Emmaus insights on the journey

The second in a series on the spiritual journey looks at the gospel story of the road to Emmaus and the spiritual changes the two disciples made after their encounter with Jesus. How does our openness to God influence our connectedness with our world?

Emmaus insights on the journey Archdiocese of Wellington Today’s gospel gives us the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, on both a real and a metaphorical journey into greater understanding of the kingdom or reign of God (Lk 24:13-35).
In this, the second in a series on the spiritual journey (For the first in the series, click here), I will look at the implications of this gospel story for our spiritual development.
As so often happens when we pray for something specific, the answer comes not in a way that we had imagined, but with much greater richness for our spiritual life and for our community.
On the road to Emmaus, the disciples were struggling with the mode of their hero’s death. They had expected that the messiah would come in a blaze of glory to conquer the oppressive Roman regime, not die a violent, ignominious death at the hands of this regime.
As they walked along the road, they puzzled over how things could have gone so badly wrong. Lost in their own perceptions, they took some time to realise that their companion walking along with them, as Jesus does all the time with us, was the very subject of their anxiety.
Just as Jesus opened their eyes to the scriptures and explained how his death and resurrection was a fulfilment of the word of God, so are we given new insights when we open ourselves to God as we walk with Jesus on our life’s journey.
Global connectedness
The great mystical writer of last century, Thomas Merton, wrote of the need for us as spiritual beings to be connected to the world around us. He had been a monk for 15 years when he wrote of an incident which wrought a radical change in his life. He was in the centre of a major shopping area. ‘I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realisation that I loved all these people.’* He had come from a ‘dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world’ to the realisation that his Trappist life could not consist only of individual contemplation, penance and renunciation. It had to be somehow connected to the world outside the monastery to avoid becoming an exercise in egocentricity and self-absorption.
This insight led him to see how he might remain faithful to his monastic vocation while being open to and concerned with the sufferings, problems and needs of the larger world.
As spiritual beings in our parishes, suburbs, cities and the wider world, we too must be open to what is happening around us.
One inexorable but exciting change is the introduction of lay pastoral leaders as collaborators in administrative and pastoral tasks previously done by priests. Jesus promised that the reign of God would bring a major upheaval or reversal – the release of prisoners, sight to the blind (Lk 4:18). We are seeing some of this reversal in a very positive way in the number of lay people whose leadership skills are now officially recognised in our parish communities.
We cannot expect momentous insights or flashes of great intuition like Merton’s every day on our spiritual journey. Often our prayer is characterised by dryness in which very little seems to happen. Nevertheless faithfulness to a practice of prayer, of opening our hearts to God, of listening and waiting patiently, is rewarded as we learn to be open to God’s gentle invitation.
The two on the road to Emmaus had their senses awakened to the reality of Christ’s resurrection, and experienced their own ‘reversal’. They had to pause on their journey in order to discover they were going the wrong way! So too can we be open to change and going in other directions if we take the time to journey with Jesus in prayer and in connectedness with our world.
*Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City: Doubleday Image, 1968) 156-57 quoted in Cunningham and Egan: Christian Spirituality, 61-62.
See also www.welcom.org.nz/?sid=797