The companionship of Christ

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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Third Sunday in Easter, 22 April 2023
The Road to Emmaus” painting by American Daniel Bonnell from fineartamerica.com.

As I have been telling you, the beauty and joy of Easter is in its “nothingness” like the empty tomb of Jesus and its “darkness” found in the setting of the Lord’s appearances. We have found these in the past two Sundays when Jesus appeared to the Twelve “on the evening of the third day” and “eight days later” amid locked doors.

This Sunday is very different. It is the story of two disciples going back home to Emmaus whom St. Luke did not identify except the one named Cleopas. There is still the setting of darkness as it happened at sunset to early evening while news of the empty tomb was still trending amid reports Jesus had appeared to some women but still nowhere to be seen. But this time, darkness is more evident inside the two disciples walking away from Jerusalem – sad, disappointed and frustrated, forlorn.

Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” They stopped, looking downcast.

Luke 24:13-17

From https://www.clarusonline.it/2017/04/29/i-discepoli-di-emmaus-andata-e-ritorno/

Did you feel the sadness of the two disciples? Today, Jesus assures us of his companionship especially when we are in a “perfect storm”, when everyone and everything are against us, when it is all darkness within us, when we are at our lowest low awaiting for the next worst thing that could happen to us.

It is during these times we think of quitting, of just going home, going back where we have been before, abandoning everything because it seems better to start all over again as everyone/everything have been lost. There need not be tragedies in life for these to happen. Many times it could be when we are in the midst of grave sins or even with our most common sins repeated over and over like venial sins. We feel discouraged, even depressed we could not see any sense at all in going back to God in prayers and the sacraments especially the Holy Eucharist. Those moments we tell ourselves and everyone, “para que?” or “para saan pa?” that we would go back to God, our Jerusalem.

Like the two disciples, we have become so nega that as we walk to the opposite direction in life, we fail to notice Jesus accompanying us, making sakay (ride on) with our trip, just listening to our woes and complaints, stories of sins and failures, pains and hurts, disappointments and frustrations.

Here we find Jesus our only true friend who allows us to be our truest self, even our worst self. He walks with us not only in darkness but in the opposite direction, waiting for the prefect timing to gently bring us back to the right path to Jerusalem. And sometimes, he does it with a splash of humor like when he told the two disciples “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that prophets spoke!” (Jn. 21:25).

Many times, we fail to bring back to God and to the right path our lost family and friends because we lack the compassion and gentleness of Jesus. Very often, fail because we react than act like Jesus who’s companionship and compassion opened the hearts of the two disciples: it was only after they have unloaded their burdens when Jesus loaded them or filled them with his words and eventually with his very presence at the breaking of the bread.

“Supper at Emmaus” by renowned painter Caravaggio from en.wikipedia.org. See the emotion depicted by Caravaggio with his trademark of masterful play of light and shadows. At the center is the Risen Lord blessing the bread that caught the two disciples who are seated in disbelief, one outstretching his arms and the others pushing back in his chair. The third character in the painting is the innkeeper unaware of the significance of the gesture of Jesus. It was at this instance that the two disciples recognized Christ as the traveling man with them to Emmaus.

Human transformation happens only in Christ, with Christ and through Christ in the Eucharist where we also experience a reversal of roles in our relationships with God and with others. Notice how the attitudes and perspectives of the two disciples changed when Jesus broke the bread. Remember it was the two disciples who invited Jesus inside to stay because it was getting dark, hosting a meal for him as their guest but that changed at the table: the two disciples ended up as guests of Jesus who merely joined them in their journey!

And it happened that, while he was with them 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. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

John 21:30-35

One thing I have found in life these past 25 years as a priest is that we can only realize and understand, even see the clearer and bigger picture of our life later after so many years of series of trials and tribulations, joys and celebrations. And often, what we see is the Lord, the companionship of Jesus Christ even in those times we were in sin and away from him. St. Peter said it so well in the second reading that we are in a “sojourning, realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pt. 1:17, 18, 19).

Photo by author, Sacred Heart Novitiate, Novaliches, QC, 20 March 2023.

Many times in life we feel as if we are really the captain of our ship, we direct everything, we control everything but it is actually Jesus. There is always Christ our companion in this journey of life, our true host and we are his guests who shared himself with us on the Cross so we can share in the mystery and victory of his Resurrection. In being one with us in our brokenness, Jesus immediately vanishes the moment we recognize him so we may keep on following him by changing course and direction in our lives.

In this time when people have lost interests in the Church, the Sacraments especially the Holy Eucharist, and the Scriptures along with prayers and devotions, we who are inside the church especially us priests are reminded of this important truth by Jesus, that he is the one in command, he is our host. We only share him in our co-journeyers in life, he is the one who opens our eyes, the one who effects transformation and changes within us. Not us.

Are we one with Jesus, especially in the Eucharist we manipulate so much with our many rituals and acts not necessary? See that the more we manipulate the Mass and other devotions, the more Christ disappears and persons especially priests become the focus.

In Emmaus, Jesus walked with the two disciples going the opposite direction to lead them back and never the other way around as it happens when we priests and volunteers are the ones who mislead people away from Jesus with our lack of warmth and charity for people like the unchurched.

Jesus is truest in the Eucharist when we touch people literally with our hands, when we get our hands dirty in taking care of the sick and needy, when we are truly present with them especially in their griefs, emptiness and sinfulness. That is when they experience, not just know that Jesus is real and true in the Eucharist when they first experience him in us his disciples, in our companionship and compassion with those suffering.

Nobody is perfect. As St. Peter had noted in the first reading, we are all responsible for the suffering and death of Jesus with our sinfulness; however, God’s love for us is far greater than our sins so that in our darkness and emptiness, we are able to see and have fulfillment in Jesus his Son. Amen. Have a blessed week!

Photo by author, Sacred Heart Novitiate, Novaliches, QC, 20 March 2023.
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