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Bishop's homily at Chrism Mass


Homily of Bishop Denis Brennan for Chrism Mass at St Aidan's Cathedral

The road to Emmaus has been described as one of the lost roads of history. The shifting sands of the Holy Land have long covered the road to Emmaus. A number of places lay claim to having the road but it’s not the road that is matters, it’s what happened on the road that is important.

Emmaus is not about geography, it’s about our fears and our hopes, our faith and our doubts, it’s about our story. It’s about the lost hopes and expectations that once defined us, it’s about leaving the place where everything went horribly wrong, it’s about being hurt and disappointed ………“he was a prophet……and we hoped more than a prophet.’’

We all have our hopes.....”that our loved one would not be taken from us....that things would get easier.....that we could lay down our burdens....that we could forsake our sins.....that sickness would pass”.....the list goes on. But Emmaus is also about the possibility of being healed and renewed. The risen Jesus, still a stranger, reinterprets the disciples’ experience of recent events. It is a story that tries to make sense of pain and rejection and brokenness. It is the healing of broken discipleship.

This touches us all in one way or another. When Jesus died the disciples’ hopes and expectations died with him. This happens today too. For many people, for many reasons, God has died. It’s not always a dramatic death, like a crucifixion, it may take a long time to happen but the result is just the same. Jesus does not matter in the way he used to, he has gone out of our lives. We end up on our own road to Emmaus, we have lost hope, we are ex-disciples of a dead prophet.

The words of Mary Magdalen are apt…. “They have taken the Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him….” The talking on the road now moves to silent revelation and recognition at the table. In the breaking of the bread the stranger is revealed as the Lord. In this moment of grace the disciples can reinterpret the past and face the future.

The American priest, John O’Shea in a wonderful phrase calls Jesus “the arsonist of the heart”, he sets hearts on fire and that is what he did for the two disciples. Commentators have searched for words to describe the way Jesus related to the disheartened disciples on the road to Emmaus. Some have said he showed sympathy for their situation. When you show sympathy to someone you are in effect saying, “I feel your pain.” Jesus did that for the two disciples but he did more. Sympathy feels the pain of another, but goes no further unless it is to find someone or something to blame for our plight.

Empathy on the other hand, understands the pain of another but empowers them to move beyond it. This is what Jesus did for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. He helped the disciples to discover for themselves how to leave the hopeless road they had been travelling. The road to Emmaus is any road that is leading us nowhere, it is the place where hope has died. This is what had happened to the disciples, their world had collapsed in the chaos of Calvary. Traumatised, they could not wait to get out of Jerusalem, the place where their hopes had vanished.

But after the Emmaus experience they now want to go back. What has changed? Before they were disciples of a dead prophet, now they are followers of the risen Lord! All of us have our own Jerusalem, the place where we have been hurt and betrayed, the place where hope has died, the place we want to get away from.

Easter understands our pain but it also promises resurrection, in that spirit we continue to work towards resurrection, towards new hope. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus we have a choice. We can continue going away from our Jerusalem, whatever that may be, or we can, with the help of God, acknowledge it, name it, and do something about it. Like the disciples we can find a language to speak about our pain and the grace to understand and make sense of it.

Our shared prayer tonight is that the experience of Emmaus may encourage us all as we go forward in our lives. We need this spirit of Emmaus especially as we prepare for next year’s Eucharistic Congress. Like the disciples on the road many people are anxious about it in view of our own recent events! Like the disciples we are afraid to hope, we are uncertain, is this the right time, the right place, how will the Congress be received in the Ireland of 2012?

In this sense the time between now and June 2012 is our road to Emmaus. Let’s walk it with courage and conviction, with faith and hope, in communion with God and each other. This is the eternal invitation of Easter, this is the promise of the Resurrection. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end Amen.

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Last Update Feb 08 2016

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