April 26, 2020 – Third Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 2:14, 22-33 / 1 Peter 1:17-21 / Luke 24:13-35
This homily below (based on the same readings we have today) was originally delivered in 2017 at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis:
When my fellow candidates and I were in formation to become deacons, we might occasionally slip up and use the word training when describing the process of becoming a deacon. We would quickly be corrected by our director, “You are in formation, not in training.”
The explanation was that when you train for something, you are preparing for a task. When you are formed, it becomes a part of who you are. We were not training to do the work of a deacon; we were being formed as deacons.
The formation process changed who I was.
I could point to several areas of transformation. However, as it pertains to today’s gospel, I will share just one: The formation process helped me to recognize the presence of God in my everyday life.
This recognition was critical to my formation as a deacon. It is critical in the ongoing faith formation of all of us.
Perhaps you can relate to this: Prior to beginning my deacon formation, I only saw God in the rear view mirror. I was able to look back on periods of my life or look back on a specific event and see God’s hand in it. However, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, my eyes were “prevented from recognizing him” when He was right in front of me.
Formation has allowed me to experience and appreciate God in the here and now. There is great comfort in that.
A couple of examples come to mind. My granddaughter, Ellie, recently turned four years old and it brought to mind the day she was born.
My memories are not only of the joy experienced with the birth of a healthy baby girl, but also of the quiet just a few hours later.
It was raining outside. The hospital room was dark except for a nightlight. My daughter Laura and her husband had fallen asleep. Carol was holding Ellie and both of them were asleep, too.
In this snapshot of time all was right with the world. I was at peace.
If I had been in that same hospital room prior to my formation, I would have described the scene as rainy, dark, quiet, and boring. However, my formation helped me to see it for what it was. It was time with God – Jesus sat in that hospital room with me.
In my joy, Jesus was there.
Following my dad’s death six years ago, we sat in a funeral home in Chicago for his wake. My dad had been a Marine, so at the end of the evening, a group of veterans processed in. One by one, they stepped in front of my dad’s casket and solemnly and reverently saluted him.
I hadn’t cried up to that point, but that scene got to me. As I tried to hide the fact that I was crying, I felt a small hand on my shoulder and turned to see my four-year-old grandson, Joseph. He just kept his hand there and smiled at me.
A few minutes later, my son-in-law took Joseph up to the casket to pay his respects. Joseph stepped in front of the casket and saluted my dad.
Prior to formation, that would have been just a cute grandson story. Because of my formation, I was able to see Jesus saluting my dad in the person of Joseph.
In my sorrow, Jesus was there.
There was no need to wait until later to experience those God moments in my rearview mirror. I was able to experience them in the here and now.
Today’s gospel is a formation story.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus were walking away. They saw Jesus, the one they believed was the Christ, crucified right before their eyes. They watched Him die and their faith died with Him.
Doubt, fear, and abandonment are all part of the faith formation process. In facing these challenges, our faith grows stronger.
The goal is not to be trained to use our faith as armor that we put on and take off as needed. The goal is to be formed in such a way that our faith is part of who we are.
This is possible when we believe Jesus is with us, and we allow Him to walk with us.
On the road that day, Jesus met the disciples where they were on their journey, ultimately revealing Himself to them. He literally turned them around. Suffering and death did not have the last word.
The burning in their hearts was their faith being re-ignited. It is what caused them to “set out at once” and return to Jerusalem with the good news – “The Lord has truly been raised!”
We have all been on a similar journey at one time or another. We are the disciples on the road to Emmaus. One minute our faith is solid, the next minute we find ourselves walking in the opposite direction.
I believe there is much to learn from Cleopas and his companion. Despite the fact that their eyes were prevented from recognizing Jesus, their actions that day made an encounter with the risen Lord possible.
The two disciples welcomed a stranger, invited Him in – not once, but twice.
When Jesus approached them and interrupted their discussion, they could have ignored Him or told Him it was a private conversation. They did not. They were open to Him, engaged Him, and were attentive to what He had to say.
As they neared the end of their travels, Luke informs us that Jesus “gave the impression that he was going on farther.” Jesus does not force Himself on anyone. The disciples could have cut ties with Him right then. But they didn’t; once again, they invited Him in.
Jesus wants to have a personal encounter with us. He walks along with us on our road to Emmaus. He wants to be welcomed by us and to engage with us. He wants to turn us around and point us back to Jerusalem.
Are we allowing for that?
Or have we been hurt once too often? Has something happened in our life that has caused us to turn away from our faith? Is the pain preventing our eyes from recognizing Jesus when He is right in front of us?
If Cleopas and his companion had stayed entrenched in their sorrow and distress, they would have died a lonely and unfulfilled death in Emmaus. Fortunately, they did not. Even as they journeyed away from their faith, they remained open to the possibility of an encounter with God.
I pray that you remain open to that possibility as well.
Jesus wants to re-ignite our faith; He wants our hearts to burn. He awaits our invitation.