Jesus’ Accompanying Us On The Way, Third Sunday of Easter (A), May 8, 2011

Fr. Roger J. Landry

St. Anthony of Padua Parish, New Bedford, MA

Third Sunday of Easter, Year A

May 8, 2011

Acts 2:14,22-28; 1Pet 1:17-21; Lk 24:13-35

 

The following text guided this homily:

JESUS’ ACCOMPANYING US ON THE WAY

  • Last Sunday, the whole world rejoiced in the beatification of John Paul II, the largest beatification ceremony in the history of the Church, as 1.5 million people converged on Rome to join in the festivities. Countless millions more, like many of us, watched the beatification on television. But the greatest way for us to venerate Blessed Pope John Paul II and thank the Lord for giving him to us as Pope for 26 years, is by imitating his Christian virtues and acting on what he called us to do in the Lord’s name. The whole purpose of life, as he taught us so clearly, is to become a saint and help others become saints. One of the most important means to become a saint, he taught, was to take full advantage of the Mass and live truly Eucharistic lives, coming into communion with him who is holy, holy, holy and “doing THIS in memory of him,” making his total self-giving love for others the standard of day-to-day interactions at home, at school, at work, in our parishes and in our communities.
  • Throughout his pontificate, but especially in the last half-year of it, Blessed Pope John Paul II strove to get us to make Jesus in the Mass the “magnetic pole” of our entire existence, just as Jesus was for him. As his pontificate and life were coming to an end, he wanted to show us the open secret of his inner life, of his discipleship and apostolate. He did it by proclaiming the Year of the Eucharist, which ran from October 2004 through October 2005. He said the Year of the Eucharist was really the summit and synthesis of his entire pontificate, and it’s no surprise — for there are no coincidences in God — that the Lord Jesus came to call him home smack in the middle of this Eucharistic Year, so that the whole Church, in reflecting on what made John Paul II so great, would be able to follow his example and put his words about Jesus in the Eucharist into practice.
  • The document he gave us to orient us through this Eucharistic Year he entitled Mane Nobiscum, Domine, taken from the words of today’s Gospel from the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, “Stay with us, Lord.” Pope John Paul II saw in this Gospel episode the entire itinerary we walk in the Mass and are called to walk in the Christian life. When he looked at this passage, he broke it down into three parts:
  1. The first was when Jesus met the two disciples along the seven-mile path downhill from Jerusalem to Emmaus. That they were heading away from Jerusalem was not just an historical fact, but also a symbol of the fact that they were heading away from the faith that Jerusalem symbolizes. Their hearts had just been put in a blender. They had believed in Jesus, deeming him to be the long-awaited Messiah. Yet their hopes were crushed when they saw him mangled and executed by the Romans. Earlier that day, women had said that his tomb was empty and that they had seen a vision of angels saying he had arisen, but they were obviously reluctant to believe again and have their hopes crushed anew. Jesus met them along the way — he met them where they were at, with all their questions and doubts — but their sadness prevented them from recognizing him in his resurrected body. This seeming stranger stuck his nose into the middle of their conversation and asked, “What are you talking about?” They thought he had no idea! So they told him about Jesus, a “prophet mighty in deed and word,” who they thought might be the one to “redeem Israel,” but who was betrayed and crucified. But then Jesus incognito upbraided them, called them “foolish and slow of heart to believe” and, starting with Moses and all the prophets, interpreted for them all the passages of Sacred Scripture that referred to why the Messiah “had to suffer these things to enter into his glory.” Doubtless he would have mentioned Isaac’s carrying the wood for the sacrifice on his shoulders. He would have mentioned Moses’ through the Passover leading the people through the Red Sea and desert into the promised land. He would have mentioned how Isaiah had given the prophecy of the Suffering Servant, how the Book of Wisdom described that the just man would be beset by evil doers, how the Psalms had foretold so many details of the crucifixion, how Jonah prophesied his spending three days in the belly of the earth, and so much more. As he was talking, the light of truth began to penetrate the great darkness of their sadness. We learn later that their hearts began to BURN as he spoke to them along the way, even though they still didn’t recognize who he was. They didn’t want this to end. Hence they invited this Wayfarer into their home: “Stay with us!,” they said. Jesus never wants to force himself on us. He wants to be invited. And they did.
  2. But Jesus had something far greater in mind than merely staying WITH them. That’s why when he was at table, “he took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them.” Then he seemed to vanish from their midst. But he hadn’t vanished at all, because, as those four verbs indicate to us, he had celebrated with them the Eucharist, as he had with his apostles three nights earlier in the Upper Room. They could no longer see Jesus with their eyes, but Jesus remained with them under the appearances of the Eucharist. The Lord did not want merely to stay WITH them, but to stay IN them.
  3. Presumably, they received the Eucharist that Jesus had handed to them and ate it. Then, even though it was already night and there were no streetlights in the ancient world, even though they were probably tired from the seven mile journey downhill, they burst through the door of their home and ran those seven miles up hill in pitch blackness in order to spread the word to the apostles that they had encountered the Lord Jesus. They had come into contact with Jesus  — their hearts were burning, and now even their feet were burning — and they could not wait even until the morning to share the news.
  • The Pope chose this passage as the theme for the Year of the Eucharist because it charts the itinerary Jesus wants us to walk with him in the Mass and — because the Mass is called to become the center and root, source and summit, of our existence — in our entire lives.
  1. We start the Mass with the “liturgy of the word,” in which Jesus wants to open us up to the truths of Sacred Scripture and make our hearts burn again. He wants us to see how all the Scriptures are fulfilled in him. He wants the light that comes from his truth to penetrate whatever darkness we experience, so that we might see him with us along the way, that we might be strengthened by his love in every experience. Blessed John Paul II wrote in his beautiful letter, “It is Christ himself who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the Church,” and Christ wants to do with us here on Acushnet Avenue what he did with the disciples on Emmaus Boulevard. But we have to ask ourselves, with great candor, whether we come with the hope that Christ will set our hearts on fire when he speaks to us in Sacred Scripture. Are we at the edge of our seats, conscious that it is God who is speaking to us and giving us a response to the deepest questions we have, that he is providing the answer to who we are, who we called to be, and what we’re called to do? Sometimes I think we can approach Sacred Scripture with ears covered with asbestos ear-muffs and hearts surrounded by fire-extinguishing foam. Some times — for some people, most times — we don’t pay attention to these “words of eternal life,” words that are supposed to change our lives for the better every time God speaks to us. We don’t allow them to penetrate. This is the first thing the Pope calls us to work on, to ground our lives on the Word of God.
    1. In terms of practical suggestions, I’d first ask you please — unless you’re hearing-impaired — to put down the missalette during the Liturgy of the Word and LISTEN to the word being proclaimed. Close your eyes, if need be, and picture God’s saying to you those words, either directly by Christ in the Gospel, or through one of his prophets, apostles or evangelists.
    2. If God speaks to us in the Sacred Scriptures, then we obviously shouldn’t allow him to speak to us only in Church on Sunday, but throughout the week. In 2008 there was an international survey of Catholic Sunday Mass goers that showed that only 3% ever have contact with the Word of God throughout the rest of the week, either by reading the Bible on their own, listening to religious programs on Catholic radio or on their ipods, visiting Scripture sites on the internet, watching Scripture programs on ETWN and CatholicTV. So often so many other voices are heard in our homes, from the television and radio, but how often do we allow God’s saving word to echo without our walls, within our minds and hearts?
    3. Likewise in our personal prayer, many of us need to structure it so that we hear God’s voice more clearly speaking to us through the pages of Sacred Scripture. Pope Benedict in his apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini last November on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church encouraged us to the practice of prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture. It’s called lectio divina, in which, in prayer, we read over a passage, ask what it says in itself, meditate on what it’s saying to us personally, prayerfully respond to the Lord by praising and thanking him for what he’s revealed, asking him for his forgiveness for the times we haven’t lived by it and for his grace to do so in the future; we contemplate the word and try to begin to see and judge reality the way God does; finally, we seek to act on what God has communicated to us and make ourselves gifts to God and others.
  2. The more we hear God’s voice speaking to us through Sacred Scripture, the more our hearts burn out of love for God who reveals himself to us, the easier it will be to recognize Jesus in the Eucharist, just as the disciples in Emmaus saw him in the breaking of the bread. The reason for this is simple. The more attentively we hang on what Jesus is telling us in the Gospel and through the other readings that point to him, the easier it is to hear his voice and trust in him as he says to us in the Mass, “This is my body, given for you,” “this is the cup of my blood… shed for you and for all, for the forgiveness of sins.” The more we read about Jesus’ miracles the easier it is for us to accept the mind-blowing reality of the continuous miracle of the Eucharist.
  3. Thirdly, if we truly become aware that Jesus is speaking to us at Mass as he interprets for us the Scriptures and stays not just with us but in us in the Eucharist, then we will be bursting with the desire to share him with others. Whether we get it or not, Jesus speaks to us at the Mass and feeds us with his flesh and blood. But the index, the litmus test, the criterion for us to determine if we really do get it is whether or with how much zeal we share that reality with others. That’s what we see in the disciples of Emmaus; they couldn’t wait to share with others their encounter with Jesus, what he had revealed to them about Sacred Scripture, what he done for them in celebrating Mass in their home.
  • In asking us to base our lives on this Emmaus passage, Pope John Paul II was not asking us to do anything that he himself hadn’t done. He was passing on to us the secret of his life.
  1. The great source of his pastoral zeal came because he was thoroughly imbued with the Word of God. Just like the Blessed Mother to whom he was consecrated — “totus tuus” — listened to the word of God and treasured it so deeply within that that word took on her flesh and dwelled among us, so Pope John Paul II incarnated that same word, which is why so many of us saw Christ so easily working in and through him. On the day he was ordained a deacon, Cardinal Sapieha gave him the book of the Gospel and told him, “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are. Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. Practice what you teach.” And he did. Later, when he was ordained a bishop, they opened the book of the Gospel and put it on his head, so that his thoughts and his words would reverberate and enflesh Sacred Scripture. Very eloquently, at his funeral — as we all remember — they put the book of Sacred Scripture on his casket, with the Holy Spirit turning the pages, blowing as he always wills, as a tangible sign of how thoroughly Pope John Paul II used to turn us comprehensively to the reality of God’s speaking to us through all of those sacred pages. The reason why John Paul II was such an effective evangelist, why he was able to set people’s hearts on fire for God, was because his heart was already aflame through his own lectio divina, his own prayerful hearing of the Lord’s voice speaking to him in Sacred Scripture.
  2. Likewise all his strength came from his relationship with the living Lord in the Eucharist. He recognized Jesus in the “breaking of the bread.” He knew that each day when he celebrated mass, he held his Savior, his divine Boss, in his hands and received him within. His contact with Christ was never theoretical. It was tangible! It was, in fact, EDIBLE! As he consumed the Lord, he was more and more consumed by the Lord, and started to become more and more whom he ate. Jesus in the Eucharist was the magnetic pole of his life. He began each day with 90 minutes praying to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament before Mass. He returned to visit Jesus at several occasions throughout the day. This was the secret of what was going on “inside” him.
  3. Finally, he was bursting with the desire to share Jesus, the love of his inner life, with us. He came to Boston in 1979 to share this gift with us in the midst of a terrible downpour. He traveled 700,000 miles doing so, 29 times around the circumference of the earth and three round-trips to the moon. He preached about the gift of Jesus in the Eucharist. He wrote about it. He lived it. No amount of injuries, sufferings or obstacles could stop him. Only death could stop him. But through his beautiful documents, example and witness, he preaches to us still..
  • The Year of the Eucharist was the culmination of the Pope’s life, of his entire pontificate. What made him so great was that he was thoroughly a man of the Eucharist, a man whose entire life was a Mass, through, with and in Christ Jesus. He gave us the Eucharistic year almost as his last gift, so that we might know his open secret and make it our own. The Lord, through the Eucharist, was able to take this boy from an obscure Polish village and bear such incredible fruit through him, because his whole life was an “amen!” to the reality of Christ in the Eucharist. If the Lord was able to do that with his faithful disciple from Wadowice, then surely he can do the same with us here in New Bedford, if we’re willing to make of our lives the same “Amen.”

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1ACTS 2:14, 22-33

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven,
raised his voice, and proclaimed:
“You who are Jews, indeed all of you staying in Jerusalem.
Let this be known to you, and listen to my words.
You who are Israelites, hear these words.
Jesus the Nazarene was a man commended to you by God
with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs,
which God worked through him in your midst, as you yourselves know.
This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God,
you killed, using lawless men to crucify him.
But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death,
because it was impossible for him to be held by it.
For David says of him:
I saw the Lord ever before me,
with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.
Therefore my heart has been glad and my tongue has exulted;
my flesh, too, will dwell in hope,
because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld,
nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.

“My brothers, one can confidently say to you
about the patriarch David that he died and was buried,
and his tomb is in our midst to this day.
But since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn an oath to him
that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne,
he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ,
that neither was he abandoned to the netherworld
nor did his flesh see corruption.
God raised this Jesus;
of this we are all witnesses.
Exalted at the right hand of God,
he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father
and poured him forth, as you see and hear.”

Responsorial PsalmPS 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11

R. (11a) Lord, you will show us the path of life.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Keep me, O God, for in you I take refuge;
I say to the LORD, “My Lord are you.”
O LORD, my allotted portion and my cup,
you it is who hold fast my lot.
R. Lord, you will show us the path of life.
or:
R. Alleluia.
I bless the LORD who counsels me;
even in the night my heart exhorts me.
I set the LORD ever before me;
with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.
R. Lord, you will show us the path of life.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices,
my body, too, abides in confidence;
because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld,
nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.
R. Lord, you will show us the path of life.
or:
R. Alleluia.
You will show me the path to life,
abounding joy in your presence,
the delights at your right hand forever.
R. Lord, you will show us the path of life.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Reading 21 PT 1:17-21

Beloved:
If you invoke as Father him who judges impartially
according to each one’s works,
conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning,
realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct,
handed on by your ancestors,
not with perishable things like silver or gold
but with the precious blood of Christ
as of a spotless unblemished lamb.

He was known before the foundation of the world
but revealed in the final time for you,
who through him believe in God
who raised him from the dead and gave him glory,
so that your faith and hope are in God.

AlleluiaCF. LK 24:32

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Lord Jesus, open the Scriptures to us;
make our hearts burn while you speak to us.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

GospelLK 24:13-35

That very day, the first day of the week,
two of Jesus’ disciples were going
to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus,
and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred.
And it happened that while they were conversing and debating,
Jesus himself drew near and walked with them,
but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.
He asked them,
“What are you discussing as you walk along?”
They stopped, looking downcast.
One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply,
“Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem
who does not know of the things
that have taken place there in these days?”
And he replied to them, “What sort of things?”
They said to him,
“The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene,
who was a prophet mighty in deed and word
before God and all the people,
how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over
to a sentence of death and crucified him.
But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel;
and besides all this,
it is now the third day since this took place.
Some women from our group, however, have astounded us:
they were at the tomb early in the morning
and did not find his body;
they came back and reported
that they had indeed seen a vision of angels
who announced that he was alive.
Then some of those with us went to the tomb
and found things just as the women had described,
but him they did not see.”
And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are!
How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!
Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things
and enter into his glory?”
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets,
he interpreted to them what referred to him
in all the Scriptures.
As they approached the village to which they were going,
he gave the impression that he was going on farther.
But they urged him, “Stay with us,
for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”
So he went in to stay with them.
And it happened that, while he was with them at table,
he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, and gave it to them.
With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him,
but he vanished from their sight.
Then they said to each other,
“Were not our hearts burning within us
while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”
So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem
where they found gathered together
the eleven and those with them who were saying,
“The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!”
Then the two recounted
what had taken place on the way
and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.