Each one, as a good manager of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. (1 Peter 4:10)

Archive for April, 2020

Emmaus (Pandemic)

I suppose that from a certain viewpoint, just about everything that needs to be said, perhaps even everything that could be said, about the disciples’ encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus has been said. I’m not going to tap some great brand-new insight this morning after reading today’s gospel — which, by the way, is among my favorite gospel readings.

The part where the “stranger” asks the disciples what they are talking about, and where they incredulously ask him if he’s the only visitor to the city who doesn’t know what happened, never ceases to make me smile. I love the way Jesus hides himself in order to draw people out, and I love how he gets those disciples on the road to Emmaus engaged in some evangelism even before they know who they are talking to.

But what stood out for me today in this gospel for the Wednesday of the Easter Octave is that “he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” This line has always moved me as I visualized what it would have been like to be those disciples, remembering what Jesus did at the Last Supper and experiencing that great awakening as they saw him again bless and break bread with them. And this morning, the words brought tears to my eyes.

“He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” In these days of pandemic and continuing quarantine and isolation, we experience a unique deprivation: not only have we been excused from our obligation to attend weekly Mass, but in most places the public celebration of Mass is suspended while shelter-at-home orders are in effect. We literally cannot fully participate in the sacrifice of the Mass or receive Jesus under the forms of bread and wine. We cannot physically receive the Eucharist. And I don’t know about you, but it is breaking my heart to be physically deprived of him for this long.

And yet. And yet we have both an obligation and a uniquely wonderful opportunity to keep our faith alive. Are we not taught that Jesus is also present in his Word? Are we not taught that Jesus is available to us through spiritual communion? The opportunity here is that instead of mourning what we’ve lost — which is where the disciples on the road to Emmaus seemed to be headed — we reach for and hold onto what we have. We have the Word of God, and we have the people of God, and we have the ability to pray, to communicate with God.

Our need is not so much to have back what we always had — that physical experience of Jesus in the Eucharist. Oh, we definitely need that back, and I hope people will be there in droves when they can once more receive. But what we need now is to immerse ourselves in his Word. What we need now is to find him daily in his people. And what we need now is to unite ourselves with him spiritually, not just daily but hourly, even minute-by-minute. Let each moment of sadness over what we don’t have right now, become an opportunity to reach for Jesus in his Word, in his people, and in prayer and spiritual communion.

Jesus, I’m here to ask you, as the disciples on the road to Emmaus asked you: Stay with us. We too easily slip to the side of the road on our way to find you. Stay with us, and let us know you in the your Word and your people until we can once more know you by the breaking of the bread.

Seeing Jesus (Pandemic)

The Gospel reading for this Tuesday of Easter shows us Mary Magdalene weeping at the tomb, unable to fathom the absence of Jesus’ body there, where she fully expected to find it. It hasn’t dawned on her yet that Jesus has done exactly what he said he would do — that he has arisen from death to life, that he is somewhere else because he is alive, not because someone moved his body.

It’s interesting that the angels who question her weeping don’t tell her the truth of the resurrection. She turns away from them, perhaps before they can even begin to tell the story, or perhaps in distress at even being questioned about her weeping. She turns away, and there Jesus is.

Except that she doesn’t recognize him. It’s a common enough even in these post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Sometimes it seems that he conceals his identity for a reason; I wonder, with Mary Magdalene, if she doesn’t recognize him because he is not what she expected. She came looking for a corpse. She came prepared to minister to his dead body, to remember and ponder someone who has left this world and whose mark on the world and the hearts of his followers, although great, will bade with time.

She doesn’t find a corpse. Her expectations are disrupted at their core when she sees a man and is yet again questioned about her weeping. Imagine her thoughts at this second questioning: Isn’t it obvious? I’m at a tomb, so of course I am grieving a loved one. And I’m grieving all the more because my loved one’s body isn’t here, and I’m horrified that it has been stolen and perhaps desecrated. Why am I weeping? Who wouldn’t be weeping?

And then he says her name. Mary. And in that moment, the moment when she hears her name spoken by that beloved voice, everything dawns on her.

It is Jesus who speaks her name, and if it is Jesus, he must be alive! Here he is in front of her, and I think of her heart and her mind just racing to process it all. Imagine the turbulent joy, the disbelief melting into absolute certainty; imagine the profound relief as she understands that Jesus has truly done what he said he would do. In this moment of recognition, she has not yet any idea of what’s coming next, but she knows with absolute faith that whatever it is will be perfect. I imagine that she can hardly wait to get started, once Jesus has told her what she is to do.

And what is it that he tells her? Just this one thing: Go and tell the others.

The beginnings of all evangelization, I think, are found in this moment when Mary Magdalene recognizes Jesus and does what he tells her to do — go tell the others.

These days of pandemic and quarantine create such interesting opportunities to see Jesus. Everything about the way we live seems to have changed. It’s an interesting paradox: In our normal world, we spend the majority of our waking hours among people who are not our closest. We spend our time with people who range from complete strangers to people we know casually or through work, to closer associates and perhaps some close friends, and we spend only a few hours with those nearest and dearest to us — our families.

We’re called to recognize Jesus in all of them. But what a difference in these strange times. It’s one thing to think about recognizing Jesus in the encounters with strangers and near-strangers in our workplaces, out shopping, in volunteer activities, at school, or running errands. If we’re doing it right, we use each of these encounters to remind ourselves to look for him, to find him, to reach out to him.

It’s another thing altogether to look for him in the family members with whom we are suddenly spending 24 hours a day. We just aren’t used to being with the people we love for quite so many hours. We think we crave more time with those we love, and then when we get it — involuntarily, to be sure — what seems to happen is that all of the little flaws and foibles (which we can more easily ignore in normal times) become glaring huge faults and imperfections, annoyances that set our last nerves on edge and have us in a constant state of irritation bordering on rage.

It’s a lot harder to see and recognize Jesus in these conditions. After all, these are our ordinary, everyday people, but we are not experiencing them in the way we expected. Just as Mary Magdalene’s expectations got in the way of her recognizing Jesus at the empty tomb, so our everyday expectations of our everyday people can get in the way of our recognizing Jesus in them.

And we need to recognize Jesus in them. When our spouse or child or sibling or parent says our name, that’s the time to recognize him and be open to what he is telling us. We need to let the joy and certainty of who he is, and how he loves us, infect all of those interactions. And then we need to “go and tell the others.”

I’m pretty sure we can live with that.

My Portion – Easter Monday

These words stood out from the responsorial psalm, Psalm 16, in this morning’s liturgy of the Word: “O Lord, my allotted portion and my cup, you it is who hold fast my lot.”

It’s one of those lines that I’d normally just read and fly past without much thought, but today it fairly jumped off the page and demanded that I reflect on it.

“…[M]y allotted portion and my cup….” Is God telling me that I am entitled to him? I think maybe he is. I think maybe that is the exact message of Easter: that salvation, redemption, our relationship with God, everything that Jesus earned for us on through the Cross, all of it is our entitlement and the generous gift of a loving Trinity.

After all, once someone makes a gift of something, we are entitled to receive and accept it, aren’t we? We’ve made “entitlement” sort of a four-letter word, but in its purest form it is a wonderful thing. In its purest form, it is not something that we claim or earn in our own right; it is what comes with a gift.

God’s gift to us in the resurrection of his Son is all-encompassing: faith, the Cross, salvation, redemption, and our ability to live a life rooted in all of these–that is the gift freely given, to which we are by God’s very will fully entitled.

The only shame in this kind of entitlement is a failure to fully receive, embrace, and use the gift.

Lord, in this time of Easter please give me grace to claim and use to the fullest all those gifts you have given me. Please give grace to all your people to claim and use your gifts, so that in using them we witness and praise your name. In these difficult times of pandemic and quarantine, allow us to shine with your gifts so that in gratitude we share them with all. Let us be where you call us to be, giving what you desire that we give, and let us walk with you through this time of Easter in praise and holiness. Amen.

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