3rd Sunday of Easter Reflection by Gabriel Mayhugh
We've all been down at one time or another. From the simple to the complex; we are often burdened with the many crosses in life. Hopes dashed, disappointment, disillusionment and feelings of alienation have afflicted everyone at one time. There are many times when we all have said the words “I was hoping” only to find out that our hopes and beliefs were not going to come true. This may make us feel deceived and out of control of our lives and world. We become skeptical, cynical and afraid. Often the world around us keeps us downtrodden and even the church does not appear to accompany us in our difficulty and it becomes easy to fall away and to lose faith.
Today’s story of The Road to Emmaus often brings me comfort in the times when things are not going as I would like. The disciples in today’s Gospel profoundly felt these emotions: “We were hoping that he [Jesus] would be the one to redeem Israel…” They put their faith in Jesus as the Messiah and they were let down by his death. They expected Jesus to be a mighty liberator or warrior, but instead found the humble king and the wood of the cross. They saw a failure and felt deceived in their expectations about Jesus. They were lacking in faith and wandering on the road.
A stranger begins to walk with the disciples. He walks, listens and engages conversation. The disciples tell Jesus their story, not knowing who He is. Jesus continues to walk, listen and engage. He meets them where they are on that road and lets them share the story with him. After listening he leads them in the direction of faith then goes to sit with them and break bread. As He broke the bread, they recognized him and began to believe in the resurrection. Their faith was rejuvenated and their fears calmed through listening, engagement, discussion and meal.
While we can feel like the disciples, we also have the responsibility to be like Jesus. To walk with people, to listen and engage. To be like Jesus, we must meet people and journey with them. We all have something meaningful to offer those who are downtrodden and losing faith. Pope Francis cited the Emmaus story as he addressed the Bishops in Brazil in 2013. He is addressing the institutional Church, but his words also have great meaning for the people of the church. The institutional Church needs to accompany people on their journey, but it is also on the shoulders of you and me to meet people where they are and accompany them out of difficulty. We too are called to warm the hearts of others.
Here we have to face the difficult mystery of those people who leave the church, who, under the illusion of alternative ideas, now think that the church—their Jerusalem—can no longer offer them anything meaningful and important. So they set off on the road alone, with their disappointment. Perhaps the church appeared too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns, perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas, perhaps the world seems to have made the church a relic of the past, unfit for new questions; perhaps the church could speak to people in their infancy but not to those come of age. It is a fact that nowadays there are many people like the two disciples of Emmaus; not only those looking for answers in the new religious groups that are sprouting up, but also those who already seem godless, both in theory and in practice.
“Faced with this situation, what are we to do? We need a church unafraid of going forth into their night. We need a church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a church capable of entering into their conversation. We need a church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning.
From this point of view, we need a church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a church which accompanies them on their journey; a church able to make sense of the “night” contained in the flight of so many of our brothers and sisters from Jerusalem; a church which realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return... Jesus warmed the hearts of the disciples of Emmaus. I would like all of us to ask ourselves today: are we still a church capable of warming hearts?”