Monday, May 12, 2014

I'm going to Sheridan!

Yesterday, the bishop announced most of the clergy changes for Wyoming. He has assigned me to Holy Name Catholic Church in Sheridan and its missions of St. Edmund's in Ranchester and Our Lady of the Pines in Story, effective July 2nd. The good people of Sheridan have done an excellent job of training their current newbie priest, Fr. Louis Shea, and I'm confident they'll do a fine job on me. Please pray for me and for the people of Sheridan, Ranchester, and Story as we prepare for this change. Here is the official text of the various changes. A clearer version is available on the bishop's blog.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Road to Emmaus

On the Road to Emmaus
The readings today show us the depth of human sadness, and the height of human bravery. To understand the readings today, I want to look first at the Gospel, then I want to go to the first reading, then I want to return to the Gospel.

We know that the Bible doesn't give us a lot of descriptive details. Because these manuscripts took so much work to produce, the authors stuck to the most important details. So when the story tells us about someone's emotions, that's huge. When Jesus asks these disciples today what they were discussing, and they "stopped, looking downcast," we should imagine the ultimate sadness, the ultimate despair, not just a rainy-day melancholy mood. These poor disciples had given up on everything. Why were they leaving Jerusalem? This isn't the walk of shame of the losing sports team. This is that agonizing walk when you walk away from the cemetery after burying someone you love. You're not sure how you go on, but you know there is nothing left for you back there.

So the first thing to understand is how incredibly heartbroken these disciples were. We hear them speaking in the past tense about their hope: "We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel." But they weren't hoping anymore. They had lost faith, and had completely given up. Because they had lost their faith, they couldn't recognize Jesus when he came to them. That's the first lesson for us. If we don't have faith through the dark times, then we won't see Jesus present in the darkness. But if we keep faith even when the world is dark, it may not make the world brighter, but we will see Jesus even in the darkness.

But Jesus is gentle with their lack of faith. Jesus, because he loves them, is going to guide them to the truth slowly. He rebukes them, yes, but the rebuke lasts only a moment, and then he teaches them. By explanation, he helps them to understand on their own. What gives me great hope is that Jesus came to these unnamed disciples at all. Here they were, running away in fear and despair, and Jesus comes straight to them. This story is situated on Easter Sunday, on the very day of the Resurrection. Jesus doesn't make the weak disciples wait until day two, after he visits the strong disciples. He meets the weak and the strong in the same way. In my own weakness, this gives me hope that as weak as I am, Jesus loves me just as much as he loves the strong disciples.

What does Jesus explain to them as they walk along? "Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted what referred to him in all the scriptures." The New Testament understanding is that all the Jewish scriptures, all the Old Testament, points to Jesus. So now we need to jump ahead chronologically to our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. The Acts of the Apostles takes place after Jesus ascended into heaven, so by this point Peter and the apostles' faith is strong. So in our first reading we see Peter trying to use Jewish scriptures to prove the resurrection of Jesus. His argument is pretty incredible. He quotes Psalm 16, which was written by King David:
Because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld,nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption.You have made known to me the paths of life;you will fill me with joy in your presence.
At this time, the Jews interpreted this Psalm as being about David himself. But Peter points out that this Psalm can't be about David, because it says "you will not suffer your holy one to see corruption." The Jewish belief at the time was the the body didn't begin decay until the fourth day after death. Jesus' resurrection on the third day meant that there was no corruption. But David had been dead and buried for hundreds of years, we still have his tomb here among us. So on one hand you have David's tomb, occupied for hundreds of years now. On the other hand you have Jesus' tomb, and it's empty! Clearly, Jesus is the Messiah!

This strong faith of Peter, as he argues boldly before a Jewish audience, is pretty remarkable when we remember how weak he was during Jesus' Passion. What happened? He witnessed the Risen Lord.

Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaus
So lets return to the Risen Lord in our Gospel reading. As the disciples reached Emmaus they convinced this stranger to stay with them. Why would they invite a wandering stranger to stay with them? They sensed in this man some answer to their sadness. They couldn't understand this feeling yet, but their hearts were burning within them, and even if they couldn't understand it, they knew they wanted whatever it was this man had to offer.

What this stranger on the road had to offer them was a restored faith. He disappeared at the breaking of the bread because Luke wants us to understand that he was present in the bread. Luke wants us to see here a connection to the Last Supper. Luke describes Jesus's action with four very deliberate words. He says Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it. Took, blessed, broke, gave. This was also how Luke described Jesus actions at the Last Supper, and also at the feeding of the 5,000. And this is the same action that that we repeat at each mass. Father takes the bread at the offertory, he blesses it in the Eucharistic Prayer, right after the Our Father he breaks it, and then he gives it to all of us at Communion. And it is in this breaking of the bread that Jesus is made known to us.

After the two disciples recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread, what did they do? They abandoned their plan of running away, and went back to the city of the Lord's execution, where the authorities were still hunting for his followers, because this news that Jesus was risen was worthy any danger. Even today, Jesus meets us in our weakness, like he did with these disciples on the road. When he meets us, and when we recognize him in the breaking of the bread, respond as the disciples did. Abandon your old plans, and run to spread the news that he truly is risen.