3rd Sunday of Easter Year A

     In today’s Gospel we encounter two followers of Jesus who are leaving the city of Jerusalem, three days after they watched from a distance as Jesus died a criminal’s death on the cross. Imagine their pain and dejection. They had heard Jesus, come to believe He was the long-awaited Messiah, and left everything to follow Him, only to watch Him die, seemingly a failure, on the cross. The women had reported that Jesus had risen and some of their friends had gone to the tomb and saw that He had indeed risen, but these two were left with only stories of the supposed resurrection and we left wondering what would happen next. As they walked, dazed, dejected, and confused, Jesus came to walk with them. As Jesus walked with them He reminded them of all that the prophets had foretold in the past about the passion, death, and resurrection, they had witnessed days earlier. Yet, those followers were too caught up in themselves to recognize Jesus is their midst. In fact, it was not until they looked beyond themselves and invited this apparent stranger to stay with them that they first recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

     Friends, I dare say each of us is one of those disciples on the road to Emmaus. Most of us have heard Jesus, come to believe Him and are walking the Christian journey searching for Him. Yet, like those first disciples it can be so easy for us to become distracted and become so focused on the bad news of our current situation, that we miss the Good News, Jesus Himself, walking with us. Take the coronavirus pandemic we are in the middle of as a test. Are you so focused on how you can’t come to church, or the stress and fear due to the sickness and death around or are you so anxious to get back to life as normal that you have lost track of how God may be deepening your faith, how He may be strengthening your family, or how He is working through healthcare works and other essential employees to touch us? Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus we too can get so focused on our problems, that we miss the very signs of God’s presence around us.

     Did you notice when the disciples first recognized Jesus? Was it not only after they stopped worrying about themselves and decided to welcome the apparent stranger in their mist by inviting Him in for the night. While they may not have remembered all of the prophecies or even Jesus’ own teachings that He would have to suffer, die and rise, they did remember His teaching that “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me,”[1] and Jesus took advantage of this slight glimmer of faith to reveal Himself to them and to strengthen their hope. Friends, this pandemic we are experiencing provides us countless opportunities to encounter Christ in serving our brothers and sisters. It could be a simple phone call, an invitation to shop for someone who shouldn’t be leaving their home, maybe a donation to an organization that helps those who are struggling like our St. Vincent de Paul Society or our tuition assistance fund, or if we are the ones in need, it can be as simple as allowing ourselves to receive the help we need. While Jesus is always knocking at the door of our heart, He only enters once we invite Him in. But once we invite Him in, He changes our lives forever. How in the midst of this pandemic are you going to open the door of your heart to Christ?

     You know, if we look closely at how Jesus revealed Himself in today’s gospel, we will recognize that He does so in the same structure as the Mass. Notice that Jesus, joining the disciples, broke open the Word of God with them, shared the Eucharist with them and then they went off to share the Good News with others. When we are finally able to come back to Mass, we will also hear God’s word proclaimed to us, we will partake of the Eucharist and then we will be sent out to share this Good News with our community. Today’s gospel is clear; it is simply impossible to walk the Christian path without participating in the Eucharist. Perhaps, now that we have been away from Mass for a while you are starting to experience this struggle in your life. Some of you have reached out to me and told me how watching Mass on TV just isn’t cutting it and that the longer we are deprived of attending Mass in person you are feeling more and more like you are missing an essential element of your journey with Christ. This is perfectly normal because “listening to the Word is the beginning of recognition and communion in the breaking of the bread perfects it.”[2]

     While “the Church is not the Word: She is the place where the Word dwells and in which it dwells.”[3] If we truly want to be a biblical people as the Christian life calls us to be, we must participate in the Mass. Since “a faith-filled understanding of Scripture, must always refer back to the liturgy,”[4] anyone who takes the scriptures seriously will be inspired to participate in the Mass.

     All of us are those disciples on the road to Emmaus. Even in the midst of this pandemic all of us should be searching for Christ. Yet, so often like those two disciples, we get so focused on ourselves that we miss God standing in our midst. The challenge for each of us recognize what we are missing in not being able to go to Mass and then to make a resolution to open ourselves in an ever-new way to our participation in the Mass when we can return. For it is in the Mass where the twofold table of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist draws us outwardly from ourselves and builds up faith, hope and charity. So, friends, keep marching down the Christian path with Jesus as your guide. For the time being listen to Him in His Word, but long for Him in the Eucharist, knowing that when we can once again partake in the Eucharist we can walk the Christian path with confidence for no matter how dreary things may seem, this path leads to an eternal encounter with the risen Lord.

[1] Mt 25:40

[2] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. Pg. 303.

[3] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. Pg. 23.

[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Post Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini: Boston: Pauline Books (2010). Pg 86.

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