Walking With Those Who Need Us
“And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus Himself drew near and walked with them …”
Tim was nine when the last of many foster-care placements began to break down and he was placed in a home where children received special care and help. Tim was a sad and angry young boy who, having been put into care by his mother when he was six, hated the world. He was often sullen and aggressive, though occasionally he revealed a wicked sense of humor and some sparkle.
During his time at the home, his care-givers would arrange for Tim to meet with his mother. Each time it would be the same. Tim would be excited, full of hope and plans, confident that this time things would be different and his mother would want him back. It was a very normal reaction for any child. Each time, however, the pain would be greater. Tim’s mother would express her pleasure at seeing him, give him sweets and they would go off for the day. Then it would end and Tim would return, agitated, withdrawn and angry, refusing to talk. His hopes and dreams were once more dashed. It took a great deal of being alongside him, listening to him and helping him to make sense of what had happened to him, before he could move on and begin to live with a different kind of hope.
Angry, dismayed, disappointed. These are all words that could be used to describe the two disciples travelling on the road to Emmaus whom we hear about in today’s Gospel. When they are joined by a stranger, they cannot understand how he does not know of all that has happened, particularly in relation to the death of Jesus. They speak of their dashed hopes and their disappointment that this man they thought was going to change their lives is now dead. Life under Roman rule was not easy and in Jesus his followers had seen an opportunity for change. They had great hopes. So, when Jesus died, they didn’t just lose a good friend, someone who really cared for them, they believed they had lost any hope of things being different.
The apparent ignorance of the stranger only adds to their frustration. The stranger, however, having listened to their despair, helps them to make sense of their story. By his listening he respects them, empathizes with them and, even though he believes they have been “slow to understand“, he takes time to explain to them why these things have happened. As night falls the two disciples decide to rest and invite the man, still a stranger, to stay with them and to eat with them. He agrees and they invite him to bless their food. It is in the moment of blessing and breaking the bread that the disciples recognize their friend, Jesus. Suddenly life takes on a whole new meaning. Their eyes are opened and with understanding they see a way forward. Though the two friends of Jesus in today’s Gospel feel their hearts burning within them as they listen to the Lord’s words, they recognize him only after receiving Jesus in the Eucharist – the first post-Easter celebration of Mass. If anyone says that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not in Scripture, they evidently have not read this gospel passage. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is essentially the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which is mentioned in this gospel today.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the loss of anyone important to us is always painful. A myriad of feelings emerge, often spontaneously and without warning: deep sadness, anger, despair, shock, numbness. It is difficult to see straight or to think clearly. We have to take deep breaths to hold ourselves together. Sometimes talking is not easy. We cannot find the right words to express our deep feelings and it can simply hurt too much. Sharing our experience is, however, an important part of being able to make sense of what has happened to us. It takes time, sometimes a long time, but if we have people who are willing to walk alongside us and support us during this time then slowly, gradually, life can take on a new meaning. Beginning to let go of what we had and seeing a new way of living without this important person is only the start. Healing takes a long time.
The journey the disciples make to Emmaus can be seen to symbolize the journey of faith that all of us are on. Sometimes we will experience darkness, and may have a sense that God has abandoned us. At other times, however, often retrospectively, we are able to see clearly where God has been with us, supporting us and guiding us. Reading the scriptures, joining the community to pray the rosary and celebrate the Sacraments, especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and seeking spiritual support from others, are all key ways to help us make sense of the journey we are on, a journey of faith. It’s not just about how these things help us personally – it is about being united to Christ and to each other in the community of the Church, but especially in the Eucharist – simultaneously so that we too may recognize Christ.
Mary, Refuge of Sinners, pray for us!