living way.
When we pray we are seeking union with God but when we suffer that union is already there because Christ is in our suffering. He is closer to us in suffering than at any other moment in our life. No human being escapes suffering. It is part of life and our faith enables it to be turned into something of immense value.
At some point in our life that will be our 'mission'—to show the value of suffering, that the Resurrection is a reality and that sacrifice draws us into the joyful mystery of God’s love for the world.