22 April 2023

The Road to Emmaus can be anywhere. Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A


Supper at Emmaus
Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35 (English Standard Version, Anglicised)

That very day two of the disciples were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 1and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is towards evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.


Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Cliffview, Lancaster, Kentucky

Today's gospel reminds me of a 'casual' meeting during Lent of 1969. The previous September I had begun a three-year course in music at Manhattanville College, Purchase, NY, north of New York City. (In 1966 the trustees of the college, run by the Religious of the Sacred Heart, had dropped 'of the Sacred Heart' from the name of the school - a sign of things to come in the Church.)

I was on my way to class one morning and met a student named Betty coming from class. We stopped for a brief chat. I asked her what she planned to do for the Easter vacation. She told me that she and a few other students were going to work in a parish in eastern Kentucky for the week. I had no pastoral obligations after the Holy Week ceremonies - I was one of the chaplains at the college while a student - and asked Betty if there was room for one more. There was.

We drove the 1,500 or so kms to Lancaster, Kentucky, one of four towns in a very large rural parish where there were only a handful of Catholics, where there was widespread poverty and the remnants of an anti-Catholicism that was based mainly on ignorance. The parish priest was Fr Ralph Beiting, then in his mid-40s, whom I mentioned last week. We met some college students from other parts of the USA.

Our work that week was not what you would call exciting. We spent most of our time cleaning out parish buildings, scrubbing and polishing floors. This was in preparation for summer programmes that included a Bible school for young people, summer camps from Monday to Friday in nearby Cliffview (see photo above) for children, boys one week, girls another, black and white children together at a time when there was very little social interaction between the two groups. There was house-to-house visitation in pairs, and similar activities in the other three towns in the parish and in the four counties where they were located.

Fr Ralph Beiting
1 January 1934 – 9 August 2012 [photo]

The six weeks I spent in Kentucky in the summer of 1969 is the only extended experience in my life that I would like to re-live, if that were possible. (A glorious winter’s day skiing in January of the same year in Toggenburg Ski Resort, near Syracuse, NY, my only time to try it, is the only short-term experience I’d love to re-live!) The Kentucky experience was one of discovery. I discovered that I had the ability to sit and listen to individuals. That is because a number of the college students I was working with, and one or two older persons, approached me and opened up to me. I had been totally unaware before that of this quality that others saw in me.

I also saw the different gifts that people have. Fr Beiting was a wonderful organiser, a man who inspired young people, who expected all the volunteers to attend our daily Mass. He responded to the spiritual and corporal needs of the people he served, his own people. He went preaching from town to town with seminarians to accompany him, setting up his microphone at a crossroads or other places where people might congregate. On one occasion he was driven out at gunpoint but showed up next day, not to preach, but to let the people know he was there. Eventually people saw that he was carrying on an old tradition in that part of the USA of travelling preachers, rather like Jesus himself. But the Protestant preachers seldom moved around anymore. Fr Beiting preached basic Christianity and was a 'man's man' in the best sense of that expression.

But if you wanted to talk about a problem, Fr Beiting wasn't the best person to sit and listen to you. Another priest I met was wonderful with children but found adolescents and young adults difficult to relate to. Each of us has our own specific gifts from God, all of which are needed. Fr Beiting made it possible for people to discover their gifts and use them in the service of others. 

This was a like a liberating revelation to me, a sense of realising what St Thérèse of Lisieux said about holiness: it is becoming what God wants us to be. It was for me something like the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

For a very long time after that summer 54 years ago I felt something like what one of the two disciples in today's gospel said: Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?

Another grace I experienced was the importance of friendship in our lives. I made some life-long friends that summer. In one instance God used me many years later to pull back one of those friends from suicide.

My 'casual' meeting with Betty on campus that Lenten morning wasn't, as I look back, the beginning of a conversion like that of Saul experiencing the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus. It was rather like the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, a growth in awareness of who I was as one called by God to the priesthood. And it was an experience of the joy of being a priest, a grace reinforced while working with joyful, dedicated priests that summer and for part of the following summer. And much of that joy came from the Lord through the generous, idealistic young people I was working with in Kentucky.

The road to Emmaus can be anywhere and the Lord can meet us through others we meet on that road. The two disciples who met Jesus, who invited him to dine with them, experienced the truth of the words of Jesus at the Last Supper: These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full (John 15:11).

I Can See (The Emmaus Song)
Written and sung by Steve Green

Traditional Latin Mass

Second Sunday After Easter

Good Shepherd Sunday

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 04-23-2023 if necessary).

Epistle: 1 Peter 2:21-25. Gospel: John 10:11-16.

The Good Shepherd
Early Italian Christian Painter [Web Gallery of Art]

Communion Antiphon (John 10:14)

I am the good Shepherd, alleluia, alleluia. I know My sheep and Mine know me, alleluia, alleluia.

1 comment:

Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...

Dearest Father Seán,
Yes, the Road to Emmaus is what all of us have been on throughout life.
It is often by meeting others that we get more insight in life, in Faith and above all—in ourselves.