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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Finding the Real Presence of Christ

Today, the Church presents us with the account of Jesus' encounter with two of his disciples as they were leaving Jerusalem, heading towards Emmaus.

Cleopas, who, according to ancient Tradition, was the brother of St. Joseph and thus, Jesus' uncle, and his fellow disciple, were, for all intents and purposes, leaving the Cross and everything associated with it.  They were heading in the wrong direction, both literally and figuratively.

Suddenly, Jesus pops up out of nowhere and listens in on their conversation as the two disciples are recapping the weekend's events.  Oddly enough, they do not recognize him.  Not even His own uncle, Cleopas, recognizes Jesus.  Jesus asks them what they are discussing and Cleopas seems shocked that his fellow traveler seems to not know what all happened.  Jesus certainly knew it because he went through it.  Cleopas explains to his new companion just what had occurred.  He even goes on to say that some of the disciples, including the women, had gone to the tomb, but did not see Jesus.  Evidently, neither can Cleopas as Jesus is walking along right with him.

Jesus chastises them for their inability to understand the Scriptures.  He then proceeds to give them the best biblical exegesis of all time.  This experience leads Cleopas and his companion to beg their fellow sojourner to abide with them for the night, as it was getting late.  Jesus obliges and then, something remarkable happens.  He takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and distributes it to them.  Then, he vanished.  It was at that point, that Cleopas realizes that he had just spent major time with his now resurrected Nephew.  His other companion is also ecstatic.  Then, both of them make a hasty return to Jerusalem, going back to the Cross.

The story of Cleopas and his companion and their encounter with Jesus should resonate with us.  What they experienced was, in essence, what we, as Catholics, experience every Sunday, every day:  an encounter with the resurrected Christ within the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  At every Mass, we read from Sacred Scripture, the celebrant explains the readings in his homily and then, we go on to the Eucharistic Sacrifice, where Jesus ones again becomes fully present in the altar.  We return back to the moment of the Paschal Triduum, for his Passion, Death and Resurrection.  Then, after the Fraction Rite, we receive Christ's Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in Holy Communion.  We encounter Christ just as Cleopas and the other disciple. In fact, from Holy Thursday on, Jesus left us the means by which we were to encounter Him.  He told St. Mary Magdelene not to hold on to him anymore, as now, He would be fully present in the Eucharist.

The first mistake that Cleopas and his companion made was in fleeing Jerusalem and going to a place where they thought they would be safe, namely, a Roman garrison named Emmaus.  When we flee the Cross and everything that comes with us, when we flee suffering and choose not to hold on to Christ, we become, as Pope Benedict XVI rightly predicted, caught up in so many "winds of doctrine that the little boat of our faith begins to be tossed to and fro" in some sort of "dictatorship of relativism."  When we are not moored to the Rock of St. Peter and follow another course, we lose our way.  Cleopas and the other disciple were losing the way.  In Cleopas' case, this was rather remarkable, considering the fact that his Nephew was Christ.  He did not recognize just Who he was leaving and, subsequently, Who was coming after him.

On Twitter, Dr. Taylor Marshall wrote that he met up with two former Catholics who had left the Church and gone on to Joel Osteen's ecclesisal community.  He asked them why they left and they told him that the music and preaching were more attractive.  Marshall then asked them about the Eucharist, the Real Presence.  They told him that they had "communion service" with crackers and individual cups.  They said that they felt that they would be ingesting germs by receiving from the chalice.  Here, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explains why the Eucharist is so important.  In Sacramentum Caritatis, he writes that:

"In the Sacrament of the Altar, the Lord meets us, men and women created in God's image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:27) and becomes our companion along the way.  In this Sacrament, the Lord truly becomes food for us, to satisfy our hunger for truth and freedom.  Since only the truth can make us free (cf. Jn 8:32), Christ becomes for us the food of truth."

Their responses saddened me.  While Osteen seems to have a positive message, his only focus is on the false Gospel of Prosperity.  My fellow Catholics repost his messages on Facebook and he rarely proclaims Christ Crucified nor does he speak of heavenly realities.  His only concerns seems to be the here and now.  Insofar as music is concerned, what is offered at Lakeway is more along the lines of a sacro-pop concert with very little substance.  The two women in question have left behind the "food of truth" for something that, in the long run, is far from satisfying and offers no real nourishment.

Sadly, I have experienced this even within my own family.  I found out on Facebook that a couple of them left the Church and had their children (baptized Catholic) confirmed as Methodists.  This was very painful.  I still love my relatives, but, it saddens me that they would choose to leave the Church that Christ founded.  Two others have done the same thing.

It seems to me that for them, and for the two women that Marshall encountered, they want to flee the Cross.  Their idea pretty much matches what Osteen preaches:  no suffering and much prosperity.  But, this is not the message of the Gospel.  As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI notes:

"Christ did not promise an easy life.  Those who desire comforts have dialed the wrong number.  Rather, He shows us the way to great things, the good, towards an authentic human life. 
When He speaks of the cross that we ourselves have to carry, it has nothing to do with a taste of torture or of pedantic moralism.  It is the impulse of love, which has its own momentum and does not seek itself but opens the person to the service of truth, justice and the good.  Christ shows God to us, and thus the true greatness of man."  

Christ came to open up the way of salvation for us.  He came so that we could have eternal life.  He gives us His very Self as food for the journey.  How anyone could walk away from that is beyond me.  Cleopas and his companion did; but, Jesus, Good Shepherd that He is, goes after them and re-orients them to Jerusalem, to the Cross.

I can only pray that the Good Shepherd will seek out those two women and my relatives and bring them back to the true Faith, back to the Cross.  May they find comfort from the example of Cleopas and return from Emmaus.

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