On Easter Wednesday our gospel reading is one of the best loved of the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection appearance – his meeting with two disciples on the road to Emmaus and his meal with them (Luke 24:13-35). The human touches and depth of understanding always touch our hearts – and because the encounter reaches its climax a meal with the breaking of bread, we normally draw on this beautiful picture, illustrated so powerfully here by Caravaggio, to deepen our faith in the Eucharist, the Mass, in the Easter season.
This is a bit different this year. For most Catholics in this country and many other parts of the world, for some weeks now the only experience of the Eucharist has been remote, through the internet or broadcasting; and, for the most part, people have been completely unable to receive Holy Communion – and at Easter, something almost unimaginable in terms of our traditional faith. If we are only able to join in a Mass by looking at a screen, listening to what happens and trying to say the responses are we really able to say, with the disciples, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us….?’
Many of you have found participating in the Mass online very sustaining and we should be thankful for what human wisdom and ingenuity through modern technology, a gift from God, has enabled us to do in ways which would have been unknown in earlier generations or even a few years ago. As many have pointed out, this strange experience ought to make us value being able to be at Mass again when that day comes; of course there are many Catholics who don’t have the internet and for them this period may well be much more painful.
But there’s also a clue in today’s reading about the chances we have at the moment. The second part of the disciples’ sentence I quoted above; ‘…..as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us.’ In the Catholic Church in this country, we’re enduring church closure because of the pandemic in the middle of the Year of the Word, ‘It is God who speaks’. As I have written before, the purpose of this special year is to make up for our often woeful ignorance of the Bible: perhaps this is providential, to give us strength when we can’t get to church. The hearts of the disciples burn within them when Jesus explains the Scriptures to them: is that our experience when we open the Bible? We don’t, of course, have the Lord sitting with us at our dinner tables, but if we read Bible passages slowly and carefully, trying to get inside the passage or imagine that we’re there, we can be aware of the presence of God; and it can warm our hearts.
The purpose of these reflections each day is to enable us to encounter the daily Mass readings prayerfully, letting them speak to us and fire up our hearts. If by chance you don’t have a Bible, or don’t have a good modern Catholic Bible, this might be a good time to order one – I would recommend the brand new ‘Revised New Jerusalem Bible’. This way out hearts might ‘burn within us’.
God bless and take care.
The first reading today is the account in Acts (from chapter 3) of the apostles Peter and John going to the Temple to pray, and healing a lame man by the entrance. He’s actually asking for money; Peter says to him ‘gold and silver have I none, but in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, get up and walk’, and the man is healed.
There’s a wonderful story about the medieval friar St Dominic in the Middle Ages visiting the pope when he was getting his new religious order approved. It is said that the pope gave Dominic a tour of the Vatican’s treasures, and said to him, ‘No longer does the Church say “gold and silver have I none”‘ – to which Dominic is said to have replied, ‘Nor can it say, “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, get up and walk”‘
One of the consistent messages of that pope’s successor now, Pope Francis, is that there is always going to be a link between how we live as a Church and our capacity to bring healing to the world, and we need to hear this message even more clearly in the midst of the suffering caused by the pandemic. Only if we become the Church primarily of the poor, if we live like the Lord Jesus and the apostles Peter and John, and stand by the poor in the world (who are suffering most at the moment) can we offer healing and mercy. If we lack authenticity and credibility, as we often have, men and women will understandably turn away from us. This is why the current crisis offers the Church an opportunity to be really apostolic, to divest ourselves of wealth and privilege to serve the poor whom God loves, to offer healing and solace to those who are sick.
God bless and take care