Really, people?! How do you not recognize Him?

Every year, when I hear the Gospel passages about Mary not recognizing the resurrected Jesus at the tomb and the apostles also not recognizing Jesus when He joins them on the way to Emmaus, I imagine myself saying to them, “Really, people? How do you not recognize Him?! How can it be that you were with this man every day for all those years and you don’t know Him? How can you have completely given up everything in your life to follow after Him and you still don’t know who He is? You were with Him at Golgotha and still you don’t know Him? How can this be?”

Was it that He looked different? Perhaps. Maybe it was something more though too.

We see that both Mary and the disciples were in a state of emotional desolation. In John 20:11-18 we read that Mary, “weeping,” was so overcome by emotion at the tomb that she did not recognize the angels or Jesus for who they were. The disciples too, on the road to Emmaus, were feeling emotionally desolate. “They stopped, looking downcast” after having recounted to Jesus that they “were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:13-35). Both Mary and the disciples were so besieged by sorrow, so deeply entrenched in their loss, that they could not see past it to Jesus present with them.

In his book, The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living, Father Timothy Gallagher, OMV, speaks of the Ignatian practice of discerning the workings of God in our lives. His words, although addressed to the modern day reader, could just as well be applied to the Mary at the tomb and the disciples on the way to Emmaus. He writes:

“Though they feel separated from God, persons in spiritual desolation are not in fact separated from God who is ever “Emmanuel,” “God with us.” Ignatius is highlighting a fundamental characteristic of spiritual desolation; while it endures, any felt consciousness of God’s loving presence is weakened or absent, and such persons feel as if they were separated from God.” (p. 66).

Fr. Gallagher explains that God allows this kind of spiritual desolation so as to teach us. “Ignatius understands that when we faithfully resist spiritual desolation we “learn” spiritual lessons highly useful for our spiritual journey” (p. 68).

So, what is it that Mary and the disciples, who were suffering from both emotional and spiritual desolation, were supposed to learn? What is it that we can learn from their experiences? How are we to see Jesus present when we are blinded by emotion or when we just can’t sense His nearness?

It seems that there are many answers to these questions contained within the Emmaus story (Luke 24: 13-35):

  1. Remember Him. The disciples were “conversing about all the things that had occurred.” They did not forget Jesus. They kept Him in mind.
  2. Confess.  Don’t be afraid to tell Jesus the truth. They confessed to Jesus that they really thought he was going to be the one to redeem Israel. They confessed to him their disappointment.
  3. Believe. Do not be like the disciples who recount the resurrection story to Jesus Himself and are reproached by him. “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
  4. Ask Him to stay. “But they urged him, ‘Stay with us…so he went to stay with them.’” They asked and they received what they asked for…and more.
  5. Break bread with Him. “And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.” It was only when they broke bread with Jesus, that their eyes were opened. They could not see him for who He is before that moment. We cannot get by in the faith journey without the sacraments – confession, communion – they complete our faith.
  6. Recognize the workings of the Holy Spirit in the heart and in the Word of God. “Then they said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” When their eyes were opened, they could see God at work in their lives.  Spend time with the Word of God and call upon the Holy Spirit to enlighten you as you read the Word.
  7. Go forth together and spread the Good News. “So they set out at once…(and) recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”  Eucharist and community are essential to the faith journey and, once the Truth is “made known,” we cannot keep it to ourselves. We must go out and share – the Good News impels us to go forth.

It appears that there is no simple answer to my question, “Why do you not recognize Him?”  Mary and the disciples had a lot of walking to do on their faith journeys before they could get to the point where they could recognize and see Jesus in truth.  The same is true for us.

So, as we journey forth this Easter season, let us learn from the journeys of Mary and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Let us not end our journey in despair, but rather, ask the Holy Spirit to open our own eyes to see with the eyes of Christ and love with the heart of Christ so that we will always recognize His presence in our lives.  Let us recall the wise words of St. John Paul II, “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and Alleluia is our song!”

Christ is Risen by Matt Maher

I was really not into Lent…

For years, I really was not into Lent. It was a sad time. I really just wanted to fast-forward through those forty days and get on to Easter.

A few years ago though, I was on a “purposeful living” kick. I was attempting to be present in each moment. As we entered Lent, I realized I would have to be present in Lent. So, I prayed that I might be able to accompany Jesus in His suffering that Lent. I resolved to live Lent purposefully – to be present with Him in His pain.

In my prayer I envisioned myself crouched down, ready to receive a football – I said “all right, I’m ready. I can take it. I’m with you, Jesus.”

You know that old adage, “be careful what you wish for because you might just get it?” Ooh. Let me tell you, be careful what you pray for too because you may just get it – and more.

What was I thinking? 

It was the hardest Lent of my life. Every kind of hardship, difficulty, and temptation arose. At one point, I wondered why I even believed in God – a concept that previously would have been completely foreign to me. All kinds of things arose, one after the other – like a barrage of cannonballs – and I felt like I just wasn’t strong enough to handle them. I prayed, “Oh God, I think I prayed the wrong thing. I’m really sorry. Can you take it all away? I think I’m not strong enough to do this Lent thing with you.”

After coming clean with God about my complete and utter spiritual wimpiness, I opened a prayer book to the Anima Christi prayer. I had seen the prayer before, but this time it seemed to jump off the page at me. I resolved to pray it every time a difficulty arose. Things got easier. It became my “go to” prayer that Lent. In fact, it became one of my favorite “go to” prayers of all time.

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ANIMA Christi, sanctifica me. Corpus Christi, salva me. Sanguis Christi, inebria me. Aqua lateris Christi, lava me. Passio Christi, conforta me. O Bone Iesu, exaudi me. Intra tua vulnera absconde me. Ne permittas me separari a te. Ab hoste maligno defende me. In hora mortis meae voca me. Et iube me venire ad te, Ut cum Sanctis tuis laudem te in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

SOUL of Christ, sanctify me. Body of Christ, save me. Blood of Christ, inebriate me. Water from the side of Christ, wash me. Passion of Christ, strengthen me. O good Jesus, hear me. Within Thy wounds, hide me. Suffer me not to be separated from Thee. From the malicious enemy, defend me. In the hour of my death, call me. and bid me come unto Thee, that with thy saints I may may praise Thee for ever and ever. Amen.

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The more I prayed this prayer, the stronger I felt. The more I prayed it, the more I realized too that the Christian faith is less about taking things upon ourselves than handing them over to Jesus. He already suffered for us. We need to trust that He has suffered perfectly and hand every trouble and every difficulty over to Him. In all things, we are made strong in him – not by our own power – but though His sacrifice.

Yes, He wants our presence, we remember him asking his disciples to wait and stay awake in the Garden of Gethsemane. He has already done the suffering and dying though. He wants to give us Easter.

This realization was a transformative moment in my faith journey. Everything became easier, I felt lighter. The hardships, difficulties, and temptations still kept coming at me, but they didn’t rattle me. I felt grounded in Him because I was both painfully aware of my own limitations and also wonderfully aware of His complete abilities. Praying this prayer led to a gift that I couldn’t have prayed for – an unshakable confidence in Him.

During that same time, I came across a musical setting of the Anima Christi by composer Msgr. Marco Frisina of the Diocese of Rome. The harmonies are gorgeous and it remains, to this day, one of my favorite pieces.  Truly, it is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. Having studied classical and liturgical music myself, I have come to regard Frisina as one of my favorite composers of the modern era.

So, before a recent trip to Rome, I remarked to a friend, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if somehow I could hear some of Frisina’s music while I was there?” It was a completely “blue sky” thought – a totally unlikely happenstance.

The fact is though, God always speaks the language of our hearts – and He happens to know what’s in them too.

While attending Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, I heard familiar harmonies. I whispered to the woman standing to my right, “Isn’t that Marco Frisina?” “Si,” she replied. There was Msgr. Marco Frisina himself conducting the Anima Christi. Tears welled up in my eyes. I had prayed to accompany Jesus through Lent that year and found strength through this prayer. Now, I was sitting next to the composer, conducting a live performance, of this most beautiful setting of this prayer. It was like a gift just for me. Only God knew what I had prayed, and only He could know what an incredible gift it would be for me to hear this prayer that had been pivotal in my faith journey, in live performance, while sitting right next to the composer. It was a gift beyond words.

At that moment, I realized more than ever before, that God hears each one of our prayers. Each one of us is loved. Each one of us is cherished. He loves us so much that He wants to fulfill even the deepest desires of our hearts.

I sat there with tears streaming down, completely overwhelmed by His love.

As we enter this Holy Week, let us realize that this Love is offered to each one of us – He waits for us to come to Him so that He can give us His love.

As we contemplate His ultimate sacrifice this week, let us remember that we have nothing to lose in going to Him except our own suffering, pains, and troubles. We can accompany Him, and in the silence of our hearts, lay down our burdens at the foot of the cross.

Believe me, there is no better offer.

Setting of Anima Christi by Msgr. Marco Frisina, Performed by Choir of the Diocese of Rome