Facing uncertainty

Each of us, at some time in our lives, will have an Emmaus encounter, a moment in which we come face to face with the unfamiliar, accompanied by its own unique risks, challenges, and uncertainties; an encounter which we are reluctant, even afraid, to embrace. Many of us will encounter more than one such moment, if we should be so fortunate. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, it is not so much the encounter which is most important but how we embrace the moment and learn from it.

On the way

Some years ago, while in diaconal formation, I had such an encounter which, in retrospect, offers a perfect illustration of that experienced by the disciples. Throughout the formation process, each candidate was assigned various six month ministries, one of which was visiting and taking communion to the homebound. My first experience with this ministry was, shall we say, met with considerable reluctance and uncertainty on my part.

On Sunday, after early morning Mass, I drove to the assisted living facility where I was scheduled to meet with and offer communion to 4 or 5 residents in their rooms. I was nervous, unsure whether I could do this. I sat in my car for a long time—at least it seemed to me to be so—afraid to take the first step. Why this was so I cannot say, but I was immobilized by the unknown.

Reluctantly, I left the safety of my own self-constructed womb and took a few steps toward the building, only to find myself becoming nauseous and returning to my car. Eventually, after a few deep breaths and much prayer, I found myself entering the room of the first resident, a woman of some ninety years of age, with a beatific smile that could melt even the hardest of hearts.

In the breaking of the bread, offering her Holy Communion, my eyes were opened and I encountered the resurrected Jesus in her face. I realized at that moment that my heart had been burning within me on the way. The gift of his presence came to both of us that day. It was transformative, opening hearts to seeing what was once hidden from sight. I encountered two strangers, I gained two friends, I had been freed from my fear.

What is perhaps most compelling is the thought, —no, more of an honest conviction—an image of three robed figures in rapt conversation, on the road to somewhere. What draws attention, what thought gives mention to this scene is what is yet unrecognized: the stranger walking with them, knowing them yet they know not who he is.

How like ourselves. We walk with strangers throughout our lives, never knowing the stranger, never inviting the stranger into our lives. We immobilize ourselves within our self-constructed wombs, afraid to acknowledge our own doubts, our own confusion, insecurities, neediness, and especially our brokenness.

The encounter on the road to Emmaus can be seen as a metaphor for how, no matter how far we might stray or how long we might find ourselves lost, feeling abandoned and alone, God knows where we are and he never leaves us, never.

We are too easily distracted by all that surrounds us: the violence, the gut-wrenching economic turmoil, the overt, unreasoned vitriolic anger, hatred, and resentment spilling out upon our streets and communities, all draw our attention away from him.

Like those disciples on their way to Emmaus, we so often get caught up with things of the world that we lose the ability to recognize his presence among us, in the human brokenness we encounter.

Our eyes will be opened to his presence among us when we break bread with others. When we encounter those with broken hearts, Jesus is there. When we comfort someone with a broken spirit, Jesus is there. Whenever we encounter anyone who is experiencing pain or loss and we console them, Jesus is present. When we feed the hungry, offer clothes and shelter to the homeless, Jesus is there. Whenever we visit the lonely, the sick, and the dying, Jesus is there. Jesus is there. Jesus is there.

Jesus told us as much when he taught us of the final judgment: “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me.”1 And Jesus went on to tell us, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”2

In today’s Gospel, we encounter two disciples on a road, a road we are told that leads to Emmaus. But a road can be more than a path to a destination, a road can be a symbol, a symbol of pilgrimage, a quest.

Sometimes a pilgrimage entails a physical journey to a physical place, such as a pilgrimage to the Holy Land or to the sites where Mary has appeared. But there is another kind, a pilgrimage so deep and intense, a pilgrimage that originates in the innermost places within the soul as a quest for Truth.

We are pilgrims on a quest to discover our place in God’s infinite plan. Each of us seeks to discover what God has in store for us. Our lives are filled with many stopping points, places where we discover another truth within the Truth that is God. Some are places where we come to live, to work, and perhaps to raise a family. But then there are other places less obvious: places for prayer, to worship, for the breaking of the bread, for giving thanks to Almighty God.

A few years ago, Donald Miller in Blue like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality in which he wrote:

I am early in my story, but I believe I will stretch out into eternity, and in heaven I will reflect upon these early days, these days when it seemed God was down a dirt road, walking toward me. Years ago He was a swinging speck in the distance; now He is close enough I can hear His singing. Soon I will see the lines on His face.3

Such a wonderful vision of our journey toward heaven, our quest to eventually see God face to face.

There is a paradox of faith, of distance and closeness, of belief and unbelief, of certainty and doubt, that repeats itself over and over again in our lives. Often we are blind to it in our own lives although we can see it clear enough in the lives of others.

Someone speaks of feeling distant from God, acknowledging that this separation is resulting in great unhappiness. They are filled with regrets, wishing they had used their gifts more wisely, wishing they had been more attentive, closer to God, more appreciative and prayerful. There are even times when trust in God is lost and they feel they are lost as well.

Someone else wonders where faith has gone, there is no longer a sense of wonder and mystery, now it just seems empty without God.

So too were the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We hear them say, “But we were hoping that he would be the one …” Once there was hope, they thought. Yet, even their sense of loss, their longing, was that not hope? Even their desire to believe was believing. Even their longing to love was love.

Sometimes we forget to look to ourselves and see our own brokenness. What we so readily discern in others we cannot see within us. Such self-blindness can be a good thing, but unless we are open and honest in admitting to our own faults and failures, to our weaknesses and brokenness we will find it difficult to recognize the presence of God in our life.

Those who saw the resurrected Jesus often failed to recognize him. Mary Magdalene knew that it was him only when he said her name. The disciples recognized him only in the breaking of the bread. The resurrected Jesus was miraculously both different from before and yet the same person. That remains true today as it was then.



Homily #120
Third Sunday of Easter (A)
Acts 2:14, 22-33
1 Peter 1:17-21
Luke 24:13-35

1 Matthew 25:34-35.
2 Matthew 25:40.
3 Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Sprituality, (Thorndike Press, August 2006), 1.


About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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