March 25, 2005


The season for personal encounter with the risen Lord

During the Easter season, the Church’s liturgy celebrates the disciples’ personal encounters with the risen Lord. In the readings, we hear again how Mary Magdalene and the disciples (on the road to Emmaus, at the Sea of Galilee and even behind closed doors) met the Lord face-to-face. Although they had given him up for dead, and had themselves succumbed to anxiety and despair, they recognized him in the breaking of the bread. They touched him and ate with him, just as they had done in the days before his Passion and death, and they recognized him in the breaking of the bread (the Eucharist).

These post-Resurrection encounters with Jesus were clearly life-changing for all who experienced them. Before meeting the risen Lord, it was possible for the disciples to consider returning to their normal lives. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were going home. Yes, they had had the experience of a lifetime, but it was over. They were taking with them wonderful memories of Jesus, “the prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Lk. 24:19). But it was all in the past now. Yes, they had heard about the empty tomb, and the rumors that he was still alive, but they were going home anyway—back to their former lives.

The stranger who joined them on the road to Emmaus changed their life’s destination. He taught them, and helped them to see everything that had happened with new eyes. He inflamed their hearts, and he inspired them to return to Jerusalem, to their true vocations as disciples called to witness to his love.

As Catholics who have experienced the risen Lord in the Easter liturgy, in the Eucharist and in prayerful reflection on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we can never go back to our old ways. We can never return to the life that is proposed to us day-in and day-out by the world we live in.

We have seen the Lord. We have heard him ask, “Why are you troubled?” We have received his personal reassurance: “Peace be with you. My peace I give you.” How can we go back to a life that is self-serving? How can we forget that he has called each one of us by name, and invited us to be his disciples?

The call to discipleship can be unsettling and uncomfortable. We are asked to stand for things that are often politically incorrect: the sanctity of all human life, the indissolubility of marriage, the preferential option for those who are poor and marginalized, the primacy of peace and social justice over power and privilege, and the transforming love of Christ which changes who we are, and how we live, as individuals and as communities of faith. Like the first disciples, we don’t quite know how to handle the wonderful news that “He is risen!” We find ourselves holding back—waiting for someone to tell us what to do, and how to live, now that the Passion is over and the tomb is empty.

During this Easter season, let’s listen carefully to the way that the Lord opens the Scriptures for us. Let’s look for him in the breaking of the bread, in our moments of fearful anxiety and as we go about our daily business.

Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, or gathered in an upper room or fishing in the Sea of Galilee, we will find him when we least expect him. He will come to us with arms outstretched and ask why we are troubled. If we open our hearts to him, he will give us his peace. He will fill us with his Holy Spirit, and in the process, empower us to change our individual lives and the world we live in.

Daniel Conway

(Daniel Conway is a member of the editorial committee of the board of directors of Criterion Press Inc.)

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