Emmaus, Janet Brooks-Gerloff, 1992
Luke 24: 13-35
"What is happening, Lord?" I’m sure many of us have been asking this question. I know I have. Things that we used to take for granted are being called into question. The things we would typically find some sense of security in (employment, friendships, family time, future plans) now don’t feel so secure. Conflicting reports abound about the projections of the impact of COVID-19, and everyone has a different option about how to move forward. Rumors abound. Maybe even prayer has been difficult, and God doesn’t even seem to be listening. The hope and assurance of Easter morning may even feel very far away. What is happening, Lord?
As I prayed with today’s Gospel, I was struck by the fact that the disciples on the road to Emmaus were wresting with similar questions. Jesus was dead, that much they knew. The man who they had hoped would redeem and save Israel had been mocked, scorned, and executed. Things felt dark, and perhaps that’s why they were on their way home. After all, with their teacher gone, what were they supposed to do now? Had it all been a lie? Even as they wrestled with these difficult questions, they couldn’t help but remember their first encounters with Jesus. The words he spoke set their hearts on fire as he radically shifted their worldview. He promised that He had the power over sin and death. Jesus preached of hope for a new kingdom, and they knew in their heart of hearts what he was speaking was truth. Jesus spoke of the Father as if He was knew Him, as if they were one. And now there are rumors that the tomb is empty and that some have actually seen him. Could it be true?
As we know, Jesus comes right into the midst of their questions, but he doesn’t reveal himself outright. There is a slow process by which he reveals who he truly is, and even that is wrought with mystery! Maybe you were like me when reading this Gospel, asking yourself: “Why does Jesus have to make it so difficult? Why couldn’t he just reveal himself clearly to them? Why does he hide himself? Why can’t Jesus just appear in all his glory for the entire world to see?” As I was praying with all these questions, I was confronted with another question: “Would it have been better for them if he had made it easier?”
You see, the “darkness” and the mystery have an important role in our lives. When I speak of “darkness” here, I’m speaking of the things that are hidden from our eyes. I’ve learned so much from St. Ignatius of Loyola and his wisdom laid out in the Discernment of Spirits. In our spiritual lives, we wrestle with periodic movements between consolation and desolation, both of which are really important for us to grow into the men and women God has created us to be. We experience consolation in those moments where we feel that God is near. There is a peace and an ease in being faithful to prayer and what He has called us to. Our attention is more easily drawn to the things of God and we are led to want to perform good works and share our faith. Desolation is on the other end of the spectrum. To put it mildly, it is not an enjoyable experience. In times of desolation, being faithful is difficult, prayer is dry, and we wrestle with the temptation to call everything into question. God feels far away, and we easily forget what he has said in the past, sometimes believing that things were always dark and will always be dark. These times of desolation, if they are of God, have meaning. Maybe we have turned away from him and God allows desolation to draw us to repentance and the healing that we need. Perhaps we may have even gotten too attached to the gifts that God gives, and he removes the gift of consolation because he wants to remind us that what we are really made for is the giver of the gift: God, himself. Maybe God wants us to exercise the great gift of our free will to say yes to Him even when it is difficult. When we exercise our will and say yes to him in times of darkness, we are forged in fire of his re-creative love, our intentions are purified, wounds are healed, our weaknesses are strengthened, and our strengths are multiplied. A good spiritual director can help us discern if God is allowing desolation in our spiritual lives, and why. Regardless of the reasons, we must remember that if God is allowing it, it is all for our good.
Memory is one of the great powers of our God-given intellect, and for that reason it is often a target of the enemy. Keeping a prayer journal is a great way of remembering what is true, especially when things get difficult. On the road to Emmaus, the hidden Jesus was reminding his disciples of all that had been spoken in the Scriptures and all that He had said. In a similar way, a journal can be a written testimony of all that God has said and done in your own life that can ground you in times of difficulty. We can go back to the promises of God and see how he has worked in our lives, remembering that he has been faithful in the past and therefore encouraged that he is faithful now. Here is some more good news: the desolation will always pass and consolation will return. Desolation never has the last word, and God will always return his gift of consolation to us. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, our eyes will be opened again when the time is right and our difficult questions will be transformed into praise and gratitude.
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