The 3rd Sunday of Easter
First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 2:14, 22-33
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-11
Second Reading: 1st Letter of St. Peter 1:17-21
Gospel: According to St. Luke 24:13-35
The road to Emmaus is one that we walk every day of our lives. Whether or not we realize it, Jesus is walking with us. Yet because it is so easy for us to focus on the immediacy of all we are now going through, we might not even know He is there.
Like those disciples whom Jesus joined along the route from Jerusalem to Emmaus, we too can be in the position where our eyes are “prevented from recognizing Him.” We become like those of whom Jesus spoke when He – quoting Isaiah – told the disciples the purpose of the parables: “They look but do not see, and hear but do not listen or understand.”
In his telling of the story of the journey to Emmaus, St. Luke makes sure that we are told precisely why and when the eyes of the disciples were opened and they recognized the Lord: “And it happened that, while he was with them at the table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.”
Only through the Eucharist could they look and see, hear and understand. Luke is, in a very subtle way, arguing for the belief that the only way to be a follower of Jesus is to see Him in His Eucharistic Presence and to actively participate in the Sacred Liturgy.
Centuries later, St. Benedict would base Western monasticism – and, by association, all of Western civilization – on the solid foundation of Ora et Labora, Prayer and Work, ensuring that the argument in favor of Labora – the works of justice and charity – at the expense of Ora – the life of prayer, especially the Eucharist – would never adequately reflect the commitment of those who follow Jesus.
My favorite modern theologian, Cardinal Henri de Lubac, S.J., spilled a lot of ink trying to clarify the mystery of the Body of Christ. For de Lubac, there was a vital link between the Incarnate Son of God – literally, the Body of Christ – and those who follow in His footsteps and claim Him as the Christ, the Messiah – the Body of Christ known as the Church. That link, without which there is a gap between the divine and the human that no commitment to social justice could ever cross, is the sacramental Body of Christ known as the Eucharist.
When we say “Amen” at the reception of the Eucharist, we are proclaiming union with the Incarnate Son of God and with the Church and the world that we hope to transform into the Church through our labora. Certainly, our ora can take place anywhere – walking in the park, conversing with a loved one, reading an inspiring book – but none of those encounters with the divine can ever substitute for Christ found in the Eucharist.
Among all of the wonderful gifts of the created universe provided by our loving God, there is none more remarkable than the gift of Himself in the Eucharist, and St. Luke again, by the detail given in his story, brings this to light. When the disciples recognize Jesus, “He vanished from their sight.” To accept and then consume the Eucharist is to recognize Jesus in the transformed elements of bread and wine and to – literally – make them disappear.
How much more relevance does this story have today than ever before? The disappearance of the Eucharist from our lives during the pandemic brought great sadness to millions of Catholics worldwide. Yet now that there is once again full access to the Mass every day of the week, a great sadness still exists because of those who have not returned from what was meant to be only a temporary measure.
The time of our famine from the Body of Christ is over, and we are not only called but compelled to return to Mass in celebration with our fellow Catholics. We clamored to be allowed to get back to our everyday lives, and that desire has been granted. So now that the mundane, day-to-day events of our lives are back as they should be, there is no excuse for us not to get back to the much more important task of praying and working as members of the Body of Christ.