Reflection on the Mass readings for the Third Sunday of Easter (Year A) — Acts 2:14, 22-28; Psalms 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11; First Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35.
Deep within each and every one of us there is a hunger and a thirst. We all experience this yearning of the soul—a heart that burns with longing, but we don’t always recognize what it is for which we yearn. One of my favorite quotes from the great saints comes from St. Augustine:
“Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” (St. Augustine)
This beautiful prayer to God was written by St. Augustine and included in Book I, Chapter 1 of his spiritual autobiography, Confessions. Its placement emphasizes the importance of this discovery made by St. Augustine after years of yearning. God alone, is who Augustine sought.
St. Augustine was not always a saint. He spent a portion of his life, maybe like you and like me, in pursuit of what he incorrectly thought would satisfy his hunger and thirst. We all know the story of his mother, St. Monica, who spent many long years praying for her son… a son who refused to submit to God and the Catholic faith… a son who lived with a woman who bore him a son out of wedlock. Such is the love of a mother for her child. In grief, compassion and concern for her son, St. Monica never failed to pray with urgency, persistence, faithfulness and hope.
St. Augustine gives us a glimpse in Book X, Chapter 27 of Confessions into what was taking place in his life during those years while his mother prayed:
“Late have I loved you, O Beauty, so ancient and so new, late have I loved you! And behold, you were within me and I was outside, and there I sought for you, and in my deformity I rushed headlong into the well-formed things that you have made. You were with me and I was not with you. Those outer beauties held me far from you, yet if they had not been in you, they would not have existed at all.” (St. Augustine)
Here he speaks of the burning deep within his heart and recognizes that it was God whom he sought. But in his deformity, he had sought instead those pleasures and beauties of creation instead of the Creator—and so his hunger was not satisfied then. He tasted of creation when what he really hungered for was the Creator.
Reflect a moment on this… how many times have we made the same mistake? Have we sought to satisfy our hunger with material pleasures and riches, even good things, failing to see that our yearning is for God Who alone can satisfy our deepest desire? And very likely, just like St. Augustine, we have had a mother who prayed for us, beseeching the good God to open our hearts to Him.
For St. Augustine, in the end it was through the breaking open of the Scriptures by St. Ambrose of Milan and the prayers of St. Monica that his heart began to burn within him, melting away his pride, correcting his errors and opening the door for Christ to rush in.
On the Road to Emmaus
The two disciples who encountered the Risen Lord on the Road to Emmaus in today’s Gospel must also have experienced this inner desire. They had come to know Jesus and placed their hopes in him. But they misinterpreted the Old Testament Scriptures and therefore, they were disheartened and disillusioned when this man, who they believed to be the Messiah who would drive out their worldly enemies, was crucified and died. Imagine, if you will, the euphoria they must have experienced prior to the Crucifixion and compare it to the anguish they expressed in today’s Gospel. They did not yet recognize the Risen Lord, this stranger who asked them what was troubling them. One of the disciples, Cleopas, said of the Crucified Christ, “…we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21) Can you sense his deep pain?
Sadly for us today there are times when we who already know and believe in Jesus lose sight of Him, fail to recognize Him or even misinterpret the Scriptures to our own spiritual detriment. Or maybe like St. Augustine, we are simply too wrapped up in seeking the pleasures and surviving the worries of this world to see Him… in His word and in His sacrament, and in the lives of the men, women and children He places in our lives.
These two disciples failed to recognize Jesus when they encountered Him. Although they loved Him, they were no longer seeking Him, so they did not know Him. So, lovingly and patiently He broke open the Scriptures and taught them all that had been written of Him in the Old Testament. After He left them, they remarked to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)
The Scriptures and our desire for Him are special graces given us—our search for God is a result of His call to us. As St. John of the Cross taught, we seek God because God first sought us and is passing close by when we think of Him. Do not our hearts also burn within us? We are able to meet the Risen Lord in Scripture.
We see in today’s Gospel another grace given to us—the Eucharist. It was in the breaking of the bread that the two disciples came to recognize the stranger as Jesus, risen from the dead. Today, the entire world has become for us a “Road to Emmaus” and we are blessed to see Jesus in the breaking of the bread at Holy Masses celebrated the world over each day, the making present of the once for all Sacrifice of the Cross and our participation in the heavenly banquet.
In this Eucharist which we celebrate, we are to come to more fully and deeply know Jesus. There is no other place on earth where we can have so special and singular, so personal an encounter with Jesus than in the Mass and Holy Communion.
Into the deep…
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