Road to Emmaus: Hope Almost Lost

Such strange days these have been! My companion and I returning home from Jerusalem, and each step feeling heavier than the last. 
 
We had hoped … 
 
Yes, this mantra – we had hoped – played again and again in our hearts and conversation along the way. It just seemed impossible that we had to admit we were terribly mistaken and lost all. Everything this man Jesus did was ethereal, anointed. The healings, the multiplication of loaves, the teachings on justice, how he mingled with people of every social strata, and even raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. All the signs pointed that he was the one the forefathers had written about, and so 
 
We had hoped …
 
We were discussing our devastation of smashed expectations along the way to Emmaus when a stranger joined us, asking what we were talking about. How could he not know! News of the events have spread for miles … is it possible he could not have heard of Jesus, the man who rode triumphantly into Jerusalem just a week ago to shouts of Hosanas? How he entered the temple and turned over the money changing tables?  Who confronted the Pharisees and Scribes of their hypocrisy, and taught so powerfully in the temple? 
 
We had hoped … 
 
So here we were with Jerusalem behind us and another few miles before reaching our destination, and my friend and I spilling out the events these days to a stranger on the way. Especially of the last three days. Yes, things seemed to escalate over the week leading up to the first night of Passover. This was the greatest puzzle; how Jesus led the Pesach prayers and inserted himself into the ancient ritual.  “Take and eat,” he said, “this is my body.” He did the same with  cup. After the typical prayers of thanksgiving he said, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins…” All of us at table that night were stunned into silence and didn’t dare ask what he meant. We ate and we drank. 
 
We had hoped. 
 
We continued to pour out our story to the stranger of how we accompanied Jesus to the Mount of Olives. He seemed a little agitated and spent a long time in solitude and prayer. The air felt heavy to us then; did Jesus know what was going to happen? That one of his chosen disciples would lead guards and single him out with a kiss? How fear grabbed hold of us and we fled in the night. All courage was gone from our hearts. And the one we had hoped in was left alone to face a tragic end. After being brutally beaten and scorned like no man has ever endured before, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. Like a notorious criminal he was forced to carry his cross to a hill just outside the city where he was hung upon it to die. And, he did die. His lifeless body was taken down and hastily prepared for burial and put into a tomb, a large stoned rolled across the entrance. 
 
Our hope died with him in utter defeat.
 
What did he say while he hung on the cross? “It is finished.” Yes. All is finished and gone. But one curious detail is left unexplained. His body is missing and women from our company said it was no where to be found. What could we do? There was nothing left for us to stay for, so we are here on the road to Emmaus accompanied by a compassionate stranger listening to our disappointing story of bitter defeat and despair. Oddly enough, the stranger seemed to think it all made sense, that it all fit together according to the prophetic texts. He said we were slow of heart and understanding.
 
“Don’t you get it? This was all necessary to fulfill the Scriptures”, the stranger said. And so he became teacher on the road to Emmaus, revealing all that Jesus had done was to bring to fulfillment God’s saving plan for humanity. Little by little, listening to the stranger speak, our hearts began to swell with rekindled hope, that maybe, just perhaps, the empty tomb was not the end but a beginning. 
 
We reached Emmaus, and since the stranger had further to go, we parted ways, left to ponder if maybe all our hopes were not buried in the tomb after all. But without our welcoming in the stranger, we will never know. 
What if the story from Luke 24:13-35 ended this way, with the disciples on the way to Emmaus letting Jesus pass by rather than welcome him in? 
He wants to converse with each of us in our moments of confusion, doubt, worry, just as he did with the disciples on the way. He wants us to have our hearts burning with the promises only he can ignite and sustain. 
 
Oh, the real ending of the story? 

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.

Will you invite him into your heart today so he can break bread with you? Jesus is a gentleman. He will not barge in; he waits patiently for your invitation. 
emmaus
This story was first published at Cathedral Young Adults blog. Go check it out!

Let Your Stone Fall

There she was, scrawled on the ground before Jesus where she shoved down by her accusers. A crowd had formed, with some of the religious leaders asking whether she should be stoned or not.  Jesus, seeing their hearts, is saddened by their absence of love. Cold. Self-appreciating. Arrogant. No Mercy. No understanding. Only judgment. He looks around and finds each one, stone in hand, ready to commit violence and sentence death.

“Teacher, Moses said we should stone such people. What do you say?”

Jesus remains silent, squatting down to the ground, writing in the sand.

“Well? What should we do?”

Jesus stands up, looks at each person and their stones, and says, “The one among you who has no sin may cast the first stone.”

He went back to writing in the sand. The crowd paused. Some looking incredulously at Jesus. Others weighing the stone in their hand and weighing their hearts. One by one the stones fall to the ground with a dull thud and the crowd disperses leaving only the woman and Jesus.

Each of us at times are like those in the crowd, just as ready to cast our stones at others. Stones of judgment, criticism, bitter words, retribution and hate.

Today, let us stop and ponder the stones we hold in our hands ready to throw at others, and to recall the words of Jesus.

“The one among you who has no sin … ”

This is the day’s examine, to weigh the stones we carry, those we hold at the ready to cast at others, and be ready to drop them as soon as the moment rises in our hearts.

Lord Jesus, help me to drop the stone of _____________ (whatever attitude or thought you hold against another), and turn to You, the Just Judge. Help me to recall the words of the prayer you taught us, “… forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us …” May I be able to let the stone I hold in my hand fall to the ground, and walk away in peace. Amen.

 

Reflection from the Gospel of John 8:1-11

Do Everything in Christ

This Sunday’s Gospel (John 15:1-8), Jesus depicts himself as the true vine and God the Father as the vine grower. He calls us to ‘remain in him’ and if we do, he promises that we will ‘bear much fruit’.

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880-1906), a Carmelite in Dijon, France reflected on this Gospel:

“”Remain in Me.” It is the Word of God who gives this order, expresses this wish. Remain in Me, not for a few moments, a few hours which must pass away, but “remain…” permanently, habitually, Remain in Me, pray in Me, adore in Me so that you may be able to encounter anyone or anything; penetrate further still into these depths. This is truly the “solitude into which God wants to allure the soul that He may speak to it,” as the prophet sang [Hos 2:14/2:16].

In order to understand this very mysterious saying, we must not, so to speak, stop at the surface, but enter ever deeper into the divine Being through recollection. “I pursue my course,” exclaimed St Paul [Phil. 3:12]; so must we descend daily this pathway of the Abyss which is God; let us slide down this slope in wholly loving confidence. “Abyss calls to abyss” [Ps 42:8/42:7]. It is there in the very depths that the divine impact takes place, where the abyss of our nothingness encounters the Abyss of mercy, the immensity of the all of God. There we will find the strength to die to ourselves and, losing all vestige of self, we will be changed into love.”

–  Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, I Have Found God

I am the Vine you are the Branches
I am the Vine you are the Branches

Remain. In Latin, manere means “to stay”. re means “again”, or “revert back to”. Therefore Re-manere can signify “to stay again”. Or, to return to where you are.

We live in a society that encourages movement, of going somewhere, of doing something. But Jesus points not to going “out there”, but rather – and how Blessed Elizabeth understood – to be in Christ. “To be” is a state of existence. How that compares with what our culture often values – “to do”, which is merely an action of the agent who is (be).

Jesus calls us to remain in Him. To ‘be’ in Him. Today, let us rest (remain) in Him, fully aware of the presence of Jesus in all that we ‘do’. That with Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, we may habitually ‘stay’ again in Christ:

  • remain in Christ
  • pray in Christ
  • adore in Christ
  • love in Christ
  • suffer in Christ
  • work in Christ
  • act in Christ
  • (you fill in the blank) in Christ

This gives a broader understanding to this Gospel admonition “Remain in me”. Let all that we do be in Christ, and find our lives prolific and fruitful, as God desires.

Unity With Christ will Transform Your Life – Pope Francis’ Regina Coeli address, 5th Sunday of Easter

The Release Latch

Reading a reflection by Father Vincent Nagle, he tells of a scuba diver going in the water at high-tide and soon found himself unable to make any progress toward a cove. Rather, he was hurled again and again against the rocks. Try as he might the diver could not free himself from the force of the current and could neither go forward nor turn back. He was too laden down with gear and not willing to let it go. There he remained, dashed against the rocks until another diver went in and pulled the release latch, freeing the struggling diver from his gear sending it to the bottom. They both reached safety together.

All of us are laden down with ‘stuff’ that keeps us from progressing. We long to have lasting relationships, deeper faith; to live good and holy lives.

What gets in our way?

Where is the release lever in our lives that frees us so we can make our way to safety? How are we freed so to reach toward what is important? How long will we let ourselves be dashed against the rocks, unwilling to let go of our habits, our possessions, our old self ? We must come to a point and realize we need someone to help us pull the release latch that keeps us weighed down in our ‘stuff’.

It is Holy Week. It is time to let go of the past and to walk in freedom with Jesus towards Jerusalem. Jesus walked to Jerusalem to bear the burden for us.

Will we let him pull the lever? Will we let Him take our burden upon himself and choose in our new freedom to follow him?

It is time to choose.

Christ's Entry into Jerusalem by Hippolyte Flandrin c. 1842

 

Patient Waiting, Undying Hope

Each year when we begin our preparation for Christmas with the season of Advent, we listen to an instruction by Saint Cyril of Jerusalem:

“We do not preach only one coming of Christ, but a second as well, much more glorious than the first. The first coming was marked by patience; the second will bring the crown of a divine kingdom.

In general, whatever relates to our Lord Jesus Christ has two aspects. There is a birth from God before the ages, and a birth from a virgin at the fullness of time. There is a hidden coming, like that of rain on fleece, and a coming before all eyes, still in the future.

At the first coming he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. At his second coming he will be clothed in light as in a garment. In the first coming he endured the cross, despising the shame; in the second coming he will be in glory, escorted by an army of angels. We look then beyond the first coming and await the second. At the first coming we said: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. At the second we shall say it again; we shall go out with the angels to meet the Lord and cry out in adoration: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

– Office of Readings, 1st Sunday of Advent

These words mark the anticipation of the Christian life. We sit between two comings of Christ, and, St Cyril reminds us, when the Lord comes again, it will not be clothed in silence in a manger. At the second coming, there will be no mistake that the Lord is here. But in our waiting for that day that only the Father knows, what is our attitude of waiting?

Jesus tells us what our attitude should be like. When the disciples questioned him about the signs that the end was near, Jesus responded, “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come…whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:32-33, 35-37)

vigilance copyThe first disciples of Jesus thought that the Lord would return in their lifetime. They committed all their resources to getting the word out, proclaiming the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. As one Disciple after another began to die, it made them wonder, where is the Messiah? Isn’t He coming back soon? Urgency turned to hesitancy. Many possibly returned to their previous lives. Their vigilance turned its energies to ordinary tasks.

To think, we’ve been waiting for the Messiah’s return for not quite two thousand years. And, a general pattern follows that after a period of complacency, believers find themselves persecuted and must choose whether what they believe is worth dying for. We see many signs that any hope for the return of Christ is fading from our cultural memory. The memory is clouded with a sense of urgency for what is not eternal. Eternal seems so far a way, like an old fairy tale. But it is not a fairy tale and the words of Jesus are words for our generation:

“Be watchful! Be alert!…Watch!”

To have such a capacity comes from a life formed by prayer and worship. For these require discipline which also prepares the heart for hardship and difficult choices. Do we have such an attitude that will sustain our waiting? Are we willing to wait in patience and vigilance, without letting hope of His coming die in our hearts?

Come Lord Jesus! Come soon!

Always a Way Back to God

I’ve seen this video before, Lifehouse’s Everything Skit, and it always touches a cord in me, so I am sharing it with you (please click picture to watch):

Like all of us, the young woman has life breathed into her by God, created for intimacy with Him. And so starts out our own human existence, innocent and playful, intimate…but somewhere, we fall into various traps: the skit portrays the traps (temptations) of lust, avarice, alchoholism, vanity, depression, despair, which can lead to suicide. The skit was designed to pull at the emotions: the music is hauntingly beautiful, the words could be a love letter from us to our beloved. It is meant to make us question, “what is my ‘Everything’?” and “What are the traps that bind me, keeping me from the One who loves me as I am?”.

One viewer of the skit observed: “The skit itself bothers me as it portrays Jesus at one point as being powerless to intervene. Come on, this is the Second Person of the Trinity, God Himself, and he is powerless to stop what is happening?”

Watching the story unfold, it does seem as though Jesus is powerless, no? One moment He is dancing with his creation, and at some point lust pulls her away from this union; and with it, her created innocence. In real life, this happens, but in much more subtle ways. Most of the time full-blown sin enters the soul by seemingly innocent curiosity… wanting to fit in, or the surrounding culture says tells us a television show or activity isn’t harmful. And by this very curiosity the soul lets down its guard and opens a window that allows something else (fill in the blank) be entertained. In the Gospels when Jesus says ‘one cannot have two masters’ (Luke 16:13, Matthew 6:24), this wisdom is applicable to more than money and greed; whenever we make a choice to compromise just a little bit, we open the window just a little wider for something other than God to enter in, and in doing so, we let ourselves walk away from that union with our Creator that we were designed for. Each time we lower our standards, or tell ourselves, ‘just this time’, we create another barrier between us and that perfect union with God. The helplessness portrayed by Jesus, as the girl goes from one temptation to another is the result of the gift of our free will. He has made us free to choose, so in a way, we make Jesus powerless to help us when we choose a lifestyle contrary to His love.

The way back begins with a decision that we need God first and foremost in our lives, but it isn’t a magic trick that corrects itself automatically (although I do not rule out Divine intervention through special grace in some cases – I know this occurs). It requires our determination and will to return, or convert. Convert – the Latin convertere – means, “to turn around, transform”. What we see happening in the skit when the girl throws down the gun and starts trying to get back to Jesus, is this process of conversion taking place. It is a struggle of the will trying to overcome learned behavior – including how her mind and body have learned to respond to stimuli – takes a lot of her own effort. The skit shows her moving back and forth between different indulgences she’s experienced, as they ‘rear their ugly heads’ to again keep her from the One person who will shut them out for good. Just as it takes a soul a long time from that first instant she entertained a small step away from her union with God, so it takes a soul quite a bit of effort to put the acquired vices and sin behind her, and be free. She falls and fails, she gets up and tries again, until eventually, the hold of the old temptations on her life are less and less a threat to her goal – her renewed relationship with God. Seemingly, as in the skit, she has to go at it by herself, but true to scriptural teaching, she’s never alone.

There’s another important aspect conveyed in the skit. As she’s struggling, Jesus seems to be pulling her toward him by an imaginary rope. This pulling effect is the working of grace in our lives. Whenever we are struggling to overcome sin or vice, and call on God to help us, He comes to our aid. Our problems do not miraculously disappear, but there is a hidden resolve or strength that keeps us from giving up. This is grace at work. This is why people who are struggling to overcome addictions and vice need to ask for prayer, and to stay close to the Sacraments. The simplest definition of a Sacrament is ‘an outward sign of an inward grace’. Thus, when we partake in the Sacraments – especially Reconciliation/Confession, Anointing of the Sick and Holy Communion on a regular basis – we receive spiritual help and support to strengthen us in the daily battle to grow in holiness and continual conversion. Little by little we find the hold of our vices and addictions on our lives less and less, as we slowly reunite ourselves with the One we were created for.

La Madonna Nera

In honor of Our Lady of Czestochova – the Black Madonna, her feast day is celebrated today:

In Italy, she is referred to with reverence as La Madonna Nera (the Black Madonna), and there is a song that has been floating around in my head all day. I’ve embedded it below for your listening pleasure.

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Feast Day: August 26I’ve translated the words of the song:

___

There is a land most silent

where everyone wants to return to,

to a land and a sweet face

upon which lies two signs of violence;

an intense gaze full of compassion

that asks you to entrust

your life and your world into her hands.

__

Madonna, Black Madonna, how sweet it is to be your child!

Oh, let it be, Black Madonna, that I may live close to you!

She is calm and reassuring, she frees you from evil because she always has a great heart for each of her children.

She enlightens your journey if you offer a bit of love, if every day you would speak this way of her. (Madonna…)

_

This world falling into darkness, what could it offer to all people? Only the face of a Mother could give a peace that is real.

We are seeking in your gaze to find that smile of the Lord that awakens a bit of good deep in the heart. (Madonna…)

____

With our world – as the song says – falling into darkness, what can it offer to us? Yet, God gave us His mother at the foot of the cross (John 19:27) in the words, “Ecce Mater Tua”. That is, “Here is your Mother”. We have recourse to her with our worries and concerns for our family and our world, and being the mother of the Lord, she certainly shares our concerns with her Son, interceding to Jesus on our behalf.
Mary, Madonna of Czestochova, Pray for us.