Our sense of touch is key for how we encounter the world around us

By Jeff Hedglen

North Texas Catholic

6/17/2014

I recently went on a mission trip with some college students to Moore, Oklahoma. We spent the week building fences for people whose homes had been destroyed as the result of an F5 tornado in May of 2013. We were there a week before the one-year anniversary of that devastating storm. Many things that week made a strong impression on me, but the biggest impression came in an unexpected moment.

One thing that impressed me was the work ethic of the students. The work we were given to do was not easy work. Digging postholes, mixing concrete, and attaching fence panels is not a walk in the park. The students worked from nine to five with boundless enthusiasm, relentless vigor, and a never-quit attitude. It was a joy to sweat alongside them.

Another strong impression came when one of the residents we were building a fence for brought out his iPad and showed us pictures of his house the day of the storm. Getting to hear his story as he showed us the destruction his house endured was almost as remarkable as the fact that he and his wife survived the storm with their house so damaged.

But the thing that struck me the most happened on a side trip we took as a part of our journey. We took a short pilgrimage to Prague, Oklahoma, where there is a shrine to the Infant of Prague. We were all pretty clueless about the story of the Infant when we arrived but as we prayerfully wandered the impressive grounds, we read some materials and began to understand the story.

When we were about to wrap up our trip, at about 8:30 p.m., the people who run the Shrine stopped by to lock up. Instead of rushing us out, they spent 30 minutes answering all of our questions and told us to stay as long as we wanted and they would come back and lock up later in the evening. They made a point of letting us know that we were allowed to touch their statue of the Infant of Prague.

A few minutes later one of the students went up to the statue and gently laid his hand on it, held it there for about a minute, head bowed in prayer. Then the next student did the same thing, and soon there was a line and every one took a turn silently touching an image of Jesus as an infant.

I was so struck by the deep reverence, the holy moment, and the raw spiritual power that emerged through the simple touching of a religious object. I sat in wonder at what I was seeing. And as I watched each person go through the silent ritual I realized that as Catholics touching things is a big part of how we experience God and our faith.

We touch holy water when we enter a church. We touch each other at the sign of peace. We touch the cross on Good Friday when we venerate the Cross. We touch beads as we pray the Rosary. We are touched with ashes to begin Lent and with Holy Oil at Baptism, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Holy Orders. We touch our spouse at the exchange of rings. We have hands laid upon us for the forgiveness of sins and healing. And most powerfully we touch Jesus in the Eucharist as the Host is put in our hands or on our tongue.

With this long standing history of spiritual expressions of touch it is no wonder that having the opportunity to touch an image of Jesus at a holy shrine would be such a powerful moment.

Our sense of touch is key for how we encounter the world around us, and it is no mistake that our Catholic faith is so full of ways we put this sense into action. For each time we reach out and touch a religious object, one another, and especially when we receive the Eucharist, we encounter a God who has first reached out to touch us.

I recently went on a mission trip with some college students to Moore, Oklahoma. We spent the week building fences for people whose homes had been destroyed as the result of an F5 tornado in May of 2013. We were there a week before the one-year anniversary of that devastating storm. Many things that week made a strong impression on me, but the biggest impression came in an unexpected moment.

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