30th April – Third Sunday of Easter (A)

emmaus roadToday’s gospel was the Road to Emmaus – see the bottom of this page. Here is my homily.

In Sept 2009, I had the privilege of making a Divine Mercy pilgrimage to Krakow, Poland. I saw the convent were St Faustina lived and died. Nearby was Wadowice, the birthplace of St John Paul II. In the same region there was the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz where among other things I saw the starvation bunker where St Maximilian Kolbe died, having volunteered to take the place of a condemned father of a family.

One day we had a talk from a sister of St Faustina’s order. She said something that I considered memorable and thus remember to this day: the greatest obstacle to holiness is discouragement. To repeat: the greatest obstacle to holiness is discouragement. Holiness is about being filled with the good news of Jesus’ victory over sin and death. If we really take it to heart, we are inevitably encouraged for all that the future holds.

It’s like when we see a lotto winner. They are overjoyed or even ecstatic and spraying champagne around the place. As Christians we have won the ultimate lotto – being adopted as sons and daughters of God and having a reserved room in his House. It takes considerable effort and mental discipline on our part to steer clear of all the negativity, pessimism and cynicism in the world around us.

In the seminary, our English professor mentioned once about 2 men who where serving a life sentence in the same cell.  Every night one man would look out the cell window and gazing downward would see the mud and be filled with despondency. The other man would look upwards and be filled with awe and wonder with the night sky. As Christians we too are called to look upward to the things of heaven rather than the things of earth.

In today’s gospel we meet two men who are caught up in discouragement. These 2 disciples of Jesus were devastated by the events of Good Friday. They had hoped that Jesus would be the saviour of Israel. There is no failure greater than a dead saviour!

What happens is that Jesus comes up long-side them and while concealing his identity strikes up a conversation with them. As they walk along Jesus reveals the inner meaning of the Hebrew scriptures, that the Christ had to suffer and die in order to defeat sin and death and thus enter into glory. Earlier in his preaching he had stated that unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains but a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.

This isn’t just the pattern of Jesus’ life, it is meant to be the pattern of our lives too. That is the reason why we have the Stations of the Cross in our churches to remind us of the Master’s life.  Some newer churches have a fifteenth station – the Resurrection. With this in mind we never have to give in to discouragement regardless of how unravelled our lives become. We can always keep one eye on the Resurrection – the true end of all our journeys.

An important question would be to ask if there was a way of inviting Jesus to join us on life’s journey as he did the disciples travelling to Emmaus. Is there a way we could say to him “Stay with us” as evening fell for the 2 disciples and their hearts burned within as he explained the mystery of the scriptures?

I propose one way to do this is to commit to praying the Rosary every day, mindful that May, the month of the Rosary is beginning on Monday.

Back in 2002 St John Paul wrote a letter on the Rosary giving his insights into this special prayer. Firstly he called it his favourite prayer. This is especially notable given that John Paul has been referred to as “The Great” and the last pope to be called “The Great” was Gregory who died in 604AD. He said that the Rosary accompanied him throughout the highs and lows of life. In this he was speaking of the Rosary as if it were a person, or a Guardian angel presence in his life. The Rosary priest Fr Patrick Peyton said that when we are holding the Rosary beads, it is like holding Mary’s hand in ours. We should not be surprised that Jesus and Mary come together given the union between their two hearts.

The Holy Father spoke about the Rosary as a Christ-centred prayer. Each time we say the 53 Hail Marys, we pronounce the Holy Name of Jesus: Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb JESUS. When we say the holy name of Jesus with great love and respect, it releases great power in our life. When we pray the Rosary we are meditating on the entire life of Jesus from his Conception right through to his – and his Mother’s – entry into heavenly glory. By moving from the Sorrowful Mysteries to the Glorious Mysteries, we are reminded of the fundamental pattern of Jesus’ life and OURS, of the Cross that leads to Glory.

Because the Rosary brings before the eyes of our minds the life of Jesus, it is like a condensed reading of the Gospels. If we want to get a big boost of Vitamin C we may have to eat 20 oranges. Alternatively we can take one small Vitamin C tablet. Thus the Rosary brings with it the benefits of a larger reading of the Gospels. Another wonderful insight of Pope John Paul was that the Mysteries of the Rosary can be seen as Mary’s privileged memories of her Son’s life. Mary knew Jesus better than anybody else who ever lived because she was his mother as well as his greatest disciple. When we pray the Rosary, Mary shares these memories with us on a heart-to-heart basis.

Now, there is no point talking about the wonders of the Rosary if we don’t do something about it – namely commit to praying it daily. What is the point of having a Rolls Royce car parked outside the house if we never drive it? Let us all commit to praying this great prayer every day. There is no better use of 20 minutes. If we can pray the Rosary with our families, then we have the additional benefit of the promise that “a family that prays together, stays together.”

To sum up:

  1. The greatest obstacle to holiness is discouragement.
  2. The pattern of Jesus’ life shows that the suffering of Good Friday is the doorway to the new life of the Resurrection.
  3. Praying the Rosary is an ideal way to know Jesus and invite him into our lives, like what happened on the road to Emmaus.

Gospel                                  Luke 24:13-35
They recognised him at the breaking of bread.

Two of the disciples of Jesus were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking together about all that had happened. Now as they talked this over, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side; but something prevented them from recognising him. He said to them, ‘What matters are you discussing as you walk along?’ They stopped short, their faces downcast.

Then one of them, called Cleopas, answered him, ‘You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days’. ‘What things?’ he asked. ‘All about Jesus of Nazareth’ they answered ‘who proved he was a great prophet by the things he said and did in the sight of God and of the whole people; and how our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and had him crucified. Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free. And this is not all: two whole days have gone by since it all happened; and some women from our group have astounded us: they went to the tomb in the early morning, and when they did not find the body, they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but of him they saw nothing.’

Then he said to them, ‘You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter  into his glory?’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.

When they drew near to the village to which they were going, he made as if to go on; but they pressed him to stay with them. ‘It is nearly evening’ they said ‘and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.

Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him; but he had vanished from their sight.

Then they said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’

They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven assembled together with their companions, who said to them, ‘Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ Then they told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread.

The Gospel of the Lord.