We are all familiar with this wonderful story of the Supper at Emmaus. However we as Catholics tend to focus on the conversation that Jesus had with the two disciples and how he revealed himself in the breaking of bread as proof that he really was risen from the dead while we miss another very important point.
What we tend to pass over is the very subtle fact that these disciples were walking away from Jerusalem in a dejected fashion. We know that most of the disciples deserted Jesus at the time of his arrest. Some hung about for a bit like Peter but even he deserted Jesus after a few hours out of shame at his denial. We also know that the only disciples recorded as actually being at the Cross are John and Mary and two other women.
So what we have in our Gospel today is an example of what those who deserted Jesus after His Crucifixion did—they simply went home. At the first sign of difficulty they decided that it was all over. It is as if they suddenly realized that the Gospel of Christ was a good idea but doomed to failure.
These followers are not alone; down through the ages it would be impossible to count how many of Christ’s disciples have left him. And they are still at it. Just look at the numbers attending Mass in our Church; you would have to be bind to fail to realize that they are not what they were ten years ago.
So it is worth looking at this Gospel account of the Supper at Emmaus as a kind of parable of the lapsed or discouraged Catholic.
For many of our community, as soon as things become difficult or if things don’t seem to mean what they once did, or Church teaching seems outdated or if other activities seem more appealing then, like those disciples on the road, many of us tend to just walk away. We skip Mass, we drift away from the sacraments we become woeful examples to our children as teachers of the priorities of life.
Often there is no real decision made, just a sort of drift. Mass attendance becomes more infrequent, prayer becomes irregular and we just drift away from even thinking about God or recognizing that he has a place in our life. How many people have you read about or know still call themselves Catholic even as they go their own way in this world.
If we were in a marriage and treated our spouse in the same way then there would soon be complaints and we would come to our senses and realize on which side our bread was buttered on and quickly start to pay our spouse more attention.
But Our God doesn’t complain. Our God doesn’t intervene. He lets us make our own decisions even if we do so not by deliberate decisions but, as if so often the case with those who drift, by omission.
What those who drift away, often fail to realize is that it is the responsibility of each individual believer to maintain our own faith through prayer and the sacraments. It is not the job of the Church to keep us interested or involved, that’s our own responsibility. We, each one of us, will stand before our God one day and give our accounting of the stewardship of the life that was given to us.
Father Tom’s job is to celebrate the liturgy and to live the Gospel and to do what he can to keep this community of believers together, as he does all of his other duties as an Air Force chaplain, but he can’t have eyes and ears everywhere and be keeping tabs on everyone—and neither would we want him to.
In the Gospel it happens to be Jesus who encounters those discouraged disciples but in our situation today it is more likely to be us, you and I who encounter those who are drifting away rather than our priest. In fact if a person is drifting away it is at those moments that such people start to do everything they can to avoid a priest
Have you ever noticed that when people grow lax in their faith they complain to you that it’s not their fault?
Things have gone wrong in the Church, the Church isn’t what it used to be, the Mass is boring or Church teaching just seems to be so outdated, the reasons go on and on.
It is extremely important that we realize at times like this that it is our job if we believe that we are the light of Christ in this world to explain what is really happening, to help them come to the realization that the Church isn’t perfect but that nevertheless it is the vehicle for our salvation that has endured for more than 2000 years.
We are the ones who can explain that the real meaning and purpose of life is to be found in belief in God and his son Jesus. We can help people realize that although they are downcast and discouraged and have difficulties with their faith it is the only true hope for the world.
In the account in the Gospel we notice that Jesus accepted His disciples offer of hospitality. If you think about it, he was accepting hospitality from people who had given up on him, who had deserted him in his hour of need.
By responding to the goodness that was in them, by talking up their offer of supper and shelter for the night he built on what good they had and it brought them back to faith. He focused on the positive not on the negative. The Lord’s words on the road warmed their hearts for the very same reason that his words during his earthly life did. He was not telling them off or criticizing them but giving them a message of hope and speaking directly to their needs.
We can and should do all this very same thing in our life, in fact some of us are probably already doing them in our own way as we reach out to those who are finding difficulties with their faith and who have trouble remaining within the Church. And some of us are dealing with these issues within our own families.
The key thing to remember is that all who are walking away are still on a journey, they still have a life to live, they might just now be getting slightly lost but they are still traveling. And on journey things happen; you meet people, you see things from a different perspective, you have time to think.
Our task is to walk with these folks, to praise the good, to warm their hearts and to gently lead them in the right direction. Then we can truly say that we are Christ’s light to the world.