Good afternoon, everyone – I think it’s past, no it’s not past noon yet, right? That’s good morning everyone, and it’s great to be, of course, here with you again. Hopefully you can hear us all right. I know that this still gets a little complicated when we’re trying to balance moving so many different moving parts here, with the video and everything. But it’s great to be here with you, even though it’s virtual.
So today, we hear the great story of the discovery of Jesus on the way to Emmaus, and the story makes me think of a lot of things, but I think perhaps it particularly makes me think about coming from Pennsylvania, actually from Allentown. There’s a town close by called Emmaus, and of course the town is used in light of the biblical reference, and so there’s different places that are kind of named after the biblical town. So for example, there’s a religious goods store and they call the store The Way to Emmaus, and then there is a store that sells running shoes and other types of things and they call it the Run-Inn, so I-N-N like the inn where Jesus stayed with these disciples, and whenever I’d like to go home to Allentown, I like to stop into Emmaus, because I do go to the Run-Inn because that’s where I’ll buy my running shoes and I’ve been doing it for years, because I was teaching at Central Catholic High School in Allentown for many, many years and working with the track team and the cross-country team, and we would always go there to buy our running shoes. So I still go there every now and then when I’m back home, and I like going there picking out my shoes and then right when I bring them up to the counter to pay for them I’ll just kind of slightly say oh you know I used to work for Central Catholic and then BOOM, that’s when the eyes open up and like oh you worked for Central, we’ll give you a discount and so it’s a nice little perk that we have. Well going to the Run-Inn, where you get a Central Catholic discount even though I’m not even working in there anymore.
So it kind of is similar to this whole event here that happens in the scripture where you have the eyes being opened and something different ends up happening because of that. The whole new attitude starts to emerg,e, and looking at this gospel, I think it’s important to look at it in three ways because there’s three parts, and I like to kind of look at this by pre-meal and post-meal.
So the pre-meal, of course, is when Jesus shows up and these disciples don’t recognize Him and they’re walking and He – they’re talking and they seem to be very downcast. Yet Jesus – although he’s not understood to be Jesus – starts to explain certain things to them, and it kind of gets them somewhat intrigued – so much so that they don’t want this guy to leave them. So they ask him to stay overnight. He comes into their home and they share this meal, and of course it’s with the breaking of the bread that’s when their eyes are open, like – oh my gosh this is Jesus! – right?
And then after that He vanishes and they had this great confidence that the stories that they heard are true – Jesus is risen from the dead – and they start announcing this, and they have no fear, it seems. And I think it’s important to look at this story and let the situation we’re going through right now in the world.
Because there’s one thing that we as Catholics know that has been taken away, and that of course is the participation in the meal – the Eucharist, right? And for many of us perhaps that might be the place where we see Jesus most clearly. Now when we go to church and we participate in the ritual of the mass, when we actually receive Jesus in the sacrament, this is the closest that we feel to Jesus. And it’s true we are objectively close to Jesus when we receive him, because we are in communion with him in a very real way.
Yet, let’s look at this in a different way today, because – wow that’s the only point where the disciples recognize Jesus, and He’s actually there in their presence. The whole majority of the story is dealing with this pre-meal and post-meal – in fact the only time that they actually know that they’re in the presence of Jesus lasts for one verse. This is chapter 24 and verse 30, that’s the only verse where they know that they’re in the presence of Jesus.
So the pre-meal they don’t know they’re in the presence of Jesus, and the post-meal they think Jesus is gone, but they also this great confidence that He hasn’t gone. I think that’s the great lesson for us right now. Because we can think about where we were before the coronavirus hit and how we were living our lives prior, and we were participating in the sacraments and we had a sense that Jesus was with us. And now we’re in this place where that part’s been removed, and we seem to think that Jesus has vanished, but it has He vanished?
I think there’s something that we can pull from both the pre-meal and the post-meal, because if there’s one thing that’s consistent with all three of those parts of the story is that Jesus is still fully present. Yet, in the pre-meal people didn’t recognize Him, and in the post-meal, people understood that He was with them in a different way.
So how can we look at that today, in this time when we feel alienated – maybe from our churches because we’re not actually in them? Can we think about what it was when we were actually in church? Can we think about the world prior to this virus? What can we pull from that? Well it’s more than, just say, the happy memory of going to Mass. I think our memory can just allow us to access other elements of our lives where we actually now can think about how God was present with us, even when we didn’t really know that He was.
I think for many of us, we have stories where we know that, well if I didn’t choose this, then this wouldn’t have happened, and then this wouldn’t happen. How many people who just happened to show up at some type of random events that they were invited to ended up being there – their future spouse, right, it was not planned at all.
I know for myself being a priest here in Brooklyn coming from Pennsylvania – how did that happen? Well it happened because a friend of mine in Pennsylvania went to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and I went to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and then I eventually became a priest in Brooklyn, and that’s how the whole path worked. And there were a lot of other parts of that story too that I’m just kind of gliding over, but we can look at our past and have this confidence that God was there in the past. We were actually walking with Jesus without even knowing it, and its past that gives us the confidence for the now and the future. Because the same Jesus who walked with us in the past without us knowing is the same Jesus who’s with us now, maybe without us actually seeing Him, just as He vanishes after the celebration of the Eucharist. There was still this confidence that the disciples had that He was actually still with them, which gave them the ability to go out and to have a full awareness and confidence that they were able to proclaim this Good News.
But yet, what is the Good News? Because I think that would help us understand where Jesus was in our past and where Jesus is now and where Jesus will be in the future. The Good News is that whenever we are able to go outside of ourselves to act in a selfless way – in an act of charity or hospitality that we could call a God moment – that is the realization that Jesus is really with us, pushing us to go beyond ourselves, because in that experience we’re able to then encounter and receive Christ. I mean it’s not for nothing that the whole story starts changing once these disciples say, “Come into our house. We don’t know who you are. We like what you’re saying. Come into our house, stay with us.” This act of hospitality where these disciples go outside of themselves was a God moment, and it facilitated then actually being aware to know how much of a God moment was.
Fulton Sheen used to say that you know Jesus enters as a Guest but then he becomes the Host, right? Capital H-O-S-T. He becomes the Bread of Life. And so it is for us right now during this time of the virus there gonna be many opportunities for us to be able to be pushed outside of ourselves – to pick up the phone and call someone we haven’t talked to in a while, to send a random text to someone who we haven’t actually been in contact for a while, to do these little random acts of kindness things that make, disrupt our schedule, but things that actually push us beyond ourselves. These little God moments – because it’s in those moments we recognize that we give ourselves in order to receive the presence of Christ on the other end.
Today at this Mass that we celebrate from this place, here maybe we have the confidence in knowing that our God still is with us, even though we may not see Him. We know that He is with us. That’s what gives us the ability to say, “I’m here – what do You want me to do today?”
May God bless you all.