30 April 2017

Homily - 30 April 2017 - If he promised to be with us always, how can it be that we do not always see him?

The Third Sunday of Easter (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Does it not sometimes seem the Lord Jesus hides himself from us? If he promised to be with us always, how can it be that we do not always see him, that we do not always feel his love, that we are not always aware of his presence in our lives (cf. Matthew 28:20)? If we consider what happened to those two disciples on their way to Emmaus, we can shed some light on these questions.

If those two disciples of Jesus “were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel,” they must have heard Jesus’ teaching and preaching, they must have known his signs and miracles, they must have known what he looked like (cf. Luke 24:21). How can it be, then, that “their eyes were prevented from recognizing him” as he walked with them (Luke 24:16)? From the text of the Gospel, it is clear that Jesus did not change his own appearance, for after he blessed and broke the bread “their eyes were opened and they recognized him;” the change, then, was not with Jesus, but with the disciples (Luke 24:31). Why did they not recognize him when he first walked along beside them?

There are several possible reasons why the Lord might have prevented them from recognizing him. It might be that those two disciples were not yet suitable to see Christ in his full glory. It might also be that the Lord wanted to lead them by a progression of steps, from one insight to another, until they fully understood the Paschal Mystery of his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. It might be, too, that “they would not have had such an intimate conversation on the road.”[1] It may be for one or all of these same reasons why we might not always see him, why we might not always feel his love, why not always be aware of his presence in our lives.

Their conversation centered on their doubts and fears, about their seemingly misplaced trust and hope in Jesus of Nazareth. They spoke of all of this, trying to sort out and make sense of all they had heard and seen. How could it be, as they thought, that the one who raised others from the dead could himself be killed? They thought:

The Master is dead and thus it is pointless to hope. They feel disappointment and despair. Theirs is a journey of return, as they leave behind the painful experience of Jesus’ crucifixion. The crisis of the cross, indeed the “scandal” and “foolishness” of the cross (cf. 1 Cor 1:18, 2:2), seems to have buried any hope they had. The one on whom they had built their lives is dead; in his defeat, he brought all their aspirations with him to the tomb.

In their grief and sorrow, they could not understand that “God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24).

So it was that, in a similar way as the Lord invited the Apostle Thomas to examine his wounds and so come to faith, that Jesus walked with those two disciples to answer their questions and resolve their doubt (cf. John 21:27). They did not keep these doubts and fears to themselves, but shared them with each other and – even if unknowingly – with Jesus. In their conversation with him, they searched through the Scriptures in the midst of the Church to better understand all that had taken place and so came to faith and hope in God (cf. I Peter1:21).

Why do we hesitate to do the same? Why do we not take our anxieties and uncertainties to the Lord in prayer or to the Bible to allow him to speak to us? Why do we not explore our doubts with others? It is “when we reach the depths of failure and helplessness, when we rid ourselves of the illusion that we are the best, sufficient unto ourselves and the centre of our world, [that] God reaches out to us to turn our night into dawn, our affliction into joy, our death into resurrection.”[2] If we so approach the Lord with a humble sincerity, he will, through our intimate conversations with him and with other disciples, open our eyes through the community of the Church, through the pondering of the Sacred Scriptures, and through the reception of the Most Holy Eucharist.

Once their eyes were opened and they realized Jesus was Risen and with them still, just as he said he would be, that they returned to Jerusalem to announce the Resurrection with joy. We, too, “are called to bear witness to him, to carry our faith to the world, especially in the way it is meant to be brought: by living it, so that Jesus’ presence can be communicated with life and speak the language of gratuitous and concrete love.”[3]

Here, in this celebration of the Eucharist, we search through the Scriptures to enter into an intimate conversation with Jesus and with others. As we do so, we should remember the counsel of Saint Damien of Molokai, who encourages us to “tell [Jesus] of your miseries, your fears, your worries, of those who are dear to you, of your projects, and of your hopes. Do so with confidence and with an open heart.” If we do so, then we will also be filled with the certainty of his Resurrection when we receive his Body and Blood. This, in turn, will lead us to live intentionally as his disciples, to live lives permeated with the joy of the Gospel, lives filled with purpose and hope.

When our hearts are filled with fears and doubts, when we feel abandoned or isolated, let us not be afraid to turn toward “the one and only companion who will never leave me, that is, our Divine Saviour in the Holy Eucharist.” Let us instead open our hearts to the one whom Saint Damien called “the most tender of friends with souls who seek to please Him.” He will not take offense at our questions, but will lead us to their resolutions.

When he reflected yesterday on those two disciples, Pope Francis reminded us that we must now

like the disciples of Emmaus, filled with joy, courage and faith, return to your own Jerusalem, that is, to your daily lives, your families, your work and your beloved country.  Do not be afraid to open your hearts to the light of the Risen Lord, and let him transform your uncertainty into a positive force for yourselves and for others.  Do not be afraid to love everyone, friends and enemies alike, because the strength and treasure of the believer lies in a life of love![4]

If we follow these words of the Holy Father, then we will always see Jesus with the eyes of faith; we will always feel his love in our hearts; and we will always be aware of his presence in our minds. Only then will we be able to live “the great Solemnity of Easter, the heart of the Christian life.”[5] Let us, then, not be afraid to leave the Emmaus of this Mass to return to the Jerusalem of our lives, in order to help everyone come to faith in the Risen Lord, for “we are all witnesses (Acts 2:32).” Amen.

[1] Saint Bonaventure, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 24.21. In Robert J. Karris, ed., Works of St. Bonaventure, Vol. VIII: Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Saint Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2004), 2208.
[2] Pope Francis, Homily, 29 April 2017.
[3] Ibid., Address to His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, 28 April 2017.
[4] Ibid., Homily, 29 April 2017.
[5] Ibid., Address to His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, 28 April 2017.

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