Touch in Scripture
In Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the artist depicts God extending his right finger to Adam’s to impart life. Although God’s finger is about to touch Adam’s, the tip of his finger is already showing signs of life in an otherwise limp grey-like hand. The finger of the paternal right hand of God comes from the medieval hymn, Veni Creator Spiritus. The hand of God is said to direct the universe, for God’s personal touch shapes all things.
In an act of faith, Moses stretched out his hand, and the Lord God set back the waters (Ex 14:17). In his Incarnation, Jesus, a carpenter by trade, used his hands to make things and as healing instruments (Mt 8:3; 15; 21; 9:21; 20:34). A sinner kissed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair. A woman touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, and she was healed. Jesus held children in his arms. Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, and the risen Lord bade Thomas to touch the wounds of the Master.
In the reception of Holy Communion, Catholics taste and touch the Body and Blood of Christ. They sign themselves with the sign of the cross during the liturgy, and offer one another a gesture of peace with the hand. In his last moments on the cross, Jesus utters the Psalmist’s prayer to his Father, “Into your hands, I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46).
Touched By God
If we admit the sense of touch in the physical order, then we should have no difficulty in admitting the reality of spiritual touch. What can we make of a person who is convinced that God has touched his or her soul? Is this a vision in which God has physically embraced the soul? When a person is attuned to God, he or she acts on the touch or the prompting of grace at work within it.
Children must be taught early that as their life of faith matures, God’s Spirit inspires them to virtue. It is the evil spirit that lures them into doing wrong and to sin against the gift of touch.
The educator is charged with many responsibilities, and among the greatest is respect for the gift of touch.
Finally . . .
Faith is a fully human and dynamic act engaging the whole person. To ignore or denigrate the senses is to fall into errors that resemble Gnosticism. This esoteric heresy spiritualizes the body, intellectualizes holiness, and denigrates matter. Having originated in the pagan world, Gnosticism insists that the human body is evil and the material world is irredeemable. Salvation comes only through knowledge (gnosis), and it is Jesus who brought this gnosis into the world. Accordingly, only the purely spiritual person will be saved. In the second century, St Irenaeus of Lyons refuted Gnosticism by proclaiming the goodness of creation and what is material. The underlying tenets of Gnosticism exist today in the guise of some New Age movements. Gnosticism dilutes the meaning of the Incarnation. Jesus in his human person affirmed that the physical and spiritual faculties act in harmony with each other. Catholic educators must teach this harmony, however difficult it is. With the example of Jesus himself, it will not prove impossible to overcome a culture that defines the senses downward, especially the sense of touch.