May 28, 2010

Emmaus Walk / Debra Tomaselli

How a ‘homecoming’ helped me better understand our faith

Debra TomaselliI’ll never forget when my mother returned from the hospital carrying a tiny bundle. I was jumping up and down, just as eager to see Mom as to meet my baby brother.

“I want to hold the baby,” I shouted. “Can I hold the baby?”

Mom suggested I sit down, and I scrambled onto the sofa. There, she showed me how to cradle my arms and, hovering gently, carefully placed my baby brother into my embrace. I was 4 years old when Jim was born, and to me he was a living doll.

He found his way into my heart and remained there. We grew up together, riding tricycles and building forts, running sprints and playing softball.

Our final embrace occurred 33 years later when he succumbed to kidney failure. Once again, he was in my arms, but this time he left this world.

His death infuriated me.

“Why?” I shook my fist at God himself. “How could this be? God forbid this could happen.”

My stomach was in turmoil. My attitude was one of defeat. I doubted my faith in God. I couldn’t believe that anything good could come of losing my brother at such a tender age.

Strangely, as much as I rallied against God, the only place I felt comfort was at Mass. Ultimately, searching for solace, I began reading my Bible. And in Matthew 16, I discovered that the Apostle Peter and I had a lot in common.

Jesus had just finished feeding the multitudes with a few fish and a couple of loaves of bread. Life was good. Miracles were happening.

Later, Jesus confided in his disciples that he would go to Jerusalem, and what would happen to him there—that he would suffer at the hands of the Jewish leaders, be killed and, three days later, would be raised to life again.

Maybe some of the disciples didn’t hear what Christ said. Maybe some of them didn’t understand.

Peter, however, bristled. His back stiffened, and he clenched his fists. He took Jesus aside.

“God forbid, Lord!” Peter said. “No such thing shall ever happen to you” (Mt 16:22).

Who wouldn’t feel like Peter? Nobody would ever want bad things to happen to someone we love. If I were there, I would have jumped on board with the disciple.

Like Peter, situations can discourage us. Is there something going on in your life that you can’t control? Are you confused by what is happening? Are you angry with an outcome, a diagnosis, an unwanted change? Did you ever wish you could have written the script differently?

But Jesus offers an unexpected reply to Peter’s retort. At least, I was surprised at Christ’s response. The Savior turned sharply. He squared his shoulders and stared at the disciple. Then he spoke.

Listen to what Jesus says. He delivers the message, not just to Peter, but also to us. His voice echoes throughout the ages. His reply is directed to you and to me. His reply set me free from the negativity that clouded my grief.

Listen to his response.

“Get behind me, Satan! … You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mt 16:23).

(Debra Tomaselli lives in Altamonte Springs, Fla. Her column appears in several diocesan newspapers. Her e-mail address is †

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