The Road to Emmaus

Dear reader,

My favorite post-Resurrection episode in the Gospels is when two disciples encounter the risen Jesus while they are making their way from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. It’s a really beautiful story and I’ve included the whole text (from Luke 24:13-35) below so that you can savor it for yourself.

I just want to say that, until now, I never noticed that the disciples’ journey takes the form of the Mass! First there is the Liturgy of the Word: ‘Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.’ And this is followed by the Liturgy of the Eucharist: ‘And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.’ Isn’t that cool?? Pope Saint John Paul II has more to say about how the Road to Emmaus relates to the Mass.

My favorite line in this story comes at the very end: ‘Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.’ I like this line because we get to witness the Breaking of the Bread at every Mass. It is known as the Fraction Rite: look for it just after the Sign of Peace and as we begin to sing the Lamb of God. Perhaps when we attend Mass we can take this moment in the Liturgy to remember that Jesus is also made known to us, just as He was to the two disciples, in the Breaking of the Bread, in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

I’ll close with St. John Paul’s words: ‘When the disciples on the way to Emmaus asked Jesus to stay with them, he responded by giving them a much greater gift: through the Sacrament of the Eucharist he found a way to stay in them.’

This painting of the Road to Emmaus was made by a student at an art school for street children run by the Consolata Missionaries in Mekanissa, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The Road to Emmaus

That very day, the first day of the week,
two of Jesus’ disciples were going
to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus,
and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred.

And it happened that while they were conversing and debating,
Jesus himself drew near and walked with them,
but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.

He asked them,
‘What are you discussing as you walk along?’

They stopped, looking downcast.
One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply,
‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem
who does not know of the things
that have taken place there in these days?’

And he replied to them, ‘What sort of things?’

They said to him,
‘The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene,
who was a prophet mighty in deed and word
before God and all the people,
how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over
to a sentence of death and crucified him.
But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel;
and besides all this,
it is now the third day since this took place.
Some women from our group, however, have astounded us:
they were at the tomb early in the morning
and did not find his Body;
they came back and reported
that they had indeed seen a vision of angels
who announced that he was alive.
Then some of those with us went to the tomb
and found things just as the women had described,
but him they did not see.’

And he said to them, ‘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?’
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets,
he interpreted to them what referred to him
in all the Scriptures.

As they approached the village to which they were going,
he gave the impression that he was going on farther.
But they urged him, ‘Stay with us,
for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.’
So he went in to stay with them.

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.
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?’

So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem
where they found gathered together
the Eleven and those with them who were saying,
‘The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!’
Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way
and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Advertisements

The Healing of the Paralytic

Dear reader,

I’m not sure whether I’ve mentioned it to you before, but I attend a weekly Bible study – which, incidentally, has been a great way to learn more about and grow in the faith! In yesterday’s study, one of our members led us through several passages of Scripture which illumine the nature of intercessory prayer. One of these passages was The Healing of the Paralytic from Mark 2:1-12.

When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them. They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven’. Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves, ‘Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?’. Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to themselves, so he said, ‘Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Rise, pick up your mat and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth’ — he said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home’. He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone. They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this’.

Our study leader rightly pointed out that the healing of the paralytic man — a healing both spiritual and physical — was brought about by the intervention of his friends. It was they who took their wounded friend and his needs and laid them at the feet of Jesus. The paralytic man could not carry himself on his own to Jesus: he needed the help of his friends to do this. This Gospel episode is a beautiful image of what intercessory prayer looks like.

I was thinking that this story tells us a lot about what good Christian friendship looks like, too: it seeks to bring others to Jesus, even at great effort (like breaking through a roof, though I suspect this is a figurative roof in most cases!).

As the holiest days of the year approach, it’s the time to prepare our hearts to honor the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and to bring our souls into a state of grace so as to receive Him in the Eucharist during the Eastertide. In other words, it’s time to go to the sacrament of confession 🙂

At confession we are reconciled to Jesus: we are brought together, returned to a fullness of communion, with our Savior. But in order to reach Jesus in confession, we first need to make it to the church (or other site) where this sacrament is being offered! Often during the days leading up to Holy Week, and even during Holy Week itself, lots of churches will offer extra hours for confession so that as many people as possible are able to attend.

What if, during the next few days, we not only go to confess our own sins but we also bring a friend with us so that they can do the same? Let’s ask a friend to join us when we go to confession this week. A simple ‘Hey ___, I’m planning on going to confession on ___. Would you like to come along?’ will do. We can even offer them a ride to church to ease their access to Jesus in the sacrament. Plus, our friend might be more likely to go if they are in our company, the company of a good friend who cares for them. Maybe we can invite a friend who hasn’t been to church in a while. Perhaps a friend who is struggling to find a good, spiritually healthy direction in life. How about a friend who we know has been hurt and even paralyzed by sin? Imagine: then our friend will, thanks to our mediation, enter into Christ’s presence and receive His life-giving grace. How freeing and restoring will it be for our friend to hear the words, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven’?

The story of the healing of the paralytic man is not only an account of a heart-stirring miracle that happened two thousand years ago. It is also a blueprint for how the power of God and the love of friends can work in our time and place, too. In this final stretch of Lent, let us bring ourselves as close to Jesus as possible, so as to receive the wonderful healing only He can offer. And, like the band of friends at Capernaum whose love for the paralytic man drove them to unite him with Jesus, let us bring our own friends to the sacrament of confession, so that together we may once again stand upright and walk in true freedom and in full friendship with Christ and with one another.

 

An Act of Contrition

My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.
In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things.
I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.
Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us.
In his name, my God, have mercy.

 

Christ Healing the Paralytic at Capernaum

‘Christ Healing the Paralytic at Capernaum’ (1780) by B. Rode.

Amazing Grace

Greetings, reader!

I hope you are well.

I’d like to share with you some thoughts that came to mind over the past couple of days.

Grace and gratitude

I was reading a book out loud the other day and, as can happen, I messed up: as my eyes scanned the word ‘graceful’, my tongue instead uttered the word ‘grateful’. It’s an easy enough mistake to make and so perhaps doesn’t warrant much attention — but, in fact, it did catch my attention because I realized in that moment that ‘graceful’ and ‘grateful’ are actually the same word. What I mean is that the morphemes grace- and grate- are both related to gratia, a Latin word which can mean both ‘(divine) favor’ and ‘thanks’. What’s the relationship between grace and gratitude? I don’t have any fully-formed ideas on the matter, beyond the observation that thankfulness is as much a response to as a cooperation with divine grace. But I am pondering the common ground between ‘graceful’ and ‘grateful’… Linguistically these words are tied together, so perhaps the same is true conceptually. In any case, I, for one, can’t say the word ‘graceful’, i.e. full of grace, without thinking of the Virgin Mary! Let’s pray together:

Hail, Mary, full of grace!
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed are thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.

‘His word my hope secures’

Yesterday at church we sang the wonderful hymn ‘Amazing Grace’. I thought this musical choice was spot-on because the lyrics of this song go very well with Sunday’s second reading from the Letter to the Ephesians where St. Paul writes about the role of grace in our salvation. As I sang the words of ‘Amazing Grace’, I was especially struck by the third verse:

The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

I kept going over the first two lines in my head, savoring their expression of total confidence in God.

Why does the author of this hymn place such trust in God’s word and promise?

As we learn from the story of creation in Genesis, and with particular explanatory detail from Isaiah 55:11, words pronounced by God have a generative quality: they produce things; they bring things to pass.

So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me empty,
but shall do what pleases me,
achieving the end for which I sent it.

The word of God has this particular nature: it bears the fruit it was intended to bear. God’s word — precisely by virtue of being a word of God — comes with the guarantee of its fulfillment. This means that, when God speaks the word of a promise, His promise will, as a matter of course, reach its end. To put it another way: every promise that God makes is, ipso facto, a promise that is kept. This is why St. Paul can proclaim to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:20): “For however many are the promises of God, their Yes is in him”. And this is why God’s word can and should secure our hope. Hope in God’s word cannot be disappointed because God’s word cannot be left unsatisfied. Trust in God’s promises cannot be betrayed because God’s promises cannot be left unfulfilled.

Sunday’s Gospel tells of the greatest of God’s promises (in my view):

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
[John 3:16]

What a promise this is! Believe in Christ — believe in Him truly, a living faith which evinces itself in loving obedience to His commandments — and you will have eternal life! Now there’s a promise we can count on. Truly something to rejoice about during this Laetare Sunday week!

The First Sunday of Lent

Hello, dear reader!

It’s…been a while. Sorry! I promise I haven’t forgotten about this blog – I just don’t have a lot of time to post reflections these days 😦

But, speaking of reflections, I really had to make time to say a little something about today’s Gospel reading, which I found to be very encouraging.

Every year the Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent is about Jesus’ forty days in the desert. There Jesus was tempted by Satan, but He remained firm against Satan’s temptations. This year the Gospel passage comes from the Gospel according to St. Mark. It’s a very pared down account of the episode, so I was able to pick up on a detail I hadn’t noticed before: the presence of angels in the desert of temptation.

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.
[Mark 1:12-13]

Sometimes when I hear the story of Jesus in the desert, I think that I should be able to imitate His fortitude and perseverance through sheer willpower: after all, He is so strong against the allure of sin, so undaunted by Satan’s provocations! Yet, although I do need to marshal willpower — as well as prayer, virtue, and confidence in God — when I come up against temptations, I can remember that I am not facing these tests on my own: even Jesus did not face the desert of temptation alone! The angels were with Him, accompanying Him in the wilderness and at His side throughout the course of His difficult task. They were making present the grace which God gives us when we encounter temptations — dangers to our spiritual well-being — and strive to fight against them.

Anyhow, I found the mention of the angels’ presence in the desert very encouraging indeed, and now I feel readier to face the fight against temptation whenever it comes.

I also think it’s important not to hesitate to ask for the angels’ assistance in the fight against temptation. Each one of us has a guardian angel assigned to us who looks out for us day and night. Call out to your guardian angel when you need your angel to be especially close to you! And don’t forget that St. Michael the Archangel is an angel specially designated to do battle against Satan. Here is the St. Michael prayer which you can recite in moments of need:

St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
cast into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Jesus’ opposition to Satan and His fidelity to God are a model for us to follow when we, too, are faced with temptations. But may we always take heart knowing that, throughout our honest efforts to imitate the example of our Savior, we, too, are being ministered to by the angels.

Some Heart-Stirrings on Students, Classics, and Teaching

Dear reader,

Long time, no post – sorry about that! But today I feel very moved to put pen to paper (or, rather, fingers to keyboard!) and to share some thoughts with you.

Today my Durham University students are graduating. Now, it’s no secret: I have loved all of my students, every single one of them, through the years. But this is the first group of students I’ve seen complete an entire segment of their education, in this case their undergraduate course. There’s something really special, I think, about watching your students go through a whole stage of their (academic) lives from start to finish. And it’s precious, ‘packed with value’, to get to know their personalities over this years-long period; to be at their side in their classes, growing in learning right alongside them; to ponder with wonder how, before your very eyes, they are coming into their own as scholars and as human persons. How extraordinary the richness of three years spent in the company of the same set of students – and, what’s more, bright, committed, sincere students! Each one is an unmerited but revered grace.

And bright, committed, sincere students they have truly been! How fortunate am I to have tracked the vestiges of the subject I most love, Classics (i.e. all the textures of the ancient Greek and Roman cosmos), with such students, such ‘eager ones’, who, like me, have desired to see the world as it once was, to know these ancient scenes and stories and souls – no matter the fragmented, mediated, enigmatic state in which they have come down to us – for ourselves.

Yes, there are many disciplines (academic and otherwise!) which rightly capture our attention and amazement, but I find something overwhelmingly electrifying and awe-inducing about tapping into the existence and experience of human beings who have come before us. And the Greeks and the Romans seem to me to be just at the point in history, from our perspective along the trajectory, to be both known and unknown, familiar and foreign. To take a step into their reality, and in doing so to discern traces of my own, sends shivers down my spine. To make this time-transcending pilgrimage with others, especially those in my care, especially those who also care, is sublime.

My favorite paean to the study of Classics is in a fiction book called The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Please let me share with you this passage (pgs. 223-224):

“The assignment was a two-page essay, in Greek, on any epigram of Callimachus that we chose. I’d done only a page and I started to hurry through the rest in impatient and slightly dishonest fashion, writing out the English and translating word by word. It was something Julian asked us not to do. The value of Greek prose composition, he said, was not that it gave one any particular facility in the language that could not be gained as easily by other methods but that if done properly, off the top of one’s head, it taught one to think in Greek. One’s thought patterns become different, he said, when forced into the confines of a rigid and unfamiliar tongue. Certain common ideas become inexpressible; other, previously undreamt-of ones spring to life, finding miraculous new articulation. By necessity, I suppose, it is difficult for me to explain in English exactly what I mean. I can only say that an incendium is in its nature entirely different from the feu with which a Frenchman lights his cigarette, and both are very different from the stark, inhuman pur that the Greeks knew, the pur that roared from the towers of Ilion or leapt and screamed on that desolate, windy beach, from the funeral pyre of Patroklos….In a certain sense, this was why I felt so close to the others in the Greek class. They, too, knew this beautiful and harrowing landscape, centuries dead; they’d had the same experience of looking up from their books with fifth-century eyes and finding the world disconcertingly sluggish and alien, as if it were not their home.”

Perhaps this is why I feel so close to, so grateful for, my Durham undergrads, because for three years we, together, looked up from our books with fifth-century eyes.

Perhaps it’s because they, too, find this beautiful and harrowing landscape, centuries dead, somehow precious, ‘packed with value’.

And perhaps it’s because they are very lovable: their good character and friendly heart and earnest intellect have been the mainstay of my happiness in England.

To my Durham undergrads, may all felicity be yours at this milestone! And every good wish for your odyssey ahead. Multum vos amo. To all my students, past and present, I do not forget you and I love you in aeternum. To my future students, I can’t wait to be studious – ‘overflowing with eagerness’ – with you! And, though we haven’t yet met, I love you too.

 

Now that my son is beginning to learn Greek, I have been accompanying him in his studies for a second time, as though I were the same age. For the obligation to ensure that our children find pleasure in literature as well as labour, bids us to become children again.
[Symmachus, Letters 4.20; translation from Gardner and Wiedemann 1991]

 

Via Appia: the Roman road which connects the Italian capital to the eastern port city of Brundisium. Many a wayfarer hath trod these venerable stones since days immemorial; so, Deo gratias, have I.

 

 

A Piece of My Own Heart

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Dear reader,

I came across this quote recently and was struck by how it calls out our tendency to play the blame game: to point a fault-finding finger at others rather than at ourselves. But its insights go further, because it reminds us that there is both good and evil in every human heart and it challenges us to destroy—I like the definitiveness of that word choice—whatever evil is within us.

The season of Lent is an ideal time to acknowledge the good and the evil in my own heart. I want to identify what is good in me and then work to refine and enhance those virtues. I also want to pinpoint exactly what is corrupt and cruel in me and get rid of it completely.

Is this a spiritual exercise that can be wrapped up in forty days? I don’t think so! But, actually, that’s the point: by dedicating the Lenten period to a serious self-examination and a commitment to self-improvement I can use it to kickstart the building up of lifelong habits and through these habits a better character. And it’s all the more likely to succeed if I begin by taking small but specific, doable steps in the right direction.

So, I have singled out one virtue and one vice in me. Every day of Lent I will do two concrete actions: one which strengthens the virtue and one which roots out the vice.

How will I be held accountable in this effort?

I think the quote above will help, because it seems to me that part of its message is: every person is implicated in the good and evil in our world. Each time I choose virtue I increase the good in our world. Each time I choose vice I add to the evil in our world. Actually, let me be even more explicit: every step I take towards virtue or towards vice affects your life in some way.

So, in the moments when I feel too discouraged, exhausted, or grudging to follow through on my Lenten promise, I will think of you, my reader!

I will remember:

The line dividing good and evil cuts through my heart—Paula’s heart.

And I will ask myself two questions:

Am I willing to take the time and energy to nourish goodness in my heart by practicing virtues like diligence, prudence, and generosity in order to bring you benefit?

Am I willing to destroy a piece of my own heart, the part which gives rise to poisons like resentment, self-aggrandizement, and gossip, for your sake?

The answer to these two questions will always be ‘Yes’. Why? Because I love you, my friend.

In peace and with prayers for a fruitful Lent,
Paula

A Confession of Love

Meek and mild, a destined daybreak gives way
To ten o’clock stirrings within and without.
I lie there, restless, in unsure resolve:
‘I need to speak with you, though I don’t know what to say.’

Then the ado, five floors below along city streets,
Snaps me to my senses: ‘Ah, but the shopping list!’
Higher duties aside, I must go get the vegetables.
Your song on my mind, I take to my feet.

On a rushed promenade market stalls and storefronts jockey for attention.
To one merchant, I cry: ‘These red peppers are just what I’m looking for!’
To another: ‘Two tomatoes and an English cucumber, please.’
To a third: ‘Those herbs over there—for my culinary invention!’

I buy myself flowers—bright tulips—too (why not, after all?)
On this fine, fresh morning, its living breath a delight to inhale,
Still wild and bracing from last night’s rain,
A storm and a flood more within than without as I recall.

A tempting scent drifts dreamily from an entrance just by:
Warm cinnamon buns, which are difficult to decline.
I hop inside and place my order. I wait fitfully, expectantly.
The parcel, a delicate craft, now crumpled in my undisciplined grip, lets out a sigh.

I turn to leave, but, entranced by faultless creations in glassy displays, I linger,
Aching at the sight of their purity—I am not so polished and wholesome as they.
I am dispirited; yet, somehow, the glow and shine of the room comforts and fortifies.
I determine to meet you, finally certain that I cannot be satisfied without you within.

I hurry to your place, and you are home. I knew you would be.
The door is open—it always is—and by call and by choice I walk through.
I am here, at your ceaseless beckoning, to make a confession of love
So that you and I may again be fused into a we.

In an instant of fury and frailty, I burst at first sight:
‘I know I am to blame, but how could you let this happen?’,
A valid question, in its own good time;
But, for now, it’s the moment to set things aright.

The years apart did not defeat you; your yearning did not decay.
You come forward, with quickened, unreserved pace.
‘Forgive me,’ I ask as soon as we are closer.
‘In grasping self-regard, I pushed against and away—
That first step back was folly; all others have a rotten cause.
Curved inward, I withdrew, letting devotion fall into distance, disuse, and despair.
Lacking practice, I lost the will to sacrifice. Memory of your ungrudging gifts receded.
I put myself in prison when I cast you from my kingdom in strange fear of love’s laws.’

True words tumble out, at once familiar and unrehearsed.
‘I’m sorry I didn’t want to change:
Sorry because my self-exile unsettled my soul,
Promising the pain of an atrophied heart and even the long night of a curse,
Sorry too because I abandoned your love, neglecting every chance for amends
And turning a blind eye to your “Yes” forever enduring my “No”.’
Suddenly I feel my hand in yours, just like before. To and through your love in this touch
I respond: ‘I love you too, and I’ll fulfill I-love-you’s demand.’

When I awake the next morning at peace,
The dawn’s newness and calm my own,
Your kiss is still sweet on my lips.
Our song on my mind, I take to my feet.

 

[a original poem by P. D. R.-B.]