Sunday, 27 April 2008

6th Sunday of Easter Year A

The 2nd Reading is relevant because it tells us to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us for the reason for our hope. In expounding JPII’s encyclical, we are actually trying to give the reason for the hope we have. Today, for continuity’s sake, let me recap my homily for last week. It covered mainly two points. Firstly, the Eucharist builds the Church. The Eucharist builds the Church because “communion with Christ in the sacrament necessarily becomes communion with all those who receive Him”. Disunity, which is a consequence of sin can be overcome by the unifying power of the Body of Christ. Thus, the Eucharist, precisely by building up the Church, helps create human community. [1]

Secondly, Eucharistic adoration is simply the natural consequence of Eucharistic celebration. The act of adoration outside Mass prolongs and intensifies all that takes place during the liturgical celebration itself. Spending time before the Blessed Sacrament in adoration is to follow the example of the Beloved Disciple who lay close to the Heart of Jesus, feeling the presence of His infinite love.

I concluded by saying that the more we desire to be truly the Body of Christ, the more we want to be like Jesus, the more we desire conversion... then the more should we commune with Jesus through Holy Communion and Adoration. The fact is, we are all good at Mass attendance but we may all want to improve on spending time before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

Today, the topic covers the apostolicity of the Eucharist. There is such a profound relationship between the Church and the Eucharist so much so that what is described of the Church can also be described of the Eucharist. According to the Nicene Creed, the Church is professed to be “one, holy, catholic and apostolic”. The Eucharist too can be described as one and universal. It is also holy since we know it as the Most Holy Sacrament. Our focus today is to uncover its apostolic character.

According to the CCC, when the Church is described as Apostolic, there are three meanings to the term. Firstly, the Church is built upon the foundation of the Apostles (Eph 2:20). Thus, the Eucharist also has its foundation in the Apostles but not in the sense that it did not originate from Christ. It is Apostolic in the sense that it was entrusted by Jesus to the Apostles and has been handed down by them and their successors.

Secondly, the Church is Apostolic because she, with the help of the Holy Spirit, keeps and hands on the teaching, the “good deposit”, the salutary words she has heard from the Apostles. Likewise, the Eucharist is Apostolic because the Church has, throughout her history, defined her teaching on the Eucharist but always in order to safeguard this Apostolic faith with regard to this sublime mystery.

Thirdly, the Church is apostolic in the sense that she “continues to be taught, sanctified and guided [2] by the Apostles until Christ’s return, meaning through the college of Bishops assisted by priests, in union with the Successor of Peter. Apostolic succession is guaranteed through the sequence of uninterrupted and valid ordination of Bishops and is necessary for the Church to exist in a proper and full sense.

Likewise the Eucharist is apostolic in the sense that it requires a valid priesthood to consecrate the Eucharist. We often hear the phrase “in persona Christi”. It simply means that only those “who have received the sacrament of Holy Orders” are conferred with the power to act in the person of Christ in order to consecrate the Eucharist. Holy Orders which comes through “apostolic succession” is necessary for linking the Eucharistic consecration to the sacrifice of the Cross and to the Last Supper. As such, the Eucharist is apostolic because without an ordained priest, the Eucharistic mystery cannot be celebrated. [3]

The Eucharist as apostolic thus has implications for us. First of all, this means that the Eucharist celebrated is a gift which transcends the power of the assembly. In short, it is not up to the “assembly, community or gathering” to make for itself. No community is capable of providing the priest but instead the priest is a gift which the community receives through apostolic succession, through the laying on of hands. [4]

Secondly, in the area of ecumenism, we have made much progress in dialogue with our separated brothers and sisters especially with the Lutherans and Anglicans. [5] Yet, a concern we have is with the status or reality of “communion” in the Protestant traditions who have lost the sacrament of Holy Orders. Catholics, even though they are encouraged to work for unity, are asked to refrain from receiving communion in Protestant worship because the action would not hasten unity but may actually slow the progress towards visible unity. [6]

Thirdly, some confusion needs to be clarified. Ecumenical services cannot substitute for Sunday Mass. Even lay services cannot be considered adequate but only a temporary measure. [7] And this raises a very pertinent question for everyone. It is the question of vocation. JPII mentions that the Eucharist being the centre and summit of the Church’s life, should also be the centre and summit of priestly ministry. This becomes the basis for the promotion of priestly vocation. The fact that there are parishes with no priest should spur the whole community to pray with greater fervour for more vocations.

In conclusion, this parish is served by Jesuit priests—fortunately or unfortunately. Say, if the entire Jesuit community were to perish in an unfortunate accident, then what would become of this entire community? This hypothetical situation shows how “Apostolic” the Eucharist is because nobody from the congregation would dare to come up and say, “I’ll celebrate Mass for you”. Why? This is because there is something about the bread and the wine being transformed into the body and blood of Christ which everyone here knows is a power that does not come from oneself. I cannot give that power to myself. Remember Jesus before Pilate. Jesus says to Pilate simply: You would have no power over me unless it was given above. The power to make the Eucharist comes from above and it is given. That is why we have “apostolic succession”.

Christ promises to be with us. He does so through the Eucharist. As such, it cannot be that He wants to be with us without providing that means of being with us. The shortage of “means”, the shortage of priests, is not because Christ has stopped calling. We have stopped responding.

[1] If we want to build communities, we need to be God-centred. On the other hand, what we have done so far is to try to build communities, forge communities to proof that we are God-centred. That may explain why the Eucharist is often regarded as a fellowship meal. It is used (or abused) as a means to unity.
[2] These three functions correspond to the triple callings that comes with our baptism: prophet/teacher, priest and king/shepherd
[3] Apostolic succession is commonly understood as a tracing back to the times of the apostles. It’s almost like a genealogical process that looks back at one’s ancestry. Where did this Bishop come from and after that where did his predecessor Bishop come from, and so forth? But, it is more dynamic than looking backward. It is dynamic because it is looking forward. We deal not with mundane things. We deal with Holy Things and therefore, apostolic succession is our guarantee of an objective action that produces objective result. We want to know that the bread and wine becomes truly the Body and Blood of Christ. Apostolic succession provides that guarantee. Therefore, it is not as much looking backward as it is a forward projection to guarantee that every Catholic present now who receives Holy Communion receives truly the Body and Blood of Christ. Now, perhaps you understand why the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) does not allow the priest to simply adlib the Eucharistic Prayer.
[4] In times past, there were priests who celebrated the Eucharist for a small congregation who would leave the ciborium and the chalice for the congregation to take Communion for themselves or to drink from the chalice. This practice is not supported by the GIRM. A possible explanation for this prohibition could be that this practice of “self-communicating” does not correspond to the nature of the Eucharist as “received”.
[5] With the Anglicans, the problem is within the Anglican Communion. So, dialogue is problematic because amongst themselves, they are having doctrinal disagreements.
[6] The Eucharist is both a means and sign of unity. It may be a means to unity and yet, it is also a sign that we are united in being taught, sanctified and guided. Thus, to “simply” receive communion because we want to “feel” as one, is to “witness to a lie”. There is, in fact, no unity to witness to. If we accept that “fellowship” is the fruit of our making, then our stress is to ensure that people feel good about the interactions amongst themselves. We should then use “communion” to try to forge communion. But, if we accept that unity is the work of the Holy Spirit, then, it requires that we face up to the disunity that still exists and be ready to dialogue in truth. Truth does not always make us feel good. Instead, truth beckons us to serve it whether we feel good or not.
[7] We are blessed with many so-called “extra-ordinary” ministers of Holy Communion. Extra-ordinary for us has the connotation that it is something out of this world. For example, the meal was extra-ordinary means that the meal was excellent. Canon Law’s use of the term extra-ordinary just means that it is a temporary situation, a situation out of the ordinary. In fact, it says that the “ordinary” ministers of Holy Communion are the Bishop, the priest and the deacon... everything else is extra-ordinary and therefore only a stop-gap measure. What we have done is to take the “stop-gap” measures to be the norm. I feel we have applied a “sociological” solution to a theological problem. It means we have looked at society and try to find a solution for our shortage of priest through such measures as “lay celebration” or having more “married deacons”. These solutions are not bad but the solution to the shortage of priestly vocation is theological. If we seriously believe that we are truly receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, then we should equally be serious in promoting vocation in order to ensure that we may never be in short supply of the Bread of Life.

Monday, 21 April 2008

5th Sunday of Easter Year A

This Sunday marks the 2nd in a series of 6 Sundays where the preaching will be based on the 14th encyclical of JP II: Ecclesia de Eucharistia. Last week, the homily’s main point covered the idea of the Eucharist as sacrifice. The implication that the Eucharist is a sacrifice is far reaching. As sacrifice, it serves to direct our attention to God and as such the Eucharist is primarily God-centred. Being God-centred, we will be on guard against reducing the Eucharist to just a fellowship meal because a Eucharist reduced to a fellowship meal would no longer be the worship of God but rather a worship of the community and a celebration of the community’s achievement. If that be the case, then the community’s needs will become the measure of the way we celebrate Mass. The implication is far reaching because the Eucharist, as long as it is not God-centred, it cannot be “other-centred”. The saints’ great love for the poor, the hungry and the orphans is testimony of a life which is centred first on God. It is only when we are God-centred will our genuine concern for the world increase. The Eucharist continually directs our attention to God.

This Sunday, we explore two ideas. First, we take a look at the idea that the Eucharist builds the Church. Second, John Paul II speaks of Eucharistic adoration as constitutive of the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

Firstly, the Eucharist builds the Church simply because in its celebration, the unity of the faithful, who form one body in Christ, is both expressed and brought about. The Eucharist is both a means and a sign of unity. [1] And it all started with the Apostles. They who gathered with Jesus at the Last Supper were both the seeds of the new Israel and the beginning of the sacred hierarchy. There in the Upper Room, the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary is sacramentally brought forward in time and the Apostles’ acceptance of Jesus’ invitation to eat and drink of his body and blood, allowed them to enter into sacramental communion with him.

Thus, from the time of the Apostles until the end of time, the Church is continually built up through sacramental communion with the Son of God. By virtue of our baptism, we are incorporated into Christ and that grafting into the Body of Christ is consolidated by our sharing in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

In the Eucharist, we do not only receive Christ in communion; Christ also receives each of us. Our union with Christ opens us to become a sacrament for humanity, a sign and instrument of the salvation achieved by Christ. St Peter says in today’s 2nd Reading: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praise of God who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light”. Thus, the Church’s mission stands in continuity with the mission of Christ.

In this mission, the Holy Spirit, who is inseparably joined to the activity of the Son in the founding of the Church, is also present in the consolidation and continuation of her life. At the blessing over the bread and wine, God the Father also sends the Holy Spirit upon those who believe so that those who eat of the body and drink of the blood may be helped into the unity that is a reflexion of the one Body of Christ.

We can discern that the communion with the Blood and Body of the Risen Lord not only builds the vertical communion with the Risen Lord. It also builds the communion between all those communicating with the Lord. According to the then Cardinal Ratzinger, he said, “vertical communion builds horizontal communion, while horizontal communion becomes the epiphany of vertical communion. Communion with Christ in the sacrament necessarily becomes communion also with all those who receive him”. St Paul expresses the same idea in his letter to the Corinthians where he made reference to the unity of Christians using the analogy of bread in which the one loaf is made up of many grains of wheat. As such, our experience of disunity, which is a result of sin, can now be countered by the unifying power of the body of Christ. The Eucharist, precisely by building up the Church, also creates human community.

Secondly, the worship of the Eucharist outside of Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the Church. The celebration of the Eucharist is more than just attending Sunday Mass. Rather, Eucharistic adoration is simply the natural consequence of the Eucharistic celebration, which is itself the Church's supreme act of adoration…. The act of adoration outside Mass prolongs and intensifies all that takes place during the liturgical celebration itself. (Sacramentum caritatis#66, Post-Synodal Exhortation, 2005). Spending time before the Blessed Sacrament in adoration is to follow the example of the Beloved Disciple who lay close to His breast, feeling the presence of His infinite love (Jn 13:25).

These two points—the Eucharist builds the Church and Eucharistic adoration—may seem incongruent; that they have nothing to do with each other. But, the Church is beginning to realise that with advent of Vatican II’s liturgical reform, we had, in trying to catch up with the times, inadvertently neglected a necessary pre-requisite for the building up of the Christian community. We know that Mass is important. But, so too is spending time before the Blessed Sacrament.

It helps thus to situate the importance of adoration within the experience of conversion. How often have you despaired from your lack of conversion? People have stopped going for Confession. Why? They feel that nothing has changed in them and they keep falling back into the same sin. And it doesn’t take long to fall away from the practice of Mass attendance. People sometimes feel “unworthy” to come to Mass because they are unable to forgive or move on. Why go for Mass when I can’t love?

Such an attitude towards either conversion or Mass reveals a lack of understanding. It is as if we can make ourselves better. It is akin to wanting to pat ourselves before we come to God. It’s like saying to God, “Let me make myself a better person before I come to you”. This attitude reveals that our focus of conversion or our intention of going to Mass is actually not on God but on us and our ability. It is not because we are "good" that we can come before God but rather because God is good that we desire to spend time before Him. Eucharistic Prayer III bears this point: “Father, you are holy indeed and all creation rightly gives you praise. All life, all holiness comes from you through your Son, Jesus Christ and by the working of the Holy Spirit. (emphasis mine).

The implication that the Eucharist builds the Church is that the more we desire to become the Body of Christ, the more we should feed ourselves of the Body of Christ. In short, we eat more of Jesus so that we can become Jesus. Furthermore, the more we want to be the Body of Christ, the more we should spend time before Him. That is why we have adoration. In fact, our experience of failure at conversion may tell us one thing... we believe that we can wrought or work out our conversion. But, adoration perhaps tells us that it is God who shapes us. It calls for a deeper trust in God than in our capacity to change. If we do not love enough... it is not because we have not done enough but rather we have not prayed enough. We have not spent enough time with the Lord before the Blessed Sacrament. Thus, adoration before the Blessed Sacrament is supremely crucial to our desire for conversion; to the desire for building up the Church.

In conclusion, two things are important. The more we desire to be truly the Body of Christ, the more we want to be more like Jesus, the more we desire conversion... then the more should we commune with Jesus through Holy Communion and Adoration. It is the adoration of the Eucharist that keeps the Christian faithful in their love and service to others, as it promotes greater personal sanctity as well as that of the Christian communities.

We are all good at Mass attendance, we may all want to improve on spending time before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
[1] The Eucharist is not just a means to unity. If it were, then anyone present can receive Holy Communion. But, because it is also a sign of unity, then its unity is expressed by our assent to the teachings, worship and the governance of the Church. Thus, communion also expresses a union of creed, cult and code.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

4th Sunday of Easter Year A

Starting this Sunday, all the priests of the Archdiocese are supposed to preach on the 14th Encyclical of the late John Paul II: Ecclesia de eucharistia. All in all, there will be 6 Sundays to expound on the different aspects of the Eucharist and its relationship to the Church.

Today being also Good Shepherd Sunday or vocation Sunday, we think about vocation to priestly and religious life. But the timing does not suit us because there is in a later chapter in the encyclical which works better with the theme of vocation. Be that as it may, let me begin. The matter of my preaching comes from the early part of the encyclical. It starts by telling us that the Eucharist is the promise of Christ to be with us fulfilled. Remember Matthew 28: “Lo, I am with you always to the end of time”. The Eucharist fulfils that promise.

JPII says: “Ever since Pentecost, when the Church, the people of the new covenant, began her pilgrim journey towards her heavenly homeland, the Divine Sacrament has continued to mark the passing of her days, filling them with confident hope”. The Divine Sacrament refers to an enduring presence, the presence of Christ. This presence, which is real in the fullest sense, is the Eucharist and has as its foundation the sacred days from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday.

The Eucharist stands at the centre of the Church’s life. This is confirmed by the primordial image that was outlined in Act 2:42. “They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers”.

As Christ’s promise to be with us, the Eucharist is a gift given to the Church but it is not just a gift amongst gifts. Instead, the Eucharist is the very gift of Christ himself. And the Church is entrusted with this sacred duty of making the paschal mystery of the Eucharist present to all times. Therefore, the Eucharist by nature has to transcend time. We live in time and space—yesterday, today or tomorrow, this place and not that place. But this one action of Christ, the offering of Himself from the Last Supper, the Passion, Calvary until the Resurrection is one action which cannot be caught or constrained by time and space.

“This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there”. Thus, the priest puts his voice at the disposal of the one who spoke those hallowed words in the Upper Room: Take this all of you and eat. Take this all of you and drink. These words are important because they point us in the direction of what the chapter has been trying to tell us, that is, the Eucharist is the everlasting sacrifice of Christ to the Father.

According to the Encyclical, “the Eucharist is a sacrifice in the strict sense, and not only in a general way, as if it were simply a matter of Christ’s offering himself to the faithful as their spiritual food. Certainly it is a gift given for our sake, and indeed that of all humanity, yet it is first and foremost a gift to the Father”. This is important for us to note.

Firstly, Christ clearly intended the Eucharist to be understood as a sacrifice, because in instituting it, Christ did not merely say: ‘This is my body,’ ‘this is my blood,’ but went on to add: ‘which is given for you,’ ‘which is poured out for you.’ Jesus did not simply state that what he was giving the Apostles to eat and drink was his body and his blood; his choice of words also expressed its sacrificial meaning and his action, in a sacramental way, made present his sacrifice which would soon be offered on the Cross for the salvation of all”. It simply means that Jesus on the Cross, on Calvary was already present in the actions of the Last Supper, the Eucharist.

Secondly, the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist can be understood in the context of how the Son of God became man in order to restore all creation, in one supreme act of praise, to the one who made it from nothing. The world which came forth from the hands of God is returned to Him redeemed, made new by Christ. In this sacrifice directed to God we are offered along by Christ to His Father. [1]

Thirdly, the Eucharist understood as sacrifice is not a repetition of Christ's Passover, or its multiplication in time and in space; it is the one sacrifice of the Cross, which is re-presented until the end of time. According to St John Chrysostom, we always offer the same Lamb, not one today and another tomorrow, but always the same one. For this reason, the sacrifice is always one... Even now we offer that victim who was once offered and who will never be consumed. [2]

Fourthly, at the beginning of the Encyclical, JPII also listed some the shadows that have crept into the celebration of the Eucharist. As I said earlier, the “sacrificial nature of the mass” cannot be underestimated. For some people, the Eucharist is simply a fellowship meal among Christians in which we receive Jesus. As long as it is simply a fellowship meal, then we will run into difficulties because we and what we need will become the measure of how we are to celebrate mass. A good example of “we” as the measure of the mass is expressed by this rule “if it feels good, let’s do it”. A choir in another parish I know of operates along this principle. The choice of music is dictated by this feel-good criterion. When challenged on the principle that the aim of liturgical music is to worship God, the response was: what’s wrong with feeling good when we worship God. Admittedly, there is a thin line to distinguish between feeling good and worshipping God but if “feeling good” is the criterion of our liturgy, then, we have reduced the Eucharist to a celebration of who we are and not an affirmation of God whom we ought to worship. [3]

Against this “we”, this horizontal or community-centred approach taken in many parishes, JPII reminds us that the primary dimension of the Eucharist is vertical or God-centred. [4] This vertical dimension of the Eucharist is critical to our understanding of justice, that is, to our concern for the poor, the widows, the orphans—in short, our horizontal concern. The vertical dimension which focuses our vision on heaven does not actually diminish or lessen our sense of responsibility for the world. Instead, the Christian vision that leads to the expectation of “new heavens” and “a new earth” actually increases our sense of responsibility for the world.

In summary, the implication of the Eucharist as sacrifice actually leads us to centre our vision upon God and it is this focus on God which gives the Christian a direction in life. For example, just because I serve you, does not mean that I love God. [A communist may embrace the concept of “justice” as an expression of solidarity but that doesn’t mean that he loves God]. This is where we need to be aware that just because someone is active in parish does not necessarily mean that he or she loves God. But, when I love God, then it makes sense that I want to serve you. The motivation to give my life for you is because I love God first. Jesus was driven by the love of His Father to try to make the world a better place. Thus, the chapter ends by pointing to the reality of a world in need of hope and in need of justice. It is in this world of darkened horizon that Christian hope must shine forth. For this reason, the Lord wishes to remain with us through the Eucharist, giving us strength and hope to walk the path of a humanity already renewed by his love and sacrifice.

[1] Preface for Easter IV: In Him, a new age has dawned, the long reign of sin is ended, a broken world has been renewed and man is once again made whole.

[2] CCC 1367.
The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: “The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered Himself on the cross; only the manner of being is different.” “In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered Himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and offered in an unbloody manner”. This is in response to the Protestant understanding of Heb 9:26 where it says, “But as it is, [Jesus] has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself”. When Catholics speak of the Eucharist as a sacrifice, without a doubt the Protestants immediately point to Hebrews, which unequivocally explains that Jesus Christ died once and for all to take care of our sins and does not need to be “re-sacrificed” repeatedly on Catholic altars. In actual fact, the Catholic Church has never taught that Jesus is repeatedly sacrificed in the Catholic mass. The Church teaches that the Eucharistic sacrifice in the mass is a participation in the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ at Calvary.

[3] If the Liturgy appears first of all as the workshop for our activity, then what is essential is being forgotten: God. For the Liturgy is not about us, but about God. Forgetting about God is the most imminent danger of our age. As against this, the Liturgy should be setting up a sign of God's presence.

[4] The Eucharist as “God-centred” has implication on the relationship between men and women. Men and women are different and the difference between them cannot be reduced solely to cultural or historical accident. It means that it is not simply “patriarchy” which subjugates a woman. It is woman’s nature to be nurturing and as such she seems to be the gentler or the weaker of the two sexes. Man’s basic characteristic, on the other hand, is centred on his strength and his power. As such, he exerts his authority. The confusion between this natural difference is seen when a woman tries to succeed in a man’s world, she is often reduced to being ruthless. So, in the relationship between a man and a woman, if you want a good husband, then pray that your husband is “God-centred”. Why? Because “men” by nature are powerful and are therefore an authority unto themselves. When they do not have to submit themselves to an authority higher than themselves, they become tyrannical. A man, who is God-fearing, who submits himself to this higher authority called God, is one who know what it means to exercise power and authority. The exercise of power and authority is always compassionate, like God is compassionate. A God-fearing husband is one whose love is always strong and yet not overpowering... A man who loves God is a man who loves His justice. So if your husband comes to Church everyday but treats you badly, then pray that your husband will truly come to know and love God even more.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

3rd Sunday of Easter Year A

It sounds like another Post-Resurrection story—Jesus appearing to two disciples as he did first to Cephas, secondly to the Twelve and to the 500. But, there is a difference because Emmaus is the promise of Christ fulfilled.

Christ’s promise is set within the context of failure of expectation. These two, their faces were downcast—they were “heading back” discouraged and disheartened. For Luke, Jerusalem is the city of destiny in God’s plan and so “heading back” meant heading away from Jerusalem. It meant turning away from one’s destiny and returning to one’s previous life. Just like Peter and the rest did in the uncertain days after the Resurrection of Jesus. [Check out Jn 21]

So the 3rd Sunday of Easter is a good time to reflect on our experience of failure of expectation. What would a Christian’s response be when things do not turn out the way we want them to? One thing to note is that our experience of failure may be more acute if you consider how life is marketed as a series of magical moments captured in precise picture perfection. All our advertising is geared towards promising a life which is by and large free from constraints. It is not surprising that we have been schooled or socialised into expectation that a good life is a right and not a blessing. Nothing must go wrong because failure is not an option in a competitive “I have to win” world.

But the two disciples encountered abject failure. “Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free”. They had expectations.

So, how did they surmount or overcome their anger, disappointment, frustration, pain, resentment or sorrow?

They didn’t. They didn’t do anything except turn in on themselves. In their case, it was Jesus who came to them. In fact they were rather caught up with themselves when Jesus encountered them that they said this to Him: “You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days”.

Our normal reaction is caution when we encounter people who have to deal with failure of expectation. When people are hurting, conventional wisdom tells us to allow them the space to “hurt”. But what we have here is that Jesus challenged the two disciples’ take on disappointment, pain and sorrow when He told them: You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, He explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about Him. He cut through their veil of disappointment.

Thus, the conversation Jesus had with the two is crucial to the process of healing—to how we deal with failure of expectation. Why? This is because on the road from hurt to healing, people are often caught up with their grief that they see nothing else but their grief. We don’t see the healing that can take place. We only bewail the injury we have. But, Jesus is not about to be put off by our grief. He may enter our grief as He did with the two disciples but He would be firm in dealing with us. He listens and yet He challenges.

And here is where the paradox is. The two disciples were in grief and yet Jesus was most with them—Jesus was there in their deepest despair and yet they recognised Him not. Only when Jesus disappeared from their sight did they realise with joy that it was Him. In our grief, disappointment and our pain, our normal instinct tells us that Jesus is absent but the Emmaus story tells us that Jesus is closer to us in our despair than He is to us when we are in joy. That’s the paradox.

The elation of Easter is easing down and the Emmaus story comes as a timely reminder that the period of post-conversion (the period after the Resurrection) will inevitably bring the believer face to face with disappointment. Firstly, the grace to ask is to be aware of how close Jesus is to us. Secondly, when things go wrong, we may logically explain the failure we experience but ultimately it is the heart that is in need of healing. Therefore, it pays to be attentive to the state of heart because it is the heart that must let go, the heart that must forgive before we can move forward toward healing. Usually the head takes the lead whilst the heart is reluctant to follow. In fact, our head may tell us what is logical but our hearts often stay longer on the road of disappointment, failure, sorrow, grief, shattered dreams. We know we should let go but our hearts are not ready.

Precisely because Jesus knows that our hearts need a longer time to deal with hurts, pains and disappointments that He ensures that we are never alone on the road to Emmaus. On this journey He accompanies us through the Eucharist. Note that in this story, Luke’s deliberate use of Eucharistic language that Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them proves that it is precisely through these actions that Christ’s promise to be with us till the end of time is fulfilled. Thus, the Road to Emmaus and the Eucharist are closely inter-connected. In fact, the more disappointment, the more sorrow, the more anger, the more hatred we have, the more we ought to come for Mass. We celebrate the Eucharist not because we are perfect but simply because our hearts are often slower than our heads. In fact, our hearts are often not where our heads are. Logically, we know we ought to forgive, we ought to let go, we ought to move on but emotionally we are not ready and so in the Eucharist Jesus feeds us so that our heart will find the strength to catch up with what we know and what we ought to do.