*republished from www.Catholic365.com
**updated from April 2019
The picture above shows two modern travelers making their way through some rough, desert-like terrain. If you imagine them in long robes and squint a bit, this is probably pretty close to how the two disciples looked, as they made their way to Emmaus. This Biblical story has been on my mind lately, since it was Gospel reading at Mass on Wednesday of the Octave of Easter.
The big question that everyone always asks about the Emmaus story is "Why didn't the two disciples recognize Jesus?" I once heard a well-known Scripture scholar ask this exact question at a conference. She was giving the keynote address, and I always appreciate the many wise and true insights she shares about Scripture. But, she mentioned that the disciples' lack of ability to recognize Jesus had always bothered her. After all, they had spent a few years with Jesus. How could they not recognize someone they had spent so much time with? Was he that changed, after the resurrection? Her answer was to say that the disciples simply could not recognize Jesus because they couldn't fathom the possibility of the resurrection. Maybe there is some truth to that. I've heard other folk say that the disciples didn't recognize Jesus because he was so transformed in glory he was impossible to recognize.
Where did Jesus go?
But there’s another way of looking at this mysterious “hiddenness” of Christ on the road to Emmaus. I think the answer is just more simple than that. After his resurrection, whenever Jesus IS recognized, it is almost always around food and breaking bread. In fact, I like to read the Emmaus story out loud to the families at church and I stop at verse 31:
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. (Luke 24: 30-31).
"Where did Jesus go?" I ask. "I'll give you a hint. He is still in the room." I love to watch the young children especially. They turn to mom or dad, eyes wide, and say "Where is he?"
I asked this very question three days ago, to a new group of families this year. As is common, many of the answers revolved around the idea that 1. Jesus is dead so 2. He must be a ghost. Here are some of the answers I heard:
“Back to God in Heaven?”
“To the tomb?”
“To the next room?”
“To the graveyard?”
And then, with assistance from grandma and grandpa, “To the bread and wine?” Yes!
The answer is pretty obvious, once it's pointed out. Jesus has not left. He is now fully present in the form of bread and wine, just as we proclaim at every Mass. We call this the Real Presence. Jesus is fully present in the Eucharist; the bread has become his body and the wine has become his blood. This is not symbolic. It’s a real, though hidden, change, that surpasses our understanding. We receive it in faith, because God is doing something new.
The Catechism puts it this way “At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ’s Body and Blood. Faithful to the Lord’s command the Church continues to do, in his memory and until his glorious return, what he did on the Eve of his Passion:”He took bread….” “[T]aking the chalice filled with the fruit of the vine….” The signs of bread and wine become, in a way surpassing understanding, the Body and Blood of Christ. (CCC 1350)
It seems, then, that the reason the two disciples didn't recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus is that, post resurrection, Jesus will be fully present sacramentally. He is no longer only Jesus of Nazareth, the wandering preacher with a small band of followers, even though we understand he has always been the Son of God. Jesus has changed from being confined to a single place and point in time (i.e. a very small and local area of Judea, circa 33 AD) to being able to go everywhere and all times, carried through time and space by his disciples, who become moving temples. Yes, this form is unexpected, especially to those of us outside of Judaism who don't have the tradition of the Passover meal handed down, generation to generation. And certainly, it was completely unexpected even to the Jewish people of Jesus’ time. But, it also makes sense if you follow all the other covenants that God made in the Old Testament. This New Covenant, where Jesus substitutes himself for the Passover lamb, fulfills all the promises of the previous covenants in a new, astounding way.
The Returning of the Cosmos to Christ
It does one thing more, as well, that we have to realize. This is the beginning of the reconciliation, or the returning, of the cosmos to God. There is really nothing special about the little bit of wheat and the sampling of grapes that are used on the altar at Mass. The divinization of that little bit of wheat and those few grapes points to the ultimate end of the entire universe, when God will be "all in all" to creation. Like these small bits of nature, those who follow in the path of discipleship until the end will enter the Kingdom of God, will become one with the inner life of the Trinity and be divinized. This is the belief we express about the saints in heaven.
It's a lot to take in, really. I like to say it's "profoundly simple." Something to ponder, this Easter season. You can read the story of Emmaus here: Luke 24:13-35
* Republished from www.Catholic365.com
The time of the glorious season of Easter is now upon us. For the next 50 days, until the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we will celebrate the great event of the resurrection. One good way to ponder the saving action of God is by reading the spiritual classic The Following of Christ, usually referred to as The Imitation of Christ.
Written in Latin sometime between 1418 and 1427, The Imitation of Christ was composed by Thomas à Kempis, an Augustinian monk at the Monastery of Mt. St. Agnes in the Netherlands, who was responsible for the instruction of novices. As such, he spent a great deal of time creating manuscripts and writing devotionals. The Imitation of Christ is a collection of four of his books, each giving instruction on the interior life, with a special focus on living a life centered on the Eucharist. After the Bible, it is the most translated book in history, having been printed at least 745 times before 1650. It is believed that saints such as Ignatius of Loyola read a chapter from The Imitation daily and Thomas Moore professed it to be one of the essential books a Christian should own. It also had a major influence on St. Therese of Lisieux. But if the thought of diving straight into a spiritual classic is a little overwhelming, then I would like to offer a suggestion.
The Companion Guide
Ursuline sister Bridget Haase’s new book Thirty Days Praying The Imitation of Christ: A Companion to the Classic guides us into the original spiritual work. Sr. Bridget’s book is organized into 30 different topics, such as "The Inner Life," "Love of Christ," and "Rewards Promised to Those who Fight Against Sin." Each of these topics is a collection of quotes taken straight from The Imitation of Christ, enabling the reader to pray-through (in Sister’s words) a topic; sitting with it, dwelling upon it, instead of simply reading-through it. Each topic is followed by a few reflection questions that are designed to help us apply the teachings to our own lives and ends with an original prayer, written by Sr. Bridget. Finally, there is blank space following each topic for notes, art, and our own supplications. As a reader, I engage with the quotes from the original work, I ponder the reflection questions, but I especially appreciate the original ending prayers. Sr. Bridget writes simply, but clearly. She is known for her down-to-earth style of writing that combines practicality with wonder. Her prayers echo and give shape to the unformed thoughts and expressions in our hearts and minds. Let’s take a closer look at one topic, “Things Which Bring Peace.”
This entry begins with quotes from The Imitation of Christ like “Make this your aim, to do the will of another, rather than your own,” followed by “Always choose to have less rather than more” and “Always desire and pray that the will of God may be wholly fulfilled in you.” Next, we are reminded that “[This discourse] is few in words but full in meaning and abundant in fruit” and that when we feel “disturbed and discontent” it is because we have “strayed from this teaching.” The quotes end with a recognition of our dependence on God by saying “You can do all things and always desire the progress of my soul. Increase your grace in me, so that I may be able to fulfill your words and perfect my salvation.”
In the Reflection Questions that follow, Sr. Bridget invites us to ponder:
1.When have I put others’ desires before my own?
2. How do I succumb to the desire to have more and better things?
3. How do I subtly seek the praise of others to raise myself up?
The Ending Prayer ties the quotes and the questions together, raising them up in supplication:
“O God, these principles are so full of meaning and abound in fruitfulness, even though they are short on words. It takes a lifetime to be faithful to these precepts, but I want to carry them in the backpack of my life. I ask that I draw strength from them when I feel weak and barren, nourishment when I am hungry, and refreshment when I am parched and burdened. Amen.”
This is such a beautiful image. On the pilgrimage of our lives, we each carry a backpack full of supplies; some are necessary, others are not. Sr. Bridget reminds us to be thoughtful about what we choose to carry, since it is from this backpack that we get the strength, nourishment and refreshment to continue.
The questions are followed by a blank space, where we can journal, list or draw “Ways to Desire Less.”
One Final Note
One final noteworthy aspect of this little book is the inspiration behind it. Sr. Bridget writes that she first encountered The Imitation of Christ as a young nun, when she was gifted a pocket-sized edition of the classic work. It has traveled with her through the years “to the mountains of Appalachia; to the desert of Sudan, East Africa; to the bush of Senegal, West Africa; to rural areas in Mexico and to both Texas and Massachusetts” and it is with her still today. But this pocket-sized edition was not new when it was given to her. It first belonged to another Ursuline sister, Mother Mary Mildred Dooling.
Mother Mary (or Sister, as she would have been then) entered the convent in April, 1910, and used this small book as a spiritual guide throughout her life. On the first blank page, as she was beginning her religious life, Sr. Mary wrote a prayer asking God to help her be a faithful nun “just for today.” During the next 52 years as an Ursuline, Sr. Mary pored over the pages of The Imitation of Christ, selecting the topics that are found in Sr. Bridget’s new companion guide. Sr. Bridget writes that she discovered these selections in Mother Mary’s “faded handwriting at the back of the book” where Mother Mary mentions praying with the text for 30 days and arranged the reflections into areas like “the foundation of our life before God, “ the Incarnation, Death and Passion of Jesus”, and “the sweetness of eternal rest in God.”
Sr. Bridget’s companion to the classic can accompany us on our spiritual journey through Eastertide, not only making the original work more accessible, but also enabling us to pray with the communion of saints, both those known, such as St. Ignatius, St. Thomas Moore and St. Therese of Lisieux, as well as other holy voices, like Mother Mary Mildred. It is available through Amazon for $9.99 (US) by clicking the photo above or this link: https://amzn.to/38gHP61
*republished from www.catholic365.com on 4/12/2022
This week, Christians the world over will celebrate Good Friday. On the same day, beginning at sundown, the Jewish people will celebrate Passover. Most of us are familiar with the roots of the story of Passover, in which the Angel of Death “passes over” the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, thereby finally freeing them from Pharoah’s grip, enabling them to cross the Red Sea and go into the wilderness to worship God.
The 10 Plagues
Before the “pass over” occurs, however, there are 9 earlier plagues that descend upon Egypt. These plagues begin with an inanimate object, water which becomes blood, then move up through the insect and amphibian worlds in the form of frogs, lice and flies. The fifth plague, disease among livestock, shows the power of God over the animal kingdom, and the sixth, seventh and eight plagues move into the human world, starting with boils on the skin and the destruction of the crops in the field. The seventh plague, hail and fire, destroys the flax and barley, and the eighth plague, locusts, consumes whatever crops are left for food. These two plagues destroy the means of making clothes, elements used in ritual worship and basic sustenance. The ninth plague, darkness, shows God's power over the heavens themselves, as the mighty Egyptian sun god, Ra, is overcome. But despite all these shows of power and control over creation at every level, it is not until the 10th plague, the death of the first born when the Angel of Death “passes over” the houses of the Israelites marked by the blood of a lamb, that Pharaoh finally lets the Israelites go.
The 10 Plagues were not simply random events of destruction. Each plague was designed to specifically confront one of the Egyptian gods that the Egyptians worshiped. Through the plagues, God demonstrates his power and might over the false gods, on the one hand, and shows his ability to protect and provide for those who follow him, on the other. But the point of these plagues was not just to inspire fear and dread in the Egyptians, or even in the Israelites. The plagues were to set God’s people free in two ways: first, freedom from slavery to the false gods of Egypt and the behaviors and cultic action that went with that, and secondly, freedom to worship God. Freedom to turn away from and leave the false gods and freedom to turn towards and follow the true God. This is the real journey from slavery to freedom, especially freedom from generational slavery.
From the story of the Israelites, we know that just changing location doesn't result in a change of perspective, understanding, habits or heart. The mothers and fathers of the Israelites handed down the habits and behaviors of a people who had been in captivity for hundreds of years. When they were presented with freedom, they didn't know what to do with it. Once life in the desert grew scary and unpredictable, they clung to their old habits and old gods. They melted their jewelry and erected a statue of Baal, one of the gods of Egypt they were supposed to have left behind.
Strange New Gods
Fast forward a few thousand years and we can ask ourselves: Are we really any different? We may not intentionally be worshiping a golden calf, but in her book Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols of Everyday Life, Elizabeth Scalia reminds us that we have been quick to erect new gods. As we approach Good Friday, it's a good idea to look at the list of the shiny, new idols she points out, and ask ourselves how much of our daily behavior and activity centers around them, instead of on the true God, whose blood will be shed for us this week. Here are a few strange new gods to consider:
1. The God of My Feelings: Do I give myself permission to act simply based on my feelings? To nurse grudges, excuse a bad temper, mock others or act uncharitably?
2. The God of Prosperity: Do I seek more and more things, and crowd out simplicity and gratitude? Is my personal self-worth wrapped around my status symbols?
3. The God of My Plans: Do I insist that “I will be Served” and others do what I want, regardless of the harm it may cause, instead of submitting to God's Plan for Me, i.e. “I will Serve”?
4. The God of I : Am I convinced that I am God? That my wants, needs, aspirations, intellect and everything else is higher, better and more important than those of other people, even than God himself? Do I secretly look down on others because I think that I know best?
5. The God of Technology: Does technology interfere and interrupt the growth and development of normal relationships and conversations? Has it taken the place of what is real, such as nature and the people around me?
6. The God of the Idea: Is there a particular ideology that I cling to “no matter what?” That I refuse to reexamine, especially in the light of faith?
Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world through his self-sacrificing offering on Good Friday, tells us “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) As we journey with Jesus through his crucifixion, death and burial this week, let’s try to be as unencumbered as possible, shedding the old habits and sinful thoughts that we are called to leave behind, so that we are truly free to rise to new life on Easter Sunday.
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