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Apr 23
When You Are Worried, the Risen Jesus Walks at Your Side
Fr. Michael McGourty is pastor of St. Peter’s Parish in Toronto.

This Sunday’s Gospel, from Luke 24:13-35, presents us with the story of “The Disciples on the Road to Emmaus,” which has always been one of my favourite Gospel stories. 

It takes place on the “very day” that Jesus has risen from the dead. Some of the disciples are just learning that Jesus has risen. The disciples in this story, Cleopas and his friend, are actually leaving Jerusalem — walking away from the holy city. 

As they leave the city, they are completely destitute, feeling that all their hopes and dreams were destroyed by Jesus’ death. They even say: “We were hoping that He would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place.” They were devastated by the death of the one whom they thought would redeem Israel and they now cannot imagine their future.

What is truly baffling about this story is that these disciples do not even recognize Jesus as He approaches them and attempts to comfort them. They are so overwhelmed by their problems and difficulties that they are unable to recognize that Christ is with them. 

This, I think, can happen to so many of us in the course of our lives. We focus on our own problems and we refuse to look outward to find the Lord walking with us in those trials. The more serious our problems become, the less we look outward to see God. We can find ourselves believing that God has abandoned us. Yet, like the disciples in this Gospel, God is with us – at our side – as we walk through our trials, even if we fail to see that He is with us.

Many people today, myself included, have been completely broadsided by this COVID-19 pandemic. It has caused us to question how we can deal with this situation. At times, we can doubt whether God is with us through our trials. We can find ourselves, like the disciples in this beautiful Gospel story, walking away from God and not recognizing that the Lord is with us. But, as He was with the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, Jesus invites us to see His face in our difficulties.

In 2005, Saint John Paul II wrote a beautiful commentary on this Gospel, which spoke of the Lord’s presence with us and the manner in which we are invited to see him present in our lives. This letter was entitled, Mane Nobiscum Domine (in English, Stay with Us Lord). It points to the importance of the Eucharist in our lives and the way in which we are invited, through the celebration of the Mass, to know Christ’s presence in our lives. 

At this difficult time, when we are unable to gather in our churches to celebrate Mass together, I think it is important to remind ourselves that the Lord is present to us in the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Word and in the Christian community. To reflect on this, we might remind ourselves of God’s past presence in our lives, His presence now and what His presence in our lives will be when we can once more gather in the churches to celebrate the Eucharist in the Christian community as we are intended to do.

Saint John Paul II said that we can see three moments in this Sunday’s Gospel that are similar to the encounter that Jesus invites each of us to share with Him when we celebrate Mass. These moments are: 1) Encounter; 2) Communion; and 3) Mission.

Encounter


In this Gospel story, the disciples have an encounter with the Lord. On the very day that He had risen from the dead, Jesus appears to His disciples and celebrates a Mass with them. At first, they are actually blinded from seeing Him, as they are caught up in their own worries and anxieties. Jesus goes through the Old Testament teachings about the Messiah and helps the disciples see that God has been present with the people of Israel in their sufferings. When He breaks bread with them, finally, their eyes are opened and they see Jesus with them on the road, despite their fears and uncertainties. 

During these days when we cannot be together as a community to celebrate Mass, we can still read the Scriptures and reflect upon how God has been present to His people in difficult times. Each one of us can reflect on how in the past the Eucharist and the Sunday gathering strengthened us and helped us be aware of how much Jesus loves us. We will once again be able to see Him in the Eucharist and be with Him when this situation passes. In fact, the only reason that we are not gathering to celebrate today is out of love for our brothers and sisters who we do not want to become sick and possibly die by our coming together. 

As we keep apart during this time, out of charity, the Lord still invites us to be certain of His presence in our midst – to encounter Him and care for one another. Just as He appeared to His distressed disciples on the day of His resurrection, Jesus invites us to encounter Him in our struggles, to be affirmed by our past celebrations of the Eucharist and to look forward to when we are able to celebrate together again.

Communion


Saint John Paul II says that after the disciples encountered the Lord in the breaking of the bread, they were established in communion with the Lord. When they did not recognize Him on the path, this communion had not yet been established. Only after they had encountered Him were their eyes open through the encounter and their hearts burned within them as they enjoyed communion with Him. You and I enjoyed communion with the Lord every time we have celebrated the Eucharist together with Him. This communion occurs as the Holy Spirit is sent into our hearts and we are established in a communion with the Holy Trinity. 

However, we are also established in communion with one another as brothers and sisters who are members of the Body of Christ; which is both the Eucharist and the community of the baptized. This communion exists even when we cannot come together to celebrate Mass. What has been established in us through baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist cannot be diminished now that we cannot gather together in our churches. 

We can still pray and ask God to send the Holy Spirit into our hearts as we await the day we can once again enjoy this communion together at the celebration of the Sunday Mass. We can still reach out to members of the community and support them by charitable efforts, phone calls and prayers. We can call people who live alone. We can buy and leave groceries at the doors of a neighbour who is a senior. And we can pray for those who are sick and dying alone. We can find strength in the hope that we will be together again in the community life that is so important to each of us.

Mission


Once the disciples had encountered the Lord – and were established in communion with Him — they rushed to tell the others that Jesus had risen and was with them. Saint John Paul II said this rushing to tell others pointed to the mission that belongs to all of the baptized. That mission is given to us at the end of every Mass when we are sent out into the world to share the Good News with our brothers and sisters, and to work for the building of the Kingdom of God in our daily lives. The name for the “Mass” actually comes from the Latin words that are used at the end of Mass (“Ite Missae est,” in English, “Go, the Mass is finished”). We actually come to Mass on Sunday so that we might be sent out to live the rest of the week with the Lord and to make Him present to others.  

It has been a while since most of us were sent forth from Mass. However, each one of us still has a mission. That mission is to help build-up the Church in the world. We can still live that mission by speaking a word of hope to those in need. By sharing the Good News with our brothers and sisters in this time of uncertainty. 

We can also live that mission by supporting the Church’s work at this difficult time. Part of the mission of the laity is to support the work of the Church financially. This is needed now more than ever, as our parishes are closed and have no revenues from the Sunday collection. Please, if you are able, support the needs of your local church during this pandemic. Donations can be mailed to your parish, left at the parish or made electronically through the archdiocesan website

Another way to aid the Church’s mission is to support ShareLife. The many agencies that care for the poor and the marginalized are struggling to keep up with the number of requests for help. Again, this can be done by mailing your donations to the parish, leaving them at the parish door or by donating online.  

Standing Right in Front of Them


The Disciples on the Road to Emmaus tells a powerful story of how Jesus’ friends were blinded to His presence during a sad and uncertain time. They were so consumed by thoughts of how they could not continue without their friend that they could not see Him standing right in front of them. As we confront the uncertainty of the COVID-19 virus, many of us have the same uncertainty and are blinded to Jesus’ presence in our lives. 

Even though we might be unable to see Him in these difficult times, the risen Jesus always walks at our side. He invites us to look for Him in new and different ways — even if it means looking where He has always been in the past. Scripture, prayer and acts of charity, while maintaining social distance, will help us encounter Jesus. By inviting the Lord into our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can experience communion with the Holy Trinity and, through acts of charity, live in communion with our brothers and sisters. 

By our baptism, we all have a mission as member of Christ’s Body, the Church. This mission is not diminished when we cannot receive the Eucharist. We are called to live this mission in a new way, as we support one another, our parishes and ShareLife through acts of charity and generosity. We are still the Church – a family of faith – and when this pandemic has passed, we will come together again to encounter the Lord and live our mission as brothers and sisters strengthened by the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist.

May we, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, have our eyes opened to the risen Lord who is always at our side in these uncertain times. 

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