Emmaus – A beginning of a process

[This reflection is an adapted version of a post that first appeared on the website of the Vincentians Eastern Province]

The disciples were fleeing. Their mental maps had been violently torn up. All they had were shreds, pieces of a puzzle.

Then, in their trauma, a stranger walks with them. He helps them look at the scraps of their map. He points to pieces they had seen… but not seen. Especially the pieces that involved the servant who suffered. He helps them put the pieces together in a way they had never thought of. He helps them see the pieces in the ordinary events of their lives… meeting another, eating a meal together. They began to see a new mental map. But they were only just beginning to see. It would take a Pentecost experience and a lifetime of learning see in a new way.

They began to see

The Acts of the Apostles is the story of not just the two disciples fleeing on the road to Emmaus. The book of Acts tells the story of a community that at first saw themselves as followers of a way within Judaism. It was only at Antioch that they were first called Christians.

The story of Paul highlights a turning point where he and they in turn begin to see that Jesus has a new body… the body of all the lowly and suffering. Paul and Peter learn that the body of Christ is not limited to their own select group.

They began to see and to be signs of the resurrection. This new map transformed their lives and the lives of those who witnessed this transformation.

It is also the story of Vincent and Louise… and it is our story.

The Lessons – Vincent and Louise, you and me

Something similar happened to Vincent and Louise. Vincent had his life mapped out for him. Then with the help of mentors, especially Jesus in the Gospels, he began to see the pieces he had not seen… the spiritual and physically poor and marginalized. Louise coped with the failure of her plans until she meet in Vincent someone who helped her redraw her map.

Together they invited people to look out at world differently, see it lined up another way; i.e., a way in which the rich and the famous were not front and center but rather the so-called no-accounts were the ones up in the lights.

Fr. Tom McKenna puts it well:

And in a lot of ways, haven’t all of us in the Vincentian Family been “enculturated” into something like this different world. Through our contact with Vincent’s legacy, our imaginations have been restructured, moved in the direction of letting Jesus more and more “re-interpret things,” of letting Jesus tell us “how foolish we are for having missed it,” of letting Jesus open our eyes to what’s really going on when we re-enact his Paschal meal and go out to serve the least of the brothers and sisters.

There’s a special contemporary challenge in all of this: a good portion of the world around us doesn’t operate with an Emmaus imagination. It doesn’t particularly notice the worth of the vulnerable and mentally ill and the up-against-it. Emmaus people are in what the sociologists call a cognitive minority.

Changing the way we and others think is a process

Vincentians are called to serve and draw attention to the living body of Christ. In the Acts of the Apostles we will see ourselves and our questions. Each Easter season I am amazed at what I learn bout myself in their struggles. As we move through Eastertide let us reflect together.

If Jesus “grew in wisdom, age and grace”, why should we be surprised if it took the early community time to absorb the impact of the great news they had heard. We should not be surprised that our efforts at fostering a new way of thinking that addresses underlying causes and long-term solutions will require time to unfold and bear fruit.

For now, let us think about an Emmaus perspective for our service of those on the margins.

Thinking from an Emmaus perspective

  • When and how have I had my mental map redrawn?
  • Am I willing to recognize the limitations of my personal understanding of God’s plan?
  • Can I recognize that others see aspects of God’s plan I missed?
  • Enriched in breaking the bread of our lives together, will I become a missionary of the Good News with others?

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