Wednesday, May 11, 2011

As you walk along the way, Christ is passing by. Sermon of May 8th

3rd Sunday of Easter
May 8th, 2011
Luke 24:13-35

Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way?

I would like to share with you a very personal story from my time in seminary. In fact, I want to tell you about an experience I had in confession while I was training for the priesthood. You see, all the seminarians go to confession at least once each month; many of us even would go every week. And the seminary has older, experienced, and wise priests who assist the seminarians in the spiritual life and who are available for the sacrament of reconciliation.

I recall on time when I went to confession to one of these wise old monsignors, a holy and devout man – and, before we began the confession, he told me that we would read a passage of the Scriptures and listen to what the Lord had to say to me in the sacrament.
The old priest proceeded to open the Bible at random and, in a manner with which I am sure many of you are familiar, he read the first passage that he came to. For my part, I prayed to the good Lord that I might be open to hear what he wanted to tell me through this Bible verse.
But the passage the monsignor began to read was like one of those obscure parts of the Old Testament – something like, “So and so begot so and so who begot so and so who begot so and so …” and so forth. I’ll be honest, I could not immediately see what this passage had to do with my life or how the Lord was speaking to me through it. So I prayed, “Lord open my heart and my mind to hear your voice.”
Well, the priest finished the passage, closed the Bible and sat back in prayer. I could tell he was moved by the Holy Spirit and that whatever he said next would be filled with wisdom. The holy old priest began at that moment to pray – and he said, “Lord … we have no idea what you are trying to tell us through that Bible verse!” J
Indeed, it caught me by such surprise that I too had to chuckle a bit.

Maybe we feel that way pretty often as we read the Scriptures. We think, “Lord, what do you want from me? What are you telling me?” Perhaps our hearts and minds are closed and we cannot recognize the Lord’s voice even in the Scriptures themselves.
This was very much the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They did not yet understand the Scriptures, nor did they understand what Christ wanted from them or for them. They were lost and in darkness – but the Lord came into their midst and revealed himself. In the breaking of the bread, that is in the Eucharistic mystery, these two disciples recognized the Lord and come to understand the true meaning of the Scriptures.

There are, of course, many techniques for reading the Bible effectively. There are many valid and good methods of prayer – but among them all, one that seems to be particularly helpful in the modern day is to try to put ourselves into the biblical narrative. As we read a passage from the Bible, it may be helpful to try to identify with one or more of the biblical characters – to see ourselves reflected in the men and women spoken of in the Bible story.
As we read of the mysterious encounter on the road to Emmaus, it is probably very easy for us to identify with Cleopas and his companion – we can easily recognize ourselves in these two; how we meet Christ at the most unexpected but also most necessary times. And this is very good – we are very much like those two.

However, I would like to look at the story from a slightly different perspective – it is that which was given by St. Josemaria Escriva, a Spanish priest during their Civil War and truly one of the greatest priests of modern times. Fr. Escriva tells us that we ought not only to see ourselves in those two disciples, but we must identify with Christ Jesus himself.
As those two disciples went along the way, they were on the point of despair, steeped in sorrow and lost in spiritual darkness. They are symbolic of the world today: A world of inexpressible sorrow, a world which is nearly lost in despair. Indeed, the great sin of the modern age is not overindulgence, it’s despair! We live in an age without hope and without joy – and, as Christians, we have much to offer.
The characteristic of the Christian faith is supernatural joy. What the Christian has to offer the world is hope in the midst of suffering, joy in the midst of darkness. We must spread the light of Christ, which is the teachings of his Gospel, to all peoples – for this alone will bring the world true joy and true peace.

In this respect, St. Josemaria tells us that we are to be as Christ to the world. When we read this passage we must learn to see ourselves reflected in the Risen Lord. The holy priest tells us that, when we finish a conversation with co-workers, or neighbors, or family and friends, they ought to be inspired to turn to one another and say, “Were not our hearts burning within us as that Christian spoke to us on the way!”
Are we Christ to the world? Do we ignite the fire of divine charity in the hearts of those with whom we speak? Are we as Christ not only to our friends and loved ones, but also to those whom we maybe don’t like so much?
This is the challenge which Fr. Escriva gives us today and throughout this week – That we might imitate Christ and bring the joy of the Gospel to those whom we meet, whosoever they may be.
And, as we walk along the way, may people recognize that in us Christ is passing by.