One of the major intents of the Risen Christ during the time he spent appearing to the apostles is to make sure they experience him as still being the Jesus they knew but at the same time as somehow different. That is why he asks them to touch him and thus be convinced it is he:
“While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?” Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.”(Lk 24:36)
He does this because he knows that after his ascension they will no longer see him in his bodily dimension and they nevertheless should touch him, but in a different way. That is, no longer physically, but rather spiritually.
Who touched me?
To better understand how you touch Christ in a way that is not physical, we can first consider the gospel passage in which Jesus is pressed by the crowd and in that circumstance he asks insistently: Who touched me? (Lk 8:45) The disciples not understanding the deep meaning of this question dare to be ironic with Jesus saying: “You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’” (Mk 5:31).
In spite of all the people that were physically touching Jesus, only one person had “really” touched him. That is why Jesus exclaims: “Someone has touched me; for I know that power has gone out from me” (Lk 8:46) The woman who had just touched the tassel of his cloak comes forward and Jesus tells her: “Daughter, your faith has saved you!” (Lk 8: 48)
It is clear therefore that having touched Christ through faith is a stronger way to be in contact with Christ than to be physically near him. Christ wants us to touch him through faith. That is why he appeared to the Apostles after his resurrection to strengthen their faith.
Do not touch me!
According to Leo the Great, once the apostles are strengthened in their faith they can approach him who is equal to the Father, no longer needing the bodily presence of Christ, since they are called to “touch” him not with their hands but with a spiritual understanding:
“A better instructed faith then began to draw closer to a conception of the Son’s equality with the Father without the necessity of handling the corporeal substance in Christ, whereby he is less than the Father, since, while the nature of the glorified body still remained the faith of believers was called upon to touch not with the hand of flesh, but with the spiritual understanding the Only begotten, who was equal with the Father”(Homily 74, 4).
That is why St. Leo interprets the words of the Risen Lord to Mary Magdalene as a lesson to the later generations of Christians regarding true contact with him:
“Hence comes that which the Lord said after his Resurrection, when Mary Magdalene, representing the Church, hastened to approach and touch him: Touch me not, for I have not yet ascended to my Father (Jn 20:17): that is, I would not have you come to me as t o a human body, nor yet recognize me by fleshly perceptions: I put you off for higher things, I prepare greater things for you: when I have ascended to my Father, then you shall handle me more perfectly and truly, for you shall grasp what you cannot touch and believe what you cannot see”(Homily 74, 4).
Therefore, the fact that we cannot physically see, hear or touch Jesus is not a problem, but an opportunity to come into contact with him in a much deeper way.
Thank you Father for this deep intuitive understanding on those beautiful words of Our Lord: “Noli Me Tangere!” I was particularly impressed by the excerpt taken from St. Leo’s homily. It has given me much to meditate on.
Last year I wrote an article on “Catholicism Pure & Simple” on this topic: catholicismpure.wordpress.com/2011/04/29/noli-me-tangere/
Thank you for reading. I just read your article and realized we are on the same page from different perspectives. Thank you for loving your faith and showing it.