My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, after His Resurrection, Jesus appeared personally in human form to certain women who had served Him in the course of His public ministry, and to the Apostles. In today’s Gospel reading, however, we heard of His appearing to two disciples -- one named Cleopas and the other unknown to us – as they were walking to Emmaus, which archaeologists have recently discovered and literally un-earthed, and which seems to have been a wealthy village in close, Sabbath-walk, proximity to Jerusalem. And although Jesus appeared to Cleopas and his companion in human form, He only became personally known to them in the same way that He wills to reveal Himself to us and all His disciples throughout the ages, that is, in and through the Scriptures and our celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
Jesus appeared and said to them, "What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?"
Their hearts and minds were filled with memories of Jesus’ public ministry -- His teaching and controversies and, perhaps above all else, His recent miraculous raising of Lazarus of Bethany from his tomb -- and they had been talking together, lovingly yet painfully, about what had so recently befallen Jesus Himself, and what sort of future His crucifixion boded for their own hopes and for the destiny of Israel. Without Him, the bottom of their world seemed to have been knocked out, as they explained:
We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.
By His choice of these two men on the way to Emmaus Jesus shows us that He wills to reveal Himself only to those who seek to know and love Him and who aspire to follow Him; and it is both delightful and inspiring for us to hear how their hearts thrilled and their attention was held spellbound as Jesus -- walking beside them along the dusty road and sharing so simply in their conversation -- gradually revealed and explained to them the significance of the many references to Himself to be found in Israel’s sacred Scriptures:
They said to one another, "Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?"
Such was the solace, uplift, new-found confidence, and hope that His words inspired in them that they were most loath to lose his companionship as their own destination was now at hand:
Drawing near to the village where they were going, He indicated that He would have gone farther; but they constrained Him, saying, "Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent."
And, because of the warmth of their charity and the obvious sincerity and depth of their gratitude, we learn that:
He went in to stay with them.
Walking along the road together with these two down-cast supporters of His public ministry, and discussing its profound impact on Israel’s religious expectations, Jesus had already rewarded their incipient faith and hope by interpreting the Scriptures for them; and now, at their shared meal, He rewarded their fraternal charity with His Eucharistic self-revelation and gift:
He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.
They were men of faith wanting to hope in the Lord: and Jesus’ revelation of His presence in the Scriptures had already given them renewed confidence and deepened conviction. However, they still needed the spiritual strength of a personal calling to face up to the difficulties looming ahead on their horizon, and Jesus’ Eucharistic Presence and blessing would give them that required strength of mind and peace of heart to trust and serve Him wholeheartedly no matter what those trials might turn out to be.
With that their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, but He vanished from their sight.
Before that encounter with the Risen Lord they had been leaving Jerusalem each for their own personal reasons; now, however, immediately forgetting themselves, their own interests, and perhaps also -- since it was late, dark, and lonely, on their way back to the city -- their own safety, we are told that:
They rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together.
There, they learnt that Jesus’ meeting with them was but one of several such appearances, all of which were, it would seem, not merely for individuals but for the comforting and strengthening in faith of the whole Church; and especially was that the case with His appearing to Peter.
Together, the whole Church, including Mary the Mother of Jesus, prayed over what had happened, and Peter came to understand something of the meaning of these, and subsequent, appearances which led him, at Pentecost, to proclaim publically and in the name of the Church:
Men of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth, Whom you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death, God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.
As members of the Church of Christ founded on Peter the Rock, the two Emmaus disciples would thrill anew to a fresh awareness and deeper appreciation of Jesus’ presence with them -- this time on the way of life -- and to a most acute and astounding experience of the Church as the very Body of Christ, living because Jesus Himself was living and, as her Head, would be with her to the end of time. Again, they would find in the Church that which they had heard the Lord say and seen Him do – unlock the Scriptures and share the Eucharistic Meal -- for the Lord had expressly commissioned the Apostles to do these things in memory of Himself. Thus, feeding on the divine pastures of a land flowing with milk and honey, they would gradually learn to give constant praise to God the Father for Jesus’ enduring presence in His Church for the salvation of mankind! For The Church is, indeed, called to continue and bring to fulfilment the mission of Christ; and it is only the full celebration of Mass -- as liturgy of the Word, and liturgy of the Eucharist, both Sacrifice and Sacrament – that can give supreme glory to God and build up the Church up to maturity as the Body of Christ living to the full by the Spirit of Christ.
At times some Catholics have flirted with the idea that the liturgical celebration of Holy Mass is really only suitable for Sundays and days of obligation and only necessary for occasionally stocking up Hosts for the coming week, flippantly asserting that all that really matters is love for Jesus expressed so simply (and easily!) by the communion of mutual self-giving with Him in our reception of the Eucharist. That is totally irreverent and quite wrong. At Holy Mass, the whole Jesus – glorified Lord with His Mystical Body – is called and must ever seek to give supreme glory to the Father in sublime fulfilment of the original purpose of Creation, and in that context only is mankind offered salvation, in Jesus, by the power of the Spirit; and we receive Holy Communion fruitfully only insofar as we are one in mind and heart with Jesus in His sacrificial offering to the Father.
As Catholics and Christians, we must be constantly aware that Jesus’ abiding presence in, with and for, Mother Church is an expression of His love for the Father, and in fulfilment of the purpose for which He was originally sent as Man. The pouring out His Holy Spirit on mankind through the sacraments of Mother Church is done that He might form us all as living members in the One Mystical Body and as individual likenesses to and servants of Christ the Head of that Body, so that the Risen and Glorious Lord might ultimately be able to lead us all into the presence of the Father, as adopted sons and daughters in the supremely beloved and only-begotten Son, for the eternal praise and glory of the Father. Our response to that awareness and calling constitutes, indeed, our spiritual pilgrimage on earth, and can become our deepest and most abiding foretaste of heavenly charity and joy.
Peter who, in the name of the Church, proclaimed the significance of Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension and His Gift of the Holy Spirit, also teaches us, in the second reading, the sort of response we should give to God who does such great deeds and offers such glorious promises for all who are true disciples of His Son:
If you say ‘Father’ to Him Who judges everyone impartially on the basis of what they have done, you must live in awe of Him during your time on earth. You know well that it was nothing of passing value -- like silver or gold -- that bought your freedom from the futility of your traditional ways; you were set free by Christ’s precious blood, blood like that of a lamb without mark or blemish.
So, People of God, rejoice in the Lord always, but always with awe; honour Mother Church and strive to receive her sacraments with both deep reverence and heartfelt love; for reverence and love, far from being irreconcilable, are absolutely necessary for true worship of God. Without sovereign reverence there is no appreciation of, or possible love for, the all-holy God. Pray the Holy Spirit -- the Promise of the Father and Pentecostal Gift of Jesus -- to come and rule in your mind and heart so that, under all conditions and in all situations, you may share with Jesus and Mother Church in giving constant worship, praise, glory, and honour, to God the Father, Who sent Jesus as our Saviour and now calls us -- in Him and by His Spirit -- to Himself as His own adopted and most truly loved-in-the-Beloved children.