Our Easter Heart Transplant from Slow to Burning Hearts, Easter Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Church of the Holy Family, Manhattan
Wednesday of Easter Week
March 30, 2016
Acts 3:1-10, Ps 105, Lk 24:13-35

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • In these readings of Easter Week, the Church helps us to ponder the dramatic transformation that Jesus’ Resurrection is supposed to have in our life. We have seen over the course of the last two days the stunning metamorphosis in Mary Magdalene and the 3,000 disciples listening to St. Peter on Pentecost Sunday. Today we see the total changes wrought in the disciple at the Beautiful Gate, the resurrection of the cripple in the Gospel, and the astonishment and amazement of all those who were accustomed to seeing the cripple beg at the gate. We also see the transformation in the disciples on the road to Emmaus, which will be ponder together at some length.
  • It’s important for us to resist the temptation for Easter to become routine, that the biggest change in us resulting from the liturgical zikkaron or remembrance of Jesus’ resurrection be that now we can drink bear, eat chocolate and resume other practices we had given up for Lent. The celebration of Easter is supposed to lead us to the newness of life St. Paul described at the Easter vigil, helping us to be dead to sin and alive for God in Christ Jesus. The power of Easter is meant to bring about in us the long litany of effects the Church sang about in the Exsultet on Saturday night. The power of Easter is meant to do something in us far greater than what happened in this crippled man in Jerusalem, when the Lord Jesus tells us in his own name, “Arise!” But for that to take place we need to participate in this transition.
  • Let’s enter into the change that takes place in the disciples of Emmaus in today’s Gospel. We could describe the change as a heart transplant. You remember at the Easter Vigil, Ezekiel prophecies that the redemption will involve God’s sprinkling clean water upon us — our Baptism — removing from us our “stony hearts” and replacing them with “hearts of flesh,” placing his own spirit within us. We could rephrase that heart transplant in the words of today’s Gospel as a transition from “slowness of heart” to a “burning heart.” When Jesus anonymously and gently upbraids the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, he didn’t say “How slow of head,” “How dull of mind, you are not to believe all that Moses and the prophets taught,” but “How slow of heart.” It was their hearts that were literally retarded because they were unwilling to let go of some of their previously conceived notions. Eventually, after Jesus takes them on a journey, their hearts were racing, their hearts were burning, as Jesus spoke to them along the way. That journey was a retracing of the steps of salvation history showing how all of it pointed to how the Messiah needed to suffer to help the two disciples — who had been leaving Jerusalem and symbolically the place of God, and who had been heading into the sunset instead of the rising sun — see that Jesus’ crucifixion and death were not a contradiction of the Jews’ Messianic hopes but a confirmation. Jesus helped them to see that what happened to him was the fulfillment of the killing of the just man Abel, of the sacrifice of Isaac, of the Passover lamb led to the slaughter, of the just man beset, of the Suffering Servant. Jesus easily could have started with his words in which he had promised three times he would suffer and rise on the third day, but his own status and authority was now in question, whereas that of Sacred Scripture was still unimpeached. And that spiritual pilgrimage on which the anonymous wayfarer led the two disciples during their seven mile walk toward dusk reawakened their hearts and heads. They were transformed. They first asked him to stay to stay with them to keep the experience going. Then they recognized him in the breaking of the Bread, because their hearts and recalibrated their eyes. And finally, even though they had journeyed seven miles down hill into dusk, they were now willing to run seven miles uphill in external darkness but internal illumination to share what they had just heard.
  • What Jesus does with the disciples on the road to Emmaus shows us the path of our being evangelized and the path of our being instruments in the new evangelization. This is what Pope Francis said on July 28, 2013 speaking to the bishops of the world gathered in Brazil for World Youth Day. He asked poignantly there the stinging question whether we today in the Church — and specifically the bishops, priests and preachers — still have the ability to warm people’s hearts. The truth is that we can’t light the tapers of others’ hearts unless the paschal candle of our own heart is lit. But that’s the essential question: are we on fire with the flame of God such that we can light others on fire? What does having that fire require? We can identify three clear elements from today’s Gospel.
  • The first is an ardent familiarity with Sacred Scripture. Jesus lit the two disciples’ hearts aflame through Sacred Scripture. Holy Writ still has that capacity to ignite us, but we need to know it. We need to hunger for every word that comes from God’s mouth. We have to relate to Jesus in his word as giving us the words of everlasting life. We have to care for every crumb of Sacred Scripture, St. Jerome said, just like we would care for every particle of the Eucharistic host. When with spiritual poverty, we approach the treasure of Sacred Scripture in this way, then we become capable of doing what St. Peter did to the crippled man at the gate: giving Jesus Christ’s light, giving his healing, giving him. “Silver and gold I have not, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, rise.” That’s the first means by which we bring people to share in his resurrection.
  • The second element is a willingness, even a hunger, to approach people and enter into their conversations, especially those who are wandering away from “Jerusalem” into the “sunset” westward away from the east of Christ the “rising sun.” This requires a courage to meet people where they’re at, to enter into their night without losing our light, to go to the peripheries not just of geography but of existence and try to accompany them back toward the Lord. Jesus didn’t say to the two disciples on Emmaus Avenue, “Where the heck are you going?,” but entered into their conversation, their questions, their doubts. Pope Francis says that this is part of the New Evangelization that we learn from Jesus.
  • The third element is to recognize that the reasons for people’s departure from Jerusalem contain within the seeds of their return. What makes someone downcast, like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, contains the seeds of seeking things above. The two disciples were leaving because they thought that Jesus’ crucifixion showed that he couldn’t possibly be the Messiah, but after Jesus opened up their hearts and their minds to the fact that the Messiah had to suffer, they embraced the reality in its fullness. The same thing still occurs. If a teenager has left the faith because of the death of loved one for whose healing the teen prayed, the reason is fundamentally because the teen believes that God should love the teen’s loved ones even more than the teen does and want that grandmother’s happiness and health. But we can enter into the night of mourning and show that God’s desire is for that person to be full of life and happiness forever — and that’s what we pray for whenever he comes to call a loved one. If someone has abandoned the Church over the clergy sex abuse scandals, it contains the seeds of a desire that God’s ministers should be holy; when the person finds holy ministers, it lays the ground for the route of return. If someone abandons the Church over the Church’s supposed homophobia, because the person things that everyone should be loved and embraced no matter what the person’s sexual attractions, we can show that love and embrace that goes beyond simple superficial hospitality, but rather a concern for the person’s eternal well being, opening the person up to the fact that the Church’s teachings on chastity are not to stifle love among those with same sex attractions but to keep those persons truly loving rather than using. If a person has left because Mass is boring, or the preaching is poor, or community is inhospitable, these are all signs pointing to the seeds of return when this Mass is celebrated by clergy and communities on fire, where preaching is on fire, when the community is like the early Church.
  • Are we still capable of warming hearts? The answer is an emphatic yes. But whether we do or not depends on how we respond to Easter graces. Christ still has the fire to ignite our hearts just like two disciples, Peter, Mary Magdalene, the 3,000 on Pentecost, so many saints. And if we allow him to do that to us, we will be able to go out along the paths of the world to encounter so many for whom Christ died, help them to learn how to turn around toward the heavenly Jerusalem, and with them, go out to light the hearts of the world ablaze. If we do that, we will be filled so much with God and his holy joy that, like those in Jerusalem marveled at the healed former cripple, others will be “filled with amazement and astonishment” at what has happened to us and God wants to do to them!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 Acts 3:1-10

Peter and John were going up to the temple area
for the three o’clock hour of prayer.
And a man crippled from birth was carried
and placed at the gate of the temple called “the Beautiful Gate” every day
to beg for alms from the people who entered the temple.
When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple,
he asked for alms.
But Peter looked intently at him, as did John,
and said, “Look at us.”
He paid attention to them, expecting to receive something from them.
Peter said, “I have neither silver nor gold,
but what I do have I give you:
in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.”
Then Peter took him by the right hand and raised him up,
and immediately his feet and ankles grew strong.
He leaped up, stood, and walked around,
and went into the temple with them,
walking and jumping and praising God.
When all the people saw him walking and praising God,
they recognized him as the one
who used to sit begging at the Beautiful Gate of the temple,
and they were filled with amazement and astonishment
at what had happened to him.

Responsorial Psalm PS 105:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8-9

R. (3b) Rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord. 
or:
R. Alleluia.
Give thanks to the LORD, invoke his name;
make known among the nations his deeds.
Sing to him, sing his praise,
proclaim all his wondrous deeds.
R. Rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord. 
or:
R. Alleluia.
Glory in his holy name;
rejoice, O hearts that seek the LORD!
Look to the LORD in his strength;
seek to serve him constantly.
R. Rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord. 
or:
R. Alleluia.
You descendants of Abraham, his servants,
sons of Jacob, his chosen ones!
He, the LORD, is our God;
throughout the earth his judgments prevail.
R. Rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord. 
or:
R. Alleluia.
He remembers forever his covenant
which he made binding for a thousand generations—
Which he entered into with Abraham
and by his oath to Isaac.
R. Rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord. 
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia Ps 118:24

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
This is the day the LORD has made;
let us be glad and rejoice in it.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Lk 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 the bread.
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