The journey to Emmaus is our journey
The following homily was delivered by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades during a live-streamed Mass from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception April 26, the Third Sunday of Easter:
We prayed in the Collect, the Opening Prayer of today’s Mass: “May your people exult forever, O God, in renewed youthfulness of spirit.” In the Gospel today, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus were renewed in youthfulness of spirit when they listened to Jesus explain the Scriptures to them and when they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread.
Before Jesus accompanied them on their journey, their spirits had grown old. The two disciples were disappointed and disillusioned after Jesus was crucified. They were downcast, the Gospel tells us. They told Jesus, whom they did not recognize, “we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.” Notice the past tense, “they were hoping.” So they had lost that hope. They had been Jesus’ disciples and had believed He was a powerful prophet, but with His crucifixion, they thought His mission had failed. They were experiencing a crisis of faith and a loss of hope. That’s why they left Jerusalem. Why stay? The One they had put their hope in was dead. They had lost their youthfulness of spirit. We can say they were dispirited. But this man who joined them on the road, whom they did not recognize, changed that.
The Risen Jesus explained the Scriptures to them, including the prophets, passages that spoke about how the Messiah would suffer and then enter into His glory. Their spirits were touched by the interpretation of the Scriptures that Jesus was providing them. They were so touched that they urged Jesus to stay with them that evening. As they would say to each other later: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” Their eyes were being opened to the truth about Jesus and what happened on Calvary. Their faith and hope was being renewed. And, of course, the climax of that wonderful encounter with Jesus came when, at table that evening, Jesus “took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” Then their eyes were truly opened and they recognized Him.
The journey of Emmaus is our journey. In our journey of life, we experience disappointments, doubts, times of sadness and disillusionment. We can experience crises of faith, loss of hope, and temptations to despair. We all have some negative experiences in our life. We can become dispirited like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. We need our youthfulness of spirit to be renewed, like we prayed in the opening prayer today. I was thinking about this need today as we go through the trial of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Risen Jesus wants to renew our spirits, like He wanted to renew the spirits of the two disciples. He wants to join us on our journey. He wants to accompany us. We can encounter Him in our journey to Emmaus by listening to His Word through the Sacred Scriptures. Some of the faithful have shared with me that during this time of no public liturgies, they have spent more time reading and praying with the Scriptures. This has revived their spirits. They have experienced the Lord’s presence and grace at the table of his Word. That’s been a kind of unexpected grace for them as they long to return to Mass.
One man told me he has rediscovered the Scriptures during these past several weeks. I asked him about this and told him, “but we always listen to the Scriptures at Mass — in fact, the first half of Mass is the Liturgy of the Word.” He agreed, but he told me that he’s now meditating more on the Scriptures than he used to. That’s been an unexpected gift he has experienced during this time as he eagerly looks forward to receiving the Eucharist again. I hope and pray that others are also using this time to encounter the Lord more deeply by reading and praying with the Scriptures.
As I mentioned, the climax of the Emmaus story was indeed when Jesus sat with the two disciples at table and broke the bread. The climax of our journey is also when we participate at the table of the Eucharist. There our spirit is nourished in the most profound way by the Body and Blood of the Lord. Like the two disciples, we recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. It is good to have this longing to go back to Mass and to receive the Bread of life.
Our faith is nourished by the Word of God and by His Real Presence in the Eucharist. Our youthfulness of spirit is renewed. I invite you to relive the experience of the disciples of Emmaus and to open yourselves to the grace of that transforming encounter with the Risen Lord. May we, like those two disciples, plead with Jesus: “Stay with us, Lord.”
Brothers and sisters, the Risen Lord is ever present in our midst. He walks with us on our journey to Emmaus. He guides us and opens our eyes. He has the power to do this. He gives us the grace to believe and to hope. And when we open our hearts to Him, He frees us from fear and despair. Faith in Him transforms us and fills us with God’s love. That’s what gives meaning to our lives.
May the Lord bless us with renewed youthfulness of spirit! May our hearts burn within us as we read and pray with the Scriptures! And may we soon be able to gather again at the table where we recognize the Lord in the breaking of the bread!