Monday, May 5, 2014

The Third Sunday of Easter--Emmaus and the Joy of Our Youth

Before most of us in this chapel were born, the form for celebrating the Mass changed quite a bit.  I'm sure that most of you know that until then, the Mass was always celebrated in Latin.  That's the change that most people think about.  But, there were other changes too.  One of the things done in that form of the Mass (and something I wish was carried over to the current form of the Mass) was a prayer that was said at the foot of the altar.  The priest would say, "Introibo ad altare Dei" and the server would reply, "Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam."  "I will go to the altar of God.  To the God who gives joy to my youth."  Today's opening prayer for the Mass gives us an echo of this.  It spoke about renewing the youthfulness of our spirit.  It spoke about being restored and growing in hope.

There are two types of hope.  The first is natural hope.  You all have a lot of natural hope, I suspect.  My natural hope, however, is declining! That's what happens with natural hope. The older we get, the less natural hope we have.  Kind of depressing, huh?  But it's true.  It is becoming increasingly evident to me that I may never be the shortstop for the Boston Red Sox.  When I was eight, I could hope for this.  Now?  Not so much.  You probably have already experienced this in your own life.  When you were eight and somebody said, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" you probably gave them a list of twenty things.  "I'm going to be an astronaut, a policeman, a garbage truck driver, and a baseball player."  Now that you're in college, those possibilities have grown less.  You hope to be one of those things. But, you have no hope in realizing all of those things.  All of the languages that I'd like to learn, the courses I'd like to take, etc?  Probably isn't going to happen.  Natural hope . . . declines.

But, there is good news.  There's another kind of hope.  It is called supernatural hope.  And this hope, if we live the Christian life well, increases as we grow older.  If we live a life of faith, a life of prayer, a life close to the Sacraments, then each day, our hope of eternal life grows within us.  Our ultimate happiness is to be perfectly united to God.  The more we grow in our Christian life, the more our hope of that perfect union grows within us.  This is why at the end of our earthly life--when all natural hope has left us--our supernatural hope can be at its strongest.  

Today in the Gospel, these two disciples were walking along the Road to Emmaus.  As they did so, with each step, their natural
hope was diminishing.  They were hoping that Jesus was going to be the one to redeem Israel. They were hoping for a great political or military leader.  They were hoping that their natural desires would be met.  Instead, they saw their natural hopes dashed before their eyes. They saw Jesus die a horrific and humiliating death.

As they made their way along, Jesus came and walked with them, but their eyes were not able to recognize him.  Sometimes, in our life, when our natural hopes lead to nowhere, when we are discouraged by our weaknesses, or overwhelmed by our failures or the failures of others, we can lose sight of what is most important.  See what Jesus does for them.

Firstly, he begins to speak about the Word of God with them.  He explains the scriptures to them.  As summer approaches, be resolved to stay close to the Word of God.  I know that sometimes, we can be confused by the Bible or get bored with it.  I promise you that if you stay close to the Word of God, you will have the same experience that the two disciples had.  After they realized it was Jesus, they said, "Were not our hearts burning within us as he spoke to us along the way?"  When we meditate on the scriptures every day, our hearts truly burn within us.  The joy of our youth is restored in this Word.  Don't get discouraged.  Don't begin in the Old Testament or in the Book of Leviticus!  Start with the Gospels and just listen to God's Word. 

Secondly, Jesus gives them the Eucharist.  Over the summer, stay close to the Eucharist.  Go to Mass as often as you can.  In the Gospel today, as soon as Jesus gives them the Eucharist, their eyes are opened and they run back to Jerusalem.  They are renewed; no longer sluggish and downcast.  Make time to visit with the Blessed Sacrament.  Again, the Eucharist will set your heart aflame with the joy of youth.

Thirdly, let me say a word about Christian friendship.  Remember in the Gospel Jesus said that wherever two or three gather in his name, he will be there in the midst of them?  That promise was fulfilled in today's Gospel.  Here are these two disciples, walking along and talking about Jesus.  And, into their midst he comes.  Living the Christian life is difficult.  Living it alone is impossible.  Live your Faith close to others.  These two disciples were pouring out their hearts to one another and talking about Christ.  It is in the midst of their friendship that Jesus came.  Spend time with Christian friends.  Spend time talking to one another about serious things, about what matters.  Jesus will come into that friendship and use the friendship to help you to grow in hope, to grow in the joy of youth.

Really, today's Gospel is like the Mass.  They gathered together in the name of Jesus.  Then, they heard his Word.  He spoke to them.  And then, they received the Eucharist.  And after all of this, they run to tell others.  They run because they have been given supernatural hope.  Only Jesus can give us supernatural hope.

That's what's happening here today.  Jesus is giving us supernatural hope.  No matter what disappointments and failures lay behind us, he is giving us hope for perfect union with God.  Because we have gathered in His Name, he has come and spoken to us in the Scriptures.  In a few moments, he will feed us with His Body and His Blood.  So, having heard his Word, let us now go to the Altar of God, to the God who truly gives joy to our youth.

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