Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER - MAY 8, 2011. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/050811.shtml. Thanks as always for reading and your feedback and comments! Fr. Jim
This past week in the basement of the Student Center of Montclair State University, students were invited to “post a secret.” Aside from a few rules there was not any real limitations to what people could write on the post-it-notes that were stuck on the wall of glass windows for the whole week. There must’ve been hundreds of these handwritten notes on various pieces of paper all in different colors up and down that hallway. And college kids being college kids they ran the gamut of emotion, there were some secrets that were funny:
“I care way too much about the San Francisco Giants”
“I am afraid of Cats” (maybe that wasn’t meant to be funny...)
“I HEART BATMAN”
Considering the time of year, some decided to vent about Montclair State or college life in general that not too judge them - they didn’t seem to be so secretive. You can hear these comments all over campus:
“MSU Parking makes me want to transfer” (no doubt someone had a difficult morning trying to find a parking space)
“Finals are killing me”
“I wish major requirements didn’t change every semester”
“Life after college both terrifies and excites me”
And then, you saw some pretty serious ones. Ones that you couldn’t help but look at, pray that they don’t just post these things on a wall of windows, but that they talk to someone. Things ranging from dealing with painful things in their pasts, revealing fears about who they are, talking about being abused, or used. There they were - all on a small post it note, asking passerbys to see, to take notice of the private pain they’ve been holding secret from the world:
“I wish my mother loved me”
“When a relationship requires depth and work, I’m out”
“ I’ve used alcohol to self-medicate anxiety”
“I’m afraid because I don’t know how to love myself, no one else will”
Those definitely got attention from a host of people - administrators, chaplains - yet, these were all anonymous postings. What could they do? How could they reach out to them? Especially when there was some postings that were especially troubling. Earlier in the week where one student wrote - “I feel so alone, so unloved, I wish I was dead.”
Somewhat spontaneously students started posting other notes right on that one -“please call me, I’ve felt like that before and I want to help ” with their phone number written on it; or a few simple notes like: “You are Loved!” “please don’t give up” among several others. On Thursday, there was a new post, right where the original one had been. It said: I’ve been struggling worse then ever with the most important part of my life. Last week I posted my secret and today I got the replies people posted on it. They made me cry and have faith again. Thank you so much. Thank you all for sharing... No one has to be alone.
I couldn’t help but think about all of this reading this Gospel this week. This is one of my favorite Gospel accounts of the Easter experience. We hear about two of Jesus’ disciples who’ve experienced the worst event they could’ve imagined - witnessing the one they had come to believe in, the one that gave them hope of a God that was intimately interested in them, the one that they had come to love . . .in the course of a few days they’ve seen Jesus go from being welcomed into Jerusalem where the followers imagined he would begin to “reign” as a new King to being betrayed, abandoned, rejected and dead on a cross. Quite a dramatic change of events. So much so, they don’t know what to do anymore. They are lost. Frightened. Scared. Even though they had each other, the absence of Christ and the pain they had all experienced left a void that they didn’t know how to fill. They’re hopes and dreams and images of who God was seemed to have come to an end on the cross. And so they were devastated.
So devastated that, here it is three days later, they’ve heard this news of an empty tomb; angelic witnesses telling the women of his being risen from the dead– news which should’ve been enough to at least keep them around to see what was going on. But where were they? They were on their way out of town. The story seemed too good to be true while the pain was all too real. So wrapped up in their pain and fear, that they don’t recognize the risen Jesus Christ when he starts to walk and talk with them on their way to Emmaus. We read they were looking “downcast” - meaning they were so depressed, they were blind to Him. Look at what Jesus does. He walks with them. He talks with them.
He starts to remind them of how God has always loved His people. How God has never abandoned His people. As he gently reminds them of all these things, their hopes which were as dead as Jesus was on the Cross a few days earlier, start to become alive again, just as alive as He was, speaking and walking with them. “STAY WITH US” They beg... which he does. And what does he do? He doesn’t just keep talking - He shares the Eucharist - In the breaking of the bread, He gives them Himself - His very body and blood, reminding Him of His everlasting presence in the midst of the Church. In that, they come to understand how Jesus has come to tell all humanity that “No one has to be alone.” They run all the way back to Jerusalem to share the good news with the others recounting how they came to see him alive in the breaking of the bread.
What strikes me is that in looking at that wall of postings in the student center is how many people seem to be walking along their paths of life, extremely“downcast” themselves. There’s real suffering here. There’s real suffering all around us, isn’t there? In our families - we know of loved ones who are hanging by a thread. In our work places, there’s that guy who’s sitting alone desperately counting the minutes going by so they can go home and do the same...The visual that this wall of post-it-notes gave was a patchwork of pain, of people who feel unloved, unwanted - of people who feel alone.
The story of Emmaus, tells us, those of us privileged to be able to approach this altar and consume Jesus’ Body and Blood that this isn’t just a gift that is given to us to make us feel better about ourselves. We have a duty when we take that Body of Christ: We are to be that presence of Christ walking, and talking with our brothers and sisters who are “downcast.” We are to be Jesus Christ who “Stays with” them to help lift those weary dreary hearts to start “burning” within as they hear how Jesus Christ has changed our lives. That in our coming to know Him, we have been saved. Our sins and failures don’t have to define us and limit us. Our fears will ultimately be proven to be unfounded. That yes, truly we have been given a promise of an eternity where we will experience the same glorious triumph Jesus did of a new life, if we will only cling to him as we endure our own Good Friday’s.
The one young person recognized in the love of strangers reaching out to him that “no one has to be alone” . As Jesus’ disciples, it is inexcusable that 2,000 years of preaching the Gospel that people go around not knowing that. That Jesus would remain hidden from the downcast eyes of those suffering pain, and fear. As we are invited to this table, may our hearts burn within us with the love of the Risen Jesus Christ so intensely that our only option is to share it with a world in such dire need of it.