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."
Saint Luke often makes excuses for the disciples' human failings. He says those who fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane were overcome with grief, although their grief would appear later. In today's gospel he says the disciples, seeing the Lord, "were still incredulous for joy." In any case, it seems they needed more than their eyes could tell them. They had to touch him.
My favorite philosopher, John Macmurray, believed that our sense of touching is more important, because more primitive, than our sense of sight. Cartesian philosophy, named after Rene Descartes, was built on the "cooler" medium of vision. He reminded the world that one can be fooled by mirages, optical illusions, special effects, hallucinations and so forth. He built his philosophy on pure ideas, removed from all sensation.
Macmurray relied on touch. A baby discovers what is and is not the self by the feedback of sensations within her own body, and by the resistance of other bodies. When I touch my own fingers I feel the sensation in both hands; when I touch another's finger I feel it in only one. The other's body is not my own. I discover Otherness in that mysterious parent who cares for me, and my journey toward personhood begins.
Many people take a Cartesian approach to other people, to Church and to life in general. They prefer the cooler distance of looking, and the safer distances of disengagement. They will not permit contact until they have measured, assessed and judged by what they see. If they're interested in religion they'll read a book or watch a television show. I've met several "History Channel Catholics" in the VA hospital. They tout all kinds of strange ideas about Jesus and the Bible but their ideas never lead to membership or effective action.
In today's Gospel Jesus commands his disciples to "touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones..." There could be no doubt it was the same man as they touched the flesh on his arms and palpated the bones within them. Perhaps, in those days before daily baths and antiperspirants, he even smelled the same.
As the Church celebrates the faith by which we are saved we still want the evidence of our senses. It's not enough to be told, "You're saved!" or "You're forgiven!" We want to feel the baptismal water washing over us, the texture of bread in our mouths and the moisture of wine. We want to feel the hand of blessing on our heads in the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick. Our Sacrament of Marriage is not real until it is consummated. We're not content to watch others worship on the cool medium of television or computer; we want to be there in the church, shrine or basilica.
The Church is the Body of Christ. We not satisfied with out-of-body experience, nor is the Lord. He demands that we touch him and see that he is not a ghost.