Group photo of friars

Provincial ministers and other leaders from the US-6 provinces gather in Ireland for the English Speaking Conference (ESC).

Our time in Ireland has offered the opportunity for us from the US-6 to discuss our own excitement and apprehension as we walk together into a new, unknown future. Many of us walked two by two on the roads of Dublin talking about our hopes and our sadness about letting go of what we know. It was reminiscent to me of the disciples of Jesus on the Road to Emmaus.

The Road to Emmaus is a Lucan narrative about what happens on the road to two disciples dealing with the destruction of their hopes and dreams. It is a story of what it means to be a follower of Jesus after the Resurrection. It involves a journey of walking seven miles, of transformation, of being changed along the way. Change is something that everyone resists. A planned change can be even more troublesome to the ego than unplanned change. But most change seems like an enemy to be bucked, or ignored.

Luke recounts this journey of transformation to two disciples, one of whom is named Cleopas. We are told that they are on a journey away from Jerusalem. It has been for them a place of pain, a place of the destruction of their hopes, their hopes for Jesus of Nazareth to be the Anointed One of God, a Jesus now seemingly stone cold in death. As far as they knew, all of their energy built around him was for nothing. They witnessed his torture and execution. They were hightailing it away from Jerusalem, that place of sadness and anguish, but also a place that could cost them their own lives.

image of a road

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

While we don’t really know the actual location of biblical Emmaus, the name suggests “hot springs.” Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, speculated it may have been a kind of Las Vegas of the day. Whatever, the disciples are going to this location to escape the pain. This is normally the way that psychologists tell us we will react to danger or pain: fight or flight. Jesus is about to teach them another way.

They were discussing together all that had happened: their hopes about Jesus, their trials in trying to understand Him, their joys at His miracles, how He opened up their lives and their current despair. This was a lively exchange: they were engaged, connected. In a way, they were attached to their feelings of loss, bewilderment. Jesus approaches them as a stranger, not recognized, but aware of their suffering.

He initiates the conversation. The disciples are disturbed by His intrusion into their pain, and they resist. They didn’t want interference with their own despair. You can hear their hostility in their question, “Are you the only resident in Jerusalem who has not heard?”

The irony of their question is not lost on us. Jesus was the only resident in all of Jerusalem who actually knew the full story. Jesus embraced their story with the compassion of His presence. The disciples were like a married couple talking with a good therapist. The addition of a third party altered their experience. He deeply listened to them, but then reinterpreted their story, now through the eyes of faith. Jesus offered them a third option from fight or flight. He offered them STOP! Stop and feel your feelings. Just don’t let them dictate your actions. You can have feelings, but don’t let your feelings have you. Don’t be a slave to feelings.

The disciples had overidentified with their feelings of discouragement and fear. Jesus was offering hope. Although the disciples felt the guilt of abandoning Jesus, the Stranger showed how in Moses and the prophets, God was always faithful and never vengeful. God would never abandon them. And while they were confused, their Strange Companion opened up Moses’ own experience that God’s ways are not our ways. Moses learned that God surrounded the People of Israel even in their misery. When the People of Israel had their back up against the wall of the Red Sea, God made a way out of no way.

hands folded over Bible

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

In our own time, as we near the celebration of our province on June 16 and 17, I wonder if it could become a time in our journey to grapple with our own feelings with the Risen Lord. Perhaps our own feelings of sadness, discouragement and fear of change can be met with His embrace and understanding. We do not need to paste a premature happy feeling to our experience. Rather, we simply need to bring our willingness to allow the Christ to help us become aware of all of our feelings. We recognize our feelings, then become willing to bear the pain of them without reactivity. We become willing to explore why we are feeling this way in a gentle, non-judgmental way. Sharing stories does not make the pain disappear, but it can make the negative power diminish. Slowly, we might even come to a point of consenting to God’s action among us.

Their eyes were open when He broke the bread with them. They re-experienced His presence and care. They touched Him present in their own brokenness, caring for them, and then sending them as His active presence in the world. Could He not do the same for us? Is He not walking with us? What goes on in Emmaus shouldn’t stay in Emmaus. This is just one beggar telling others where I find Bread. Real nourishment. Bread of angels. Bread of His presence.

—Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM