By F. Luis Casasus, General Superior of idente missionaries
Commentary on the Sunday Gospel of 05-04-18 Third Sunday of Easter, New York. (Acts of the Apostles 3:13-15.17-19; First Letter of John 2:1-5a; Saint Luke 24:35-48)
Our tendency is to look for Christ in the extraordinary, the spectacular, the breathtaking. In the famous movie, when Superman first reveals his superpowers to the world, a lady is dangling from a cable, high atop a high building, screaming at the top of her lungs. Just as she begins her long fall to earth, Superman changes into his flashy outfit and swoops up to catch her in midair. Don’t worry, Miss, he assures her, I’ve got you. Just then the helicopter that has been perched on the edge of the building begins to fall straight toward them and the crowd below. But Superman merely grabs it with his one free arm and gently sets both it and the lady safely back on the landing pad. When he turns to leave, an astonished the lady asks: Who are you? A friend, Superman replies warmly, and as he flies straight up into the air with a sort of half twist.
That is the way sometimes we would like for Christ to come to us. On the contrary, the Gospel tells us today a story in which Christ reveals himself as He has always done. How does He do it? We can draw some features from the New Testament, the experience of the saints and our own experience.
- This can take place under the outward appearance of a person who seemingly has nothing to do with our mission, our spiritual life or our plans: A pilgrim (today’s Gospel), a gardener (that what Mary Magdalene thought she had seen), a co-worker, a classmate or a normal person on an ordinary day of our life. Sooner or later, we will realize that it was Him. Sometimes, like in the encounter of Emmaus, this happens almost immediately, but in most cases, we are blind to fully understand the importance of the moment and the extent of our choices. The just will not recall ever having seen him in dire straits: hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned. Of course, this is the most important aspect now; in performing this humble service for humble people, in engaging in acts that probably are quite forgettable, we are really doing kingdom work, bringing honor and glory to Jesus.
- Jesus awakes our sensitivity and increases our insight of the daily events, of the words of the New Testament and the life of our fellowmen. In our mind, takes place this Mystical Recollection, an always new harvest in the desert of our routine, of our brokenness.
Cleopas and his companion disciple were discouraged and disillusioned and therefore incapable of understanding what was happening to them. And suddenly, everything makes sense. Jesus, as a seasoned Teacher who now is reminiscent of Socrates, makes use of the distorted and limited view of the disciples to gradually let them to see the big picture of their lives and the events of the Passion. He led them to a deeper understanding of the paschal mystery and their higher calling in life; as we heard today: Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.
In fact, this enhancement of our awareness is permanent, still and discreet. This is why our Father Founder calls it a Canon (= norm, rule) and why we attribute to the Holy Spirit the mission of patiently carve and mold our soul with the patience of the breeze: The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit (Jn 3:8).
We can take advantage of any event within and without us to strengthen our faith, provided we are willing to admit that the Holy Spirit is fulfilling his mission on a permanent basis… and we fulfill the main condition to know the will of God not merely in an intellectual form: The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments, the least commandments whispered in our ear. Whoever says “I know him”, but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way we may know that we are in union with him (Second Reading).
- Jesus always gives his peace. And this does not mean that we will be always jumping for joy. The peace of Christ means I am here and will be with you always. This is what He said to the troubled and doubtful disciples. And this is why we greet each other in the Holy Eucharist with Peace be with you. This a reminder of the presence of Christ in our lives, in the joyful, difficult or “normal” moments: God is not a God of confusion but a God of peace (1Cor 14: 33). Again, this peace is a gift manifested in the first place in our will with the Mystical Quietude, which is extremely stimulating. It is a prelude to our intimate union with God; when we smell a great aroma of an exquisite food, we are strongly attracted and prompted to come closer to the tasty dish, to the things of God, to become His instruments of healing and grace.
- Jesus vanished quietly from the sight of the two apostles when He realized they were ready to start their mission. Even when the other disciples were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost, He allows them to see that they could already do something for others: Have you anything here to eat? This is just an example of how our ecstasy, our capability of getting out of ourselves, can be educated, enhanced and perfected. And this is mainly carried out by the Holy Spirit through his spiritual gifts.
Every time we conquer our fears, there we meet the Risen Christ, because we know well that it is not within our power to overcome our weaknesses, but we do so only because of Christ and His Spirit in us. When the soul is damaged, mind, and will are at odds, working against each other. Our mind believes an action is good, but our will craves for another: we know that we need to be patient with everyone, but we run out of willpower and we cuss out the poor driver who forgets to signal a turn.
When we grow in generosity towards others, we become more and more like God. As a consequence, we are truly identified with our neighbor. This is why Jesus told the disciples that they will receive the reward of union with a larger family, which is actually the gift of piety. In the words of Pope Francis: The gift of piety makes us grow in our relation and communion with God and leads us to live as His children; at the same time, it helps us to pour this love also on others and to recognize them as brothers. Hence, the fruit of ecstasy is always unity and communion: And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life (Mt 19:29).
After our intimate encounter with Christ, the Risen One, we naturally (and supernaturally) feel the need to share the Good News. We should not and we cannot keep it to ourselves, because the conversion and the forgiveness resulting from this encounter are truly essential: sin is not so much doing wrong things but sin is separation between God and man and also between person and person, something we cannot endure for very long because it clashes with our nature.
For this reason, when the Mass is ended, the priest says: Go in Peace, that is, be witnesses as the apostles did by announcing with your lives the presence of God in your midst. In fact, the word Mass is derived from dismissal; we all are sent forth upon different ways on a common mission, to announce with or lives the presence and the work of Christ in our lives. As already noted, this is the peace of Christ.
When you are really healed, when you genuinely feel that your life is different, you have the desire to share this encounter with others. Maybe you and I can identify with the protagonist of the following story:
A missionary lived in a country with restricted access. For many years, the government of this country had taught the people that there was no God. The missionary had the opportunity to interact on a regular basis with a nonbeliever of that country who was a highly educated professional. After developing a friendship with this person, the missionary had the opportunity to share the gospel with him. The missionary was taken back by the man’s response: What you have told me cannot be true. If it were true, it is such good news that someone would have told this to me before.
On the contrary, when we have a deep encounter with Jesus Christ, nothing can hold us back. Our lives transformed and we have a deep desire to announce Jesus as the Good News, the true Savior of all humanity. Being an apostle is not just an obligation, we just cannot promise to stop proclaiming what we have seen and felt.
Last Friday we read the story of Jesus calling Simon and Andrew to make of them fishers of men. The miraculous catch is a symbol of the unexpected and abundant fruits of our humble efforts. When we see how the compassion and the generosity of our fellowmen awaken, we will exclaim with the apostles: It is the Lord! Our Prayer, Word and Service are the inseparable instruments able to produce the miracle of conversion if we listen carefully His advice: Cast the net on that side of the boat.
Moreover, if we do not share our spiritual experience with others, with our nearest community or in the Holy Eucharist, we begin to doubt and to ask ourselves if it is worth to continue our struggle. More importantly, beyond the psychological and emotional factor, Jesus will fulfill his promise and will be among us, even when we do not see Him.
This helps us to understand the value of our Ascetical-Mystical Examination and the fact that no one can walk alone. It is easier said than done, but we should encourage people to find a community and a spiritual direction, something which not everyone understands today. But the effects of His presence in our midst are clear enough: our experiences are validated and confirmed, and we become his witnesses because we are sharing the most valuable that we have: His life.