Thing is, we are just as close.
That’s the simple truth that the Church whispers to us by means of this remarkable story from Luke, that we’re just as close to the miracle of Easter, to Jesus, as anyone. Because of the Resurrection; because of the Eucharist. As close as the disciples were, we are, too. Because the risen Lord is present in the Eucharist on each Catholic altar. It’s the gift of Easter.
The risen Lord was present, he was there on the road beside them and in the inn. And when “he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them,” Luke tells us, “they recognized him” (Lk 24:30-31). They beheld his presence, like those blessed elders on Sinai who ate and drank and gazed upon God (cf. Ex 24:11). They were just as close to God as them while we are just as close God as them all. Again, because of resurrection, because of the Eucharist. It is indeed a tremendous gift.
|April 23 – Third Sunday of Easter|
Acts 2:14, 22-23
How? St. John Paul II talked about a mysterious “oneness in time,” this gift given to the Church. By the miracle of the Eucharist, he taught, the Paschal Mystery is perennially made present; we are brought mysteriously to the Triduum (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, No. 5). This is a mystery, a gift of liturgy, we would do well to remember and to cherish.
The liturgy, our acts of worship, are not about mere historical recall; the Mass is no mere living museum, like some live Nativity scene at Christmas; nor is it some merely symbolic reenactment. At Mass on Holy Thursday, for instance, the priest adds these words to the Eucharistic prayer, just before the words of institution: “that is today,” he says, admitting mysteriously that there really is only one Holy Thursday, that he and his people are really there. And that’s because the Mass is always a re-presentation of the mystery, a mysterious presenting again of what it signifies. The bread not only symbolizes the body; it is the body. Not only does the wine symbolize the blood; it is the blood. Again, because of the Resurrection, because neither death nor doors nor time or space could hold the Lord. Because our God and Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, is perfectly capable of coming to you; because miracles for him are ordinary things.
Which is a mysterious gift binding us closer together too. Not just to the Lord but to each other: the Eucharist gathers us together. When, a century ago, for example, Blessed Karl of Austria was exiled to Madeira, he wrote to his family, whom he would never on earth see again, “At Midnight Mass, before the Eucharist, nothing can separate us.” To get close to each other, he asked his family to draw near to the Eucharist. Again, because of the Resurrection, because of what the Eucharist is in reality — the presence of the Risen Christ in whom we are present, to him and also to each other. A tremendous gift, as I said, it’s the beginning of heaven.
So, what does this mean? It means we should open our spiritual eyes to this great truth of our Catholic faith, warm our hearts by it. The spiritual power of Easter isn’t anything that fades; rather, it descends by the Holy Spirit, like fire from heaven, upon each Catholic altar each and every day. And to become Easter people, we must strive to become the sort of people who want that gift of God given so graciously upon the altars of the Church. The fading of Easter joy is not God’s doing; rather, it’s but a sign of our own spiritual weakness, of the need we have to grow in our desire for him. Here we see the spiritual work Easter gives us to do — to long for the Lord.
Which is why, at least for me, I’ve always loved that prayer of those two disciples whom the Lord accompanied on the road to Emmaus. A beautiful prayer, they didn’t even realize it was a prayer; yet it was. Strange as it sounds, it’s perhaps my favorite prayer in all of the New Testament. It’s a prayer I try to pray whenever I can; you should pray it too. It’s a prayer to desire what the Lord wants to give us. Again, because of the Resurrection, because of the Eucharist. A simple prayer, good enough for them, good enough for us: “Stay with us,” they asked him. That’s it, such a beautiful little prayer.
And, of course, Jesus did stay; he’ll stay with us, too. That is, if we let our heart burn with his words; if we hunger for his food.
Father Joshua J. Whitfield is pastor of St. Rita Catholic Community in Dallas and author of “The Crisis of Bad Preaching” (Ave Maria Press, $17.95) and other books.