“I will tell you how I failed once. I’ve failed many times, but this instance was notable. I was visiting lepers in Biluba, Africa. I had with me 500 silver crucifixes about two inches high. I intended to give each leper a silver crucifix. The first one who came to me had his left arm eaten away by the disease. He held up the stump; there was a rosary around it. He put out his right hand. It was the most foul, fetid, noisome mass of corruption that I ever saw. I held the crucifix above it and dropped it. And it was swallowed up in that volcano of leprosy. All of a sudden there was 501 lepers in that camp and I was the 501st. For I had taken that symbol of God’s identification with man and refused to identify myself with someone who was a thousand times better on the inside than I. Then it came over me the awful thing that I had done. I dug my fingers into his hand and pulled out the crucifix and then pressed it to his hand and so on for all the other 500 lepers. From that time on I learned to love them by touch, by the incarnational principle.” – Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
In the light of current events, all should be quite troubled. Scandalous accusations and admittance of improper touching, sexual behavior and harassment has exposed the extent of corruption and abuse of power not only among the custodians from the religious sphere, but, as well, from the entertainment industry, media, and government institutions. Once honored vocations, each has lost their trustworthiness and may have been irreversibly tainted. What, in the name of God, has happened? Is this behavior a tenet of western civilization?By immersing ourselves and reveling in technological innovation, coupled with a relativistic and secular philosophy, we have become oblivious to a mounting moral degradation of human character and integrity. Thus is born the decayed fruit of the sexual revolution, whose adverse effects have regretfully inculcated a culture of cynicism in all aspects of American life.
A case in point. When I taught, there were occasions when a student would be in need of praise or comfort. A congratulatory pat on the back or a reassuring arm around a shoulder would either applaud a struggling student’s success or provide support to another during a difficult moment. But, due to the present disconcerting circumstances of today a sad distance has become essential; and now only a commendable or understanding word is left to suffice. It is said that a picture is worth ten thousand words. Yet an honest loving touch is worth one million. Nothing is more heartening or allaying than a human touch motivated by pure selfless love. An elderly woman suffering from life-long hemorrhaging two thousand years ago was healed by the simple touch of a garment. Christ, the Word Incarnate, whose divine touch healed the suffering body and soul of many asked but two things from us: 1) To love God and 2) To love our neighbor. In obedience to either one we accomplish the other. What is lacking in our culture is an objective understanding and application of sacrificial unconditional love.
We are all conduits. We can be a conduit for either God or Satan. We can be the distributors of God’s loving touch in service to others, or Satan’s cruel grasp in service to self. And by it we cultivate either a culture of life or one of death. It is plain to see which we have been cultivating for the last six decades. Although we have a myriad of choices, which place us on a multitude of paths, all inevitably converge toward but two destinations; one of light or one of darkness. One destination draws the virtuous, and the other draws those who embrace vice.
Archbishop Sheen came to his senses, in the above humbling experience, when he noticed the rosary wrapped about the leper’s corrupt stump. That rosary revealed that this poor soul’s last hope was not in any mortal entity but rather in a divine Christ, who alone and without cause, saw the greatness within this solitary soul who endured devastating suffering with the grace which could only have flowed forth from the cross. Archbishop Sheen’s epiphany begs a question for the rest of us: What will it take for we, too, as creatures of God, to come to our good senses and again regain our touch?