The gospel for today’s Mass gives the account of the encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35). It takes place on Easter Sunday, when two disciples of Jesus are leaving the city of Jerusalem to go to a nearby town called Emmaus. As they are engrossed in their conversation, Christ draws near and walks with them, but “their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.” He asks them what they’re talking about, and with that “they stopped, looking downcast.” They are sad, mourning the death of their Master. They wonder that this stranger doesn’t seem to be aware of the things that have just happened in Jerusalem. Our Lord asks them: “What sort of things?” In his reflection on this episode, Archbishop Fulton Sheen points out the gentle way in which Our Lord eases the sorrows of the two men. “A sorrowful heart is best consoled when it relieves itself…. If they would but show their wounds, He would pour in the oil of His healing.”
In these past several days, a growing number of people have told me how sad they are about not being able to receive the Eucharist. Have we, like the men on the Road to Emmaus, told Jesus about our sorrow so that He might help us to enter more deeply into the mystery of what we are experiencing?
As they continue along the way, the men tell Him what happened – how Jesus had been betrayed and crucified, and how they were crestfallen because they thought He would be “the one to redeem Israel.” But then they tell Him that some of the women who were among His followers went to the tomb earlier that very day and instead of finding His body in the tomb, they found it empty and saw angels who announced that Jesus was alive. Christ, still unrecognized, says to them: “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” Our Lord then proceeded to connect the events of His sacrifice and resurrection to all of the events of the Sacred Scriptures – from the beginnings of the Hebrew Bible through all of the prophets. He helped them to understand all that had happened and how everything found its fulfillment in Christ. He helps them to see, Fulton Sheen says, that “the cure for their sorrow was in the very thing that disturbed them.” The cross had not frustrated the victory of Christ, but was instead “the condition of glory.”
As they approached Emmaus, the two men invited the Lord to stay with them for the evening. While they were at table, “He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” With that, “their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, but He vanished from their sight.” It has been speculated that Our Lord did this to condition us to look for Him in a new way – not as they had become accustomed to seeing Him in His public ministry, but mystically in the Church and in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist.
Why are we sad about not being able to receive Communion? Is this experience of sadness an unexpected blessing? When we are separated for a time from someone we love deeply it is a cause for sadness, but in that sadness there is also a sense of anticipation for the reunion. During the separation we reflect on the relationship, which allows us to identify regrets and make resolutions. Perhaps this is a time in which we might offer the suffering that comes with the separation as reparation for all the times that we and others have received Communion with no love in our hearts. We can offer it for all of the indifferent Communions, the sacrilegious Communions, the faithless Communions, and all the outrages committed against Him in the Most Blessed Sacrament. On the Road to Emmaus, Our Lord approached the two disciples, whose hearts were crestfallen because they were blind to what had taken place before their eyes – the fulfillment of God’s promises to His people. We must believe that the Lord is also approaching us in our sadness and asking us to participate in His great mission of re-kindling the fire of faith, hope, and love in the hearts of humanity through the recognition of the mystical reality of what the Eucharist is.