Pilgrims seeking the Lord, found by the Lord

GOD’S WORD TODAY - The Philippine Star

I write this column while on pilgrimage in Spain and Portugal. We have just ended the Ignatian leg of our pilgrimage, visiting the birthplaces of St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier and towns and cities where Ignatius journeyed before and after his conversion — Pamplona, Aranzazu, Montserrat, Manresa, San Sebastian and Barcelona.

Today, we head for Sarria to begin our one-week Camino de Santiago on foot. Together with pilgrims from all over the world, bearing with them broken dreams, ardent longings, prayers for the ailing and the lost and hymns of gratitude for blessings received, we will retrace the footsteps of St. James the Apostle who, according to Church tradition, set forth for northern Iberia after Pentecost in order to proclaim the Gospel of the Lord.

As we continue with our pilgrimage, we reflect on the two disciples travelling to Emmaus.

Unmet expectations. Two disciples on the way to Emmaus from Jerusalem do not recognize the Risen Lord who walks along and converses with them. He must have inquired why they seemed so downcast. They share their devastation over the execution of Jesus by the Roman authorities and their chief priests. Despite Jesus walking by their side, they do not recognize him.

It could not have been because the Risen Lord appeared in his glorified form. John the evangelist depicts Jesus as an ordinary Jewish pilgrim, with no hint of a supernatural countenance.

Perhaps their emotional grief made them too self-absorbed that they failed to recognize the Risen Lord in their midst.

Most likely because they had no concept of the individual resurrection.  We do not see that of which we do not have a concept.  For these disciples of Jesus, he was executed and now lay in his tomb.  Their cause was lost; their master executed; their movement disbanded.

Moreover, in the Gospel narrative they refer to Jesus as the prophet whom they were hoping “would be the one to redeem Israel” from the Romans.  They saw in Jesus the political, militant messiah who would regain the sovereignty of Israel from their Roman captors, not the savior who would redeem all humanity from slavery to sin and death.

How often we do not see God in our midst because of our absorption with our expectations of God and also because of our false notions about God.  We have fixed notions of who God is and what God ought to do for us.  We thus may fail to recognize the Lord when he reveals himself and responds to our needs in ways contrary to our expectations.

Unexpected Encounter.  They listen intently as the Risen Lord explains how the passion and death of the Christ are integral to the Father’s salvific plans, and how the Christ would “enter into his glory”.  All throughout they are enraptured, their hearts “burning within.”

Finally as their mysterious companion breaks break and shares it with them they recognize the Lord Jesus whom they loved dearly and followed, whom they thought they had lost forever.

How often we encounter the Lord in unexpected moments and places.  However, just as the Risen Lord had already been with them prior to their recognition of his identity, so is the Lord constantly with us, not only during those graced moments during which we have palpable experiences of his presence, but at every moment of our pilgrimage.  The Lord is with us, whether we recognize his abiding presence or not.  The Lord is with us in our forlornness and brokenness whether we acknowledge it or not.

Unbearable Gladness.  Stunned and overwhelmed with joy to have encountered the Risen Lord, the two disciples hurry to Jerusalem in order to inform Peter and the rest that the Lord is Risen.

Our encounters with the Lord transform us, healing the wounds we have been unable to salve, revivifying our withered hopes and spirits, lifting the burden of guilt and resentment we have shouldered for years. 

Like the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, we journey back to our Jerusalem where we are commissioned to share our encounters with the Lord and to proclaim what he has done for us.  We joyfully return to our Jerusalem of tears different because after encountering the Lord, we are never the same again.










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