It seems there is far too little affection in the world. In Holy Scripture, we are repeatedly instructed to exercise affection towards others, “Salute all the brethren with a holy kiss. I charge you by the Lord, that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren.” (1 Thessalonians 5:6) In the early Church, a kiss was not only common, but commanded: “Salute one another with a holy kiss.” (2 Corinthians 13:12) Yet, many are quick to recoil at the slightest touch from others. I know people who haven’t been tenderly treated in years, who have wept when I hugged them from literal starvation for physical contact and love.
One man sent me a detailed email describing the incredible joy he experienced when a nurse tenderly placed her hand on his forearm and kept it there for a moment rather than busying herself with her paperwork. It was the first time he had been tenderly touched since his mother had died decades earlier. In that brief moment he felt real again, lovable, accepted…human.
Are We Out of Touch?
As followers of Christ, we are called to love at all times. His teachings are timeless, as we are fond of saying to those who ridicule the church for being behind the times. Mindful of this call to love, we confess any negligence in this area as a sin of omission against charity. Is it possible that we are omitting deeper more intimate acts of love every day, despite busying ourselves in efforts of prayer, material help, and fraternal correction? What plague of thought within Christianity could ever justify such an omission?
Can’t Touch This!
As Catholics, we are called to stand against many mainstream ideas. In resisting rampant sins of the flesh, have we gone to an opposite extreme and failed to nurture one another?
Each of us needs the comfort, consolation, and acceptance found in direct human contact. Babies cannot thrive without such physical expressions of love. Adults are little different in their need for touch. Mother Teresa of Calcutta never failed to provide the most accepting touches, embraces, and kisses to the dirtiest and sickliest of the poor. Think of Christ, who laid His hands on the blind and the lame. Think of St. John reclining on his bosom. Recall the warmth and intimacy with which our Holy Father Francis greeted two men with faces horrendously deformed by skin diseases. The clear message is that even the “ugly” need loving touches.
So let us not forget the regular faces; our neighbor, our fellow parishioners, our children and please, our spouses. Few things are more tragic than Christian marriages having lost their intimacy. The number of married persons who go to bed at night mere inches from one another yet feel no warmth, no closeness, and no comfort is epidemic. While physical touch is not a panacea for troubled couples, what is practiced outside our homes and marriages will become the norm for inside as well. The externals affect the internals in every way. When we exercise tender touches to those distant to us, our ability to be intimate with those most proximate to us will come more easily.
Cold, Hard World
For whatever reason, we have become walking islands of self reserve. What is it we are afraid of?
Some say that our over-sexualized culture causes us to refrain from any display of affection, because of the possible implication of sexual advance. Indeed, Scripture warns, “And because iniquity hath abounded, the charity of many shall grow cold.\” (Matthew 24:12) While this reason may be so, our Catholic Faith always takes a stand against mainstream society’s mindset on things. In withholding our affections from one another, we allow society to change us rather than stand as an example of the proper use of touch and tenderness. If our charity has grown cold, let us rekindle for others that fire of loving warmth and affection. “For he that loveth not his brother, whom he seeth, how can he love God, whom he seeth not?” (1 John 4:20)
Addressing the same concerns, it seems that love has been overrun and limited by a lustful society of sexual license and fear of doing anything which might appear scandalous. Since when is a Christian touch, a hug, or a kiss scandalous? Only when it goes beyond that pure intention to convey love, and becomes a deliberate act to arouse another sexually, is it wrong.
Remember Mary the Penitent, whose actions might have been scandalous in appearance to those whose hearts are filled with darkness, “And standing behind at his feet, she began to wash his feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed him with the ointment. And the Pharisee, who had invited him, seeing it, spoke within himself saying: This man, if he were a prophet, would know surely who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, that she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:38) Imagine the interior grumblings of onlookers if a woman were to behave in this way towards our parish priest today. Further, when we study the Eucharist, it becomes obvious that this gift of Christ could, and would, be easily mistaken for only an earthly meal – something less than what it really is. Yet, Jesus uses the appearance of an earthly meal, something to satisfy the flesh, to satisfy our very souls. In the same way, let those who would think we are only satisfying the flesh in the kindness of our touch, or hug, or kiss think what they may. Only the darkness in their hearts prevents them from seeing deeper. We need not worry what others think when we act in love and truth. Christ rebuked the Pharisee for his internal grumblings, saying, “Dost thou see this woman? I entered into thy house, thou gavest me no water for my feet; but she with tears hath washed my feet, and with her hairs hath wiped them. Thou gavest me no kiss; but she, since she came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. Wherefore I say to thee: many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much.” (Luke 7:44-47)
Love Makes the World Go Round
Love came into the world after a long time of waiting, and Love changed the way we express our solidarity with one another. \”He that hath the substance of this world, and shall see his brother in need, and shall shut up his bowels from him: how doth the charity of God abide in him?\” (1 John 3:17). Human touch…when we remove that, love fades. We are called to be like Christ – to be love, to be light, to be lovers.
May God grant us all the courage to bring the warmth of His love to a cold, starving world through tender touches and holy kisses. Amen.
© 2014. Susan Anne. All rights reserved.