Votive of the Holy Spirit

Today’s story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus is one of, if not my favorite, gospel passages. I like it because it clearly illustrates how disciples and all the Church are called to imitate Jesus.

As you heard, it was Easter Sunday afternoon. While most of Jesus’ disciples were locked away in the Upper Room, two disciples walked along the road headed to Emmaus. Where was Emmaus, and why is it significant? Scripture doesn’t make any other references to it. It wasn’t like Capernaum, Tyre, or Sidon, places where Jesus preached or performed miracles. Luke, who wrote this story, says it was seven miles from Jerusalem. No ancient records or archeological studies have found a village named Emmaus that distance from the city.

I want to think Luke is suggesting the disciples are on the road to nowhere. I believe they were so emotionally overwhelmed by Jesus’ death they were just out wandering around. I’ve done that. Maybe you have to. Something unexpected and upsetting has happened to us. Perhaps a significant relationship has been shattered, or someone has falsely accused us of bad behavior. It feels like our world has suddenly come apart, and we don’t know what to do. So, we go for a walk headed to no place in particular.

That is how I feel the two disciples felt. They were just out walking to no particular place but trying to process what had happened to Jesus and how it affected them. They felt lost without their Lord. They didn’t know where to turn next. They were all the more confused because women went to the tomb in the morning but didn’t find Jesus’ body. They came back with the story of having seen angels who told them Jesus had risen from the dead. What did that mean?

Jesus comes to these two lost souls and brings light to their darkness. He listens to them express their sorrow and loss. He hears how they feel very broken. Jesus doesn’t try to console them or negate their feelings. He patiently hears them out.

Only after they have been able to vent their feelings, Jesus begins to explain the scriptures to them. He begins to instruct them and enlighten them. Jesus reminds them of all the places in scripture where the prophets foretold and predicted the events they have experienced. He brings them calm and the first feelings of hope.

While it is the two disciples who first invite Jesus to spend the night with them, he is the one who turns into being the host. Jesus offers hospitality as he breaks the bread for them and allows them to experience their resurrected Lord. He reveals himself to them in the breaking of the bread, and they recognize Jesus.

Once Jesus has turned their sense of loss and sorrow into joy, they become so excited they feel compelled to return to Jerusalem immediately despite the late hour. They can’t contain themselves. They must hurry back to share their happiness and a new sense of purpose with their fellow disciples.

That is the model God envisions for every one of Jesus’s disciples and the Church to follow. God desires us to always be on the lookout for those who are hurting. God wishes for us to be aware of those who are suffering and who feel lost. God wants us to become aware of those who feel marginalized or on the peripheries of society.

When we encounter those who are suffering, God wants us to take the time to listen to them. Don’t immediately offer our advice or solutions but take the time to hear about their loss and pain. Often those who are experiencing turmoil need first to vent their feelings and have them validated. They don’t need others to provide solutions as much as they desire the opportunity to express their pain. Often that is enough to begin the healing process.

Once we have heard the suffering, we can share with them the good news of Jesus Christ. We can communicate with them how God wants to be their comfort and their strength. Once they feel comforted and validated, they are open to listening to how God wants to fill them with grace and love.

Making them feel welcome into the Body of Christ is our next step. Helping them recognize they belong to Christ and share with them a sense of belonging. Offering them fellowship and giving them a sense of communion needs to come next. Our openness to others, regardless of their race, ethnic background, or gender, breaks down the barriers constructed by the world and helps them feel the comfort of belonging to the Body of Christ.

These new disciples will then have the urge to share the joy and a new sense of purpose with others. They will become missionaries filled with God’s grace and love, unable to contain their happiness and eager to reach out and share it with others. That is God’s vision for the Church and his hope for each of us.

We know that isn’t always the reality. Both the institutional Church and we as disciples too often fail to listen to the pain of others. We offer top-down solutions that don’t bring comfort to the hurting or address their needs. We impose our solutions to their problems rather than hearing what they need.

Since early in his papacy Francis has encouraged the Church to reach out to people on the peripheries. To do that, Francis says we need to be a Church that practices synodality. We need to be a Church like St. Paul describes in today’s second reading from his First Letter to the Corinthians. We need to be a Church that recognizes each member’s gifts and encourages everyone to use them.

At the beginning of today’s Mass, I told you we are celebrating the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit to mark the beginning of preparations for the 16th Ordinary Synod of Bishops to be held in 2023. The synod topic is Synodality. Synodality means walking the road with others, listening to their concerns, sharing spiritual discernment, and coming to an agreed consensus on how to go forward.

A synod is more than a meeting of bishops held to formulate new rules or regulations for the Church to follow. It isn’t a congress, Church convention, or focus group meant to devise an action plan to impose on every Catholic. A synod has no particular end product but sets in motion change to gradually begin a path to profound renewal for the Church.

The synod process will start on the local level. Every diocese in the world today begins a reflection on how we can become a Church that listens better. The time frame for that process is the Fall and Winter. In our diocese, each parish is nominating two parishioners to be ambassadors who will liaison between parishes and the bishop to formulate a short document to send to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Those documents will be reviewed and synthesized into a national report during the Fall and Winter of 2022-23. In October of 2023, bishops, religious, and lay experts will meet in Rome to formulate a plan to make Synodality the basis for a renewed governing process for the Church worldwide.

A two-thousand-year-old Church moves slowly. Change will not happen overnight, but all of us can help a new process of Synodality become the norm for our Church if we put it into practice in our own lives. It will happen if every one of us opens our hearts to the Holy Spirit. In today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we heard how at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit transformed the Apostles and gave them the courage to proclaim the good news fearlessly. If we pray, the Holy Spirit will flood our hearts and our Church and help us practice Synodality.

At the end of Mass today and every Sunday during local preparations for the synod, I will ask you to join me in praying to the Holy Spirit for the grace to commit to putting Synodality into practice throughout the Church. Together we can transform the Church into the Body of Christ God intends us to be.