RELIGION: An elderly Ukrainian woman in tears was asking what kind of a God would permit such terrible things

Canon Gerry Conroy

In the Gospel passage we heard on Sunday, I used to think that Christ showed the disciples  his hands and side to reassure them that it was the same Christ who stood before them that had died on the cross. The point of it all was to emphasise the reality of the resurrection from the dead. Now I wonder if the connection is rather between his greeting of peace and the wounds on his body. A way of telling us that these wounds are the price of peace, the source of peace; if we do not accept his wounds we will not know peace.
We want an easy peace; one that doesn’t involve the wounds of Christ because the wounds of Christ make demands on us, they make us confront sin and sin is not a popular subject, unless it is to comment on the sins of others. But all of this seems odd. Why would God have to go through this convoluted way just to redeem sinners? Why not just a word and be done with it? It’s the perennial question, one I heard again on the news where an elderly Ukrainian woman in tears was asking what kind of a God would permit such terrible things. That is a question that people of faith ask. It is as much a cry of anguish and pain as it is a question seeking an answer to make sense of life; it is an expression of the sense of the wrongness that we feel before what is evil, an evil before which we feel helpless.
Why would Christ show his wounds to the disciples at the very moment he said, ‘Peace be with you’? Was he telling us that in the violence done to him, that evil had been definitively overcome and peace was restored? But there is still so much violence around, so much sin – to use a word that carries with it a hint of responsibility. More often than not, sin is born in the brokenness of our hearts, and the question for Christians then becomes, ‘how do Christ’s wounds heal a broken heart?’ How does the cross help us escape from the power that sin and evil has over our world and our lives? I can’t offer a simple response to why God continues to allow injustice and suffering in our world, but it is clear that in taking on the suffering of the cross, Christ enters into it and shares with us our suffering and gives the cross as the way to peace. I know it is tied up in the mystery of our freedom and in the mystery of suffering, both of which are at the heart of our celebrations of Easter and the Resurrection. But how does it heal our heart and open to us a freedom from sinning?
Saint Augustine said: “Our one task in life is to heal the eyes of our heart so that we can see God.” In taking on our suffering Christ spoke to hearts crying out in anguish at suffering; perhaps it was to respond to our accusation of God as the cause of suffering, perhaps it was to say he was not blind to our sorrow. The suffering that blinds our hearts to God finds healing somehow in opening our hearts to receive the peace that comes from the wounded hands of Christ. Whether in pictures of the Divine Mercy or of the Sacred Heart, the wounds in the hands are visible beside the heart of Christ from which his mercy flows.
That would seem to be an important artistic intuition into what Christ wants to tell us. The message of this Divine Mercy Sunday is that we must be willing to entrust ourselves to the mercy and compassion of God. It is there we will find the Peace of Christ, even in the midst of the violence that surrounds us.

Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton

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