3rd Sunday of Easter
Live-Streamed (Coronavirus Crisis)
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
April 26, 2020
Re-opening the State of Maryland
Last Friday, Governor Hogan provided an outline of a three-stage plan to re-open businesses and other activities in the State of Maryland. The goal is to get the State back on its feet while protecting the health and safety of all. The Governor’s plan also envisions a gradual re-opening of churches. Stage two would allow for limited religious gatherings and stage three for larger ones.
Taking into consideration the Governor’s guidance, the Archdiocese of Baltimore has begun to plan for the re-opening of our churches. We are working closely with experts and area pastors to ensure that all of you, our parishioners, will be safe as our churches re-open. We are working to surface questions and problems that will need to be faced and also to identify the best practices, so we can be up and running soon and safely. As an experienced pastor put it, he said, “It will be trickier to re-open our churches than it was to close them.” And, you know, I think he’s on to something.
Re-Opening Our Hearts
But just as the Archdiocese and our parishes must prepare to re-open, so too all of us, myself included, need to prepare to re-open our hearts, perhaps as never before, to the gift and mystery of the Eucharist. I say this because our time at home is causing us to re-evaluate how we live our lives and we spend our time – and that can include how we will plan to practice our faith, going forward.
I know that many of you are longing to get back to church. …Some of you have written to tell me how painful it has been to be deprived of receiving Holy Communion. You are undergoing a true spiritual hunger for the Most Holy Eucharist. One of you wrote to say, “I used to take Mass for granted. But never again!” …Those of us who are getting along in years tell me how much you appreciate these live-streamed Masses; one of you described them as “a life-line”. …Others among you, who have been away from the church, report that online Masses and messages from pastors have been spiritually fruitful. Maybe you’re not quite ready to return but now you’re thinking and praying about it. …Still others among us might be thinking, “Gee, these live-streamed Masses are great! I don’t have to get dressed up or argue with the kids; I can sit on my comfortable sofa; and, if I don’t like the homily, I can click on something else!” (No pressure there, folks!) Well, convenience and choices are a big deal in our culture, but let’s be clear: An on-line Mass is no substitute for the real thing … for taking an active part in the Mass and receiving Holy Communion. So, as we make plans to re-open our churches, let us once again open our hearts to the centrality, the prime importance, of Holy Mass in our lives of faith.
Were Not Our Hearts Burning?
It turns out that today’s Gospel helps us grow in our appreciation of Holy Mass by telling us an amazing story that goes to the origin and meaning of the Eucharist. In fact, this Gospel reading brings us back to the very beginnings of the Church and helps us see that it was Jesus himself who gave us the Eucharist … not only at the Last Supper but also after he had risen from the dead. And, frankly, if that’s where the gift of the Eucharist originates, if we got from Jesus, then it’s a little hard for us who want to follow Jesus, to reject it or to downplay it.
So, let’s join the two disciples on the road to Emmaus whom we met in the Gospel. As we do so, we find they were discouraged and confused. They had followed Jesus and believed he would bring deliverance to God’s people; they thought he would restore Israel to its former independence and glory. But when Jesus was put on trial and executed, their hopes came to a crashing end. And to top it off, they were dealing with a fantastic story that Jesus was now alive. It seems to me that those two disciples just wanted to leave Jerusalem and get back home to Emmaus. They wanted to get their lives back on an even keel, to get back to normal. … Just maybe, we can sympathize with those two disciples. For different reasons, we too might be discouraged and confused, and find ourselves just wanting to get back to normal.
But back to the Gospel. As those disciples were talking about Jesus’ fate, they were joined by a stranger. Actually, the stranger was the Risen Lord but the two disciples did not recognize him. Jesus casually asked them what they were discussing, and when they told him, he sprang into action. And what did Jesus do? St. Luke tells us that Jesus opened their minds to the meaning of Sacred Scripture. He showed them how the Old Testament prophets pointed to a Messiah who would redeem a sinful humanity by giving up his life and so to enter into his glory. As yet the two disciples still didn’t know it was Jesus who was walking with them, but as the Risen Lord spoke, unveiling the meaning of Scripture, their hearts were set on fire, their hearts were aflame with the Holy Spirit: They began to understand, maybe for the first time, how much God loves the world and what God had planned to redeem a humanity oppressed by sin and death.
If I may, what Jesus did along the way was to preside over a Liturgy of the Word … the first principal part of the Mass in which the Scriptures are proclaimed. Even today, when Mass is celebrated, Jesus still presides over the Liturgy of the Word, ‘for whenever the Scriptures are read in the liturgy, it is Christ himself who speaks.’ You and I must listen attentively as the Lord unveils for us the meaning of Scripture: how God is still at work in the world, still at work in our lives, still rescuing us from sin and death so as to make us fit for the Kingdom of Heaven. So we must ask the Holy Spirit to help us receive God’s Word with open hearts.
They Recognized Him in the Breaking of Bread
Moving on with our story, by the time the disciples arrived at the town of Emmaus, Jesus acted as if he were going on farther, but the disciples begged him to stay: “Remain with us!” they said, and so Jesus did exactly that. And while at table, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. ‘And with that, their eyes were opened and they recognized the Risen Lord in the Breaking of Bread … whereupon he vanished from their sight.’
If I may, what Jesus did here was to preside over a Liturgy of the Eucharist. He took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it – for “this is my body!” This is the very same thing that happens at every Mass. And like those earliest disciples, we too recognize Jesus in the Breaking of Bread. We believe that in the Most Holy Eucharist, Christ truly gives himself to us. The Risen Lord enters into us, body and soul, and is a food unlike any other. As St. Augustine said: “We become what we receive!” This is the food that fills us with the Presence of the Risen Lord: it is the food by which we truly share in his victory over sin and death, and even now to participate in the Risen Lord’s glory in heaven. And we can tell that the Eucharist is having its intended effect in us, when, as St. Peter tells us, we conduct ourselves reverently and lovingly during our sojourn, our pilgrimage, on this earth, living a good and virtuous life that bears witness to the fact that Jesus is Risen and he is alive in us!
A Final Word from St. Teresa of Calcutta
Let me give the last word this morning to St. Teresa of Calcutta, who said: “If we really center our lives on Jesus, if we really understand the Eucharist and nourish our souls with the Bread of Life and the word of God, we would not only be able to recognize the likeness of God in ourselves and others, but we would also be able to restore it to those who seem to have lost it.” In that spirit, dear friends, let us prepare to re-open our churches and our hearts! And may God bless us and keep us always in his love!