The human person is created in the image and likeness of God. The human person is of the flesh and of the spirit. In many ways, the flesh, the very human part of our existence can be akin to the cross of our life with all of its natural appetites and desires. The body seems to always require some element of moderation and self-discipline. It is symbolic of the veil that is pierced to gain access to the holy of holies; the Spirit, the Divine Life.
When we struggle to grow in virtue, we must do two things, open ourselves to the Divine Power Christ shares with us in baptism as well as practice self-discipline or continence. The Divine Life is always at work in us, but because it is such an intimate, sublime and hidden mystery, it is at times a challenge to discover. Our struggle to recognize the presence of the Divine Life within us is very much like the disciples’ inability to recognize the Risen Jesus when He appeared to them.
Belief in this inner presence and working of the Divine Presence is what the theological virtues of faith and hope are all about in the life of the Christian.
Just as Jesus spoke often with the Father during his earthly pilgrimage, so too must we have regular contact with Jesus during our faith journey. I can only imagine the frustrations Jesus shared with the Father. “Lord, these disciples can be so thick-headed sometimes!” “Father, see how slow these people are to love and how difficult it is to convince them it is easier to love than to continue in hardness of heart.” How often Jesus’ own heart must have been broken in the face of humanity’s failure to live up to the fullness of our dignity.
It is no different for us in our very human relationship with Jesus as his disciples. How often does our own life-experience disappoint if not outright frustrate us? We are at times very much like the two disciples walking downcast along the road to Emmaus. What are we to do with our feelings of sadness and even anger when life fails to satisfy if not talk about it with the Creator and Redeemer?
When life does not make sense, how we rise to meet these challenges are the moments that build true character and forge a strong faith. When the tensions and stresses of life would cause us to just ‘walk away’ rather than face the challenge; or lead us to unhealthy choices that would simply grant a temporary gratification rather than a lasting solution, the true disciple goes ‘deeper’ to the only Source that satisfies. This is when we must reach out to others and to Christ. We need each other. We need Christ.
In the words of an old cowboy song: “Tough times do not last. Tough people do.” In Christian terms, we could say: “Tough times do not last. Faithful disciples do.”
The cross is God’s chosen instrument to build human character and forge faith. So we should not be surprised by the presence of the cross in life. We are to learn that the cross always leads to new life. This is why St. Peter can say in today’s second reading:
“conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning, realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.” (1 Peter 1:17-21)
While the body of Jesus laid dead in the tomb, the Word of God and the Spirit remained alive. The Spirit of Life can never be extinguished. Even so with us, when our human experience tends to get us down, that Life of Christ shared with us in Baptism remains intact, always available to strengthen and renew us. Even though our life journey takes us through periods of drought, and it appears the River of Life has dried up and no longer flows, we need only recall that the Waters of Life always flow at their Source, and will once again run fast, full and deep through the course of our life, and carry us to the sea of eternity.
Today’s Gospel account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus reminds us that the Risen Jesus is always walking with us. Notice also how Jesus led the disciples to return to God’s Word. We also must continually return to God’s Word, the Sacred Scriptures in our life. This Word helps us as we walk along the Way, as well as to faithfully carry out God’s Will. Word – Way – and Will; that is the life of the Christian; that is the life of a missionary disciple.
Finally, once the disciple (you and I) has found his or her Way with Christ, he or she is then to walk alongside others, offering them the consolation and hope discovered in Christ. This image of Jesus walking with two disciples is the image of the Church Pope Francis offers us today. The Church is on a journey. The Church is on a mission. Christ walks with us. Let us walk with Christ and draw many others to His Side.0