The Fruits of Mass, as Seen in a Gospel Passage

Supper at Emmaus, Jacopo Bassano (c. 1538)
I have written before on how the Gospel Passage of the encounter of the two disciples with Jesus on the road to Emmaus is (Luke 24:13-35), from start to finish, in the full form of a Mass. It is a kind of “Mass on the move.” I detail that understanding here: Mass on the Move.

The liturgy begins with two disciples gathering as they make their way to Emmaus, just as we pilgrims gather for Mass. Jesus joins them, just as Jesus joins us in the opening procession and greeting by the celebrant. Jesus engages them in a sort of penitential rite by asking them what they were discussing on their journey and why they look so downcast. After hearing their complaints, He engages them in a kind of Liturgy of the Word, as He both quotes and explains scriptures to them. The Liturgy of the Eucharist follows, as Jesus take the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them. It is then that they recognize Him, that the Bread He gives them is His very self. In a kind of Ite missa est (rite of dismissal) they go forth joyfully to share what they have seen and heard. Yes, the basic structure of the Mass is there.

Beyond the structural elements, the Emmaus Gospel also sets forth some of the expected fruits of Holy Mass. Let’s consider some of them.

I. Course Correction (conversion) – As the story begins the two disciples are traveling in precisely the wrong direction. Christ rises in the East, in Jerusalem, but they are headed West, away from Jerusalem, away from the Lord and His Body the Church, which is gathered and already announcing the truth of the resurrection. It’s never a good thing to have your back toward the heavenly Jerusalem or the Church, which is Heaven’s outpost and doorway. The effect of the “Mass on the move” will be to have them turn and “re-turn” toward Jerusalem and toward the Church gathered in the growing light of the resurrection. They return that very evening.

For us, too, the goal of the liturgy is our ongoing conversion, our increasing turning to the East, to the light, to the resurrection, and to the Body of Christ gathered—the Church.

II. Fuller Fellowship (koinonia) – Whatever their struggles, at least the disciples on the road to Emmaus are not alone; they are together and pondering the events of the Lord’s paschal mystery. Jesus said, Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Mat 18:20).

This is an important antidote to the tendency of many (especially among the Protestants) to reduce the faith to a “Jesus and me” experience. Many speak of Jesus as their “personal Lord and Savior.” He is surely that, but this description can easily miss the communal aspect of the faith: that Jesus is Shepherd of the flock. The Lord has a Body, the Church, with many members.

By insisting that we gather, at a minimum each Sunday at Mass, the Lord and the Church dictate that we not walk alone. As we walk together, Jesus joins us and journeys with us.

This “fellowship” is about more than coffee and doughnuts. It is about a shared liturgical experience, a shared instruction in the faith and in the Sacrament of Holy Communion that unites us to the Lord and to one another. When the “Mass on the move” is complete the disciples say, “Were not our hearts burning within us as he spoke the word to us?”

They then return to Jerusalem to join the wider fellowship of the Church gathered there to share their experience and have it affirmed by others. All of this indicates a fuller fellowship, which the Lord expects of us. He expects that we maintain communion with His Body, the Church. Our celebration of Mass in our parishes should unite us to the wider Church throughout the world and across time.

III. Transformative Teaching – The two disciples go from being downcast to having their hearts set on fire. They go from blindness to seeing, from confusion and doubt to clarity and deeper faith. The Lord accomplishes this for us in the Mass by Word and Sacrament.

Consider, first, the Liturgy of the Word. After hearing their concerns and fears, Jesus applies His word, quoting Scripture extensively and explaining it. This sets their hearts on fire and brings clear light to their minds. So, too, for us if we faithfully attend to the Liturgy of the Word. We may come with many doubts, fears, questions, and concerns, but a lifelong formation in the Word of God through the Liturgy of the Word sets our hearts ablaze and clears our minds, which are darkened by sin and worldliness.

The Word of God is a prophetic declaration of reality. It says to us, “Regardless of what you think is going on, this is what is really happening.” Scripture is replete with stories of victory for those who remain faithful. Its steady message is what Jesus says: In this world you shall have tribulation, but have confidence, I have overcome the world (Jn 16:33; Rev 2:10).

This is a vision for our life and a roadmap of ultimate victory if we remain faithful unto death. Formed in this word that the Messiah would suffer but rise on the third day, the disciples move from gloom to glory.

We, too, formed by a steady diet of God’s Word, will see our hearts encouraged and set ablaze, our minds instructed and brought to the light.

IV. Deepening Disclosure – The text says that the disciples’ eyes were opened, and they recognized the Lord in the breaking of the bread. Even as the Liturgy of the Word accustoms us to the Lord’s voice and His wisdom, the Eucharist accustoms us to recognize Him, not only in the Eucharistic elements but in our lives and throughout our day. Through our coming to know Him in Word and Sacrament, we grow spiritually and are able to remain in living, conscious contact with Him throughout every day. We learn of Him in the liturgy and thereby recognize Him active in creation—in the events of our lives and in the people we encounter.

V. Promised Presence – As soon as they recognize the Lord Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread, He vanishes before their eyes. Here, the Lord teaches them that they will not see Him in the earthly way; now they will see Him in the Sacraments and encounter Him in the liturgy.

This teaching is important for us, too. Some seek visions or invocations; others go to mountaintops or deserts to find Jesus. Good though such settings are for quiet prayer, the Lord is not so far away. He need not be sought in visions and invocations. He is as near as the closest tabernacle, as the nearest liturgy.

In Holy Mass or any other liturgy, the Lord speaks to us and ministers to us. He is present in those who gather, in the Word proclaimed, in the priest who celebrates, and above all in the Eucharistic elements. The gift of the Liturgy is Christ Himself.

VI. Exuberant Evangelization – The disciples are then filled with joy and zeal to share what they have seen, heard, and experienced. When one is joyful, one doesn’t need to be told how to share the good news; it comes naturally. When we hear good news we instinctively want to tell others.

These disciples cannot wait to rejoin the others to proclaim what and whom they have seen and experienced. If we are open to experience the Lord, we too will exuberantly go forth to tell others.

When the priest or deacon says, “The Mass is ended. Go in peace,” He is not simply saying, “Go home now and have nice day!” He is saying, “Go tell people what you have seen and heard. Tell them that you encountered the Lord. Tell them what the Lord said and how He fed you. Tell them what He has done for you!” Even if every Mass does not have this effect on you, can’t you at least tell people what a difference going to Mass has made in your life?

How is it possible to encounter the Lord and not come away with joy and a zeal to tell others? Yet many do just that. Moribund and perfunctory celebrations of the Liturgy do not help, of course. A little fiery preaching and the devout celebration of the Eucharist help. All of us need to be more aware what the Mass is; we must go with high expectations of meeting the Lord!

These, then, are some fruits of the liturgy set forth by today’s Gospel about the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

The video below does a good job of imagining some of the Scriptures that the Lord broke open for them. (The Eucharistic dimension is less well developed.)

The Journey of Mary Magdalene to Resurrection Faith

All of the resurrection stories depict the Apostles and other disciples on a journey of sorts to understand the resurrection. A completely new reality was breaking into their world and challenging their understanding. Far from depicting the disciples as credulous, the texts describe them as shocked, troubled, and even quite dubious. These were not men and women prone to naiveté or to concocting stories to assuage their grief. They are quite stunned by a new reality and struggling to get their minds around something they do not fully understand.

A beautiful example of a journey to resurrection faith is that of Mary Magdalene, who begins her journey on resurrection with the intention of finalizing burial rituals for the corpse of Jesus, and ends by acknowledging that she has seen “the Lord.” Let’s examine her journey as described in the Gospel of John, and see what it has to teach us about our own journey.

By way of background, recall that Mary had gone to the tomb very early, “when it was still dark,” and found the stone rolled back and the tomb empty. She ran and got Peter and John, who then investigated. Although John believed, there was no conclusion announced after their investigation. Peter and John leave and Mary Magdalene is left at the tomb by herself, at least temporarily (for we know from other Gospels that other women were near at hand). Here is where the text picks up:

Then the disciples went back to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her (John 20:10-18).

Mary Magdalene makes a journey in this passage from fear to faith. Let’s prayerfully examine her journey of faith.

I. Her Fearful Fretting Mary Magdalene is looking for a corpse. She’d come out to the tomb that morning for one purpose: to finish the prescribed burial customs for Jesus. His body had been placed in the tomb hurriedly on Friday evening, for it was almost sundown and the Passover feast was near. Now the Passover and Sabbath were complete; it was time to anoint the body and finish all the usual customs.

On Friday, Mary had been through immense trauma, seeing her beloved Jesus, her Messiah, brutally tortured and slowly killed through crucifixion. It seemed as if things could not possibly get worse, yet they just did. It would appear, according to her, that grave robbers had broken in and stolen the body. Strangely, they had left the expensive linens behind. But never mind that, things were now a total disaster. Now it would seem that she could not even perform a final kindness for Jesus.

Because of her fearful fretting, Mary is not able to look at the information before her properly. Jesus had promised to rise from the dead, on the third day, and this was the third day. The empty tomb does not signify grave robbers; it manifests resurrection! In her fear and fretful grief, though, Mary draws only the most negative of conclusions.

This, of course, is our human condition. So many of us, on account of fear and perhaps past trauma, tend to place the most negative interpretations on the events of our daily life. We are quick to seize on bad news, and we dismiss good news too easily, or barely notice that every day most things go right. Instead, we focus on the few things that go wrong. So easily we are negative and forget that even in painful transitions, as certain doors close, others open. New possibilities often emerge even in painful circumstances.

Mary is about to encounter something astonishingly new, but for now, her grief has locked her into only the most negative of interpretations.

A. Rhetorical Question There comes to her, from the angels, a kind of rhetorical question: “Why do you weep?” A rhetorical question is really more of a statement in the form of a question. It is meant to provoke thought and to rebuke, or at least to invite reconsideration. The angels, it would seem, are inviting her to recall that this is the third day and Jesus promised to rise. Therefore, why would she weep over an empty tomb? Jesus, who had raised others from the dead, cast out blindness, calmed storms, and healed lepers, had said that He would rise on the third day. Why weep over an empty tomb? Rather, she should rejoice!

B. Rueful Response Mary will have none of it, and in her grief she does not take up the consideration offered her by the angels. She states flatly, “I’m looking for a corpse that they’ve taken away. Tell me where you put this corpse so I can continue to go to work.”

Grief does that. It takes away our capacity to see more clearly other possibilities, other interpretations. So easily we turn things into catastrophes in our mind; we assume the worst. Mary is at her lowest, locked into fearful fretting and colossal grief.

II. Her Faulty Finding The text says, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus speaks to her: Woman why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for? Mary thought it was the gardener and goes on speaking of Jesus as a corpse she is looking for.

Why does she not recognize Him? Has He changed his appearance? Or perhaps there were tears in her eyes and she could not see well. We cannot say, but either way, she’s looking right at Jesus but does not recognize Him.

Too often, this is our condition as well. The Lord is more present to us than we are to ourselves; He is more present than anyone or anything in this world. Yet we seem to see everyone and everything except Him. This is our spiritual blindness. We must make a journey in faith and learn to see Him. We must come to the normal Christian life, which is to be in living, conscious contact with Jesus at every moment of the day. Does the sun cease to be present simply because the blind man cannot see it? Of course not. Neither does the Lord cease to be present to us simply because we cannot see Him. We must make the journey of faith wherein our eyes are opened, the eyes of our faith to see God’s presence everywhere.

III. Her First Faith One of the paradoxes of our faith is that we learn to see by hearing. For Scripture says that faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17), and faith is a way of knowing and seeing by way of that knowledge.

Jesus speaks and says “Mary.” With this, her faith is enlivened; her eyes are opened and she recognizes Jesus.

We, too, must allow the Lord to speak to us through His Word, so that we can learn to know Him and to see Him by faith, not by fleshly sight.

However, Mary’s faith is only a first faith, an initial faith. It needs maturing, as we shall see in the next point.

IV. Her Fuzzy Focus Having come to recognize the Lord Jesus, Mary initially wants to smother Him, to cling to Him. Her excess is not merely physical, but bespeaks a kind of clinging to the past. While it is true that the actual body of Jesus is risen and restored to her, the humanity that has been raised is a glorified humanity. There is something new that Mary must step back and behold.

A. Status quo ante – Thus Jesus says to her: Do not hold me. That is, “do not cling to me.” Mary’s gesture of embracing the Lord, and His reaction to it, suggest that something has changed that Mary has not yet fully understood. She clings to Him as He was. It’s as if to say, “Jesus, it’s you! Let’s pick up where we were before the crucifixion.” She thinks of Jesus of Nazareth alive again, but she must also now see the Lord of glory. His crucifixion has led to His glory. That is why Jesus speaks further of the fact that He is ascending to the Father.

We, too, must lay hold of a deeper understanding of Jesus as we make our journey. Or to put it in Jesus’ terms, we must let the Lord “ascend” in our own estimation. Scripture says elsewhere,

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:16-20).

B. Summons Mary is then given a summons by Jesus: Go to my brethren. Note that this is the first time that He ever called the Apostles “brethren.” It seems that it took the passion, death, and resurrection to accomplish this. Scripture says,

  1. I will tell of thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee: You who fear the LORD, praise him! all you sons of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you sons of Israel! (Psalm 22:22-23)
  2. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren (Romans 8:29).
  3. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, “I will proclaim thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee.” And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Here am I, and the children God has given me” (Heb 2:101-3).

Mary is further told that she should say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to My God and your God.

V. Fullness of Faith In this last stage, Mary makes a significant step in her journey. She comes to a fuller faith based on this interaction with the Risen Jesus. How? When she goes to the apostles, she says, I have seen the Lord. She does not merely say, “I have seen Jesus.” She calls Him “the Lord.” It is true that the term “Lord” could simply be a term of respect like “Sir,” but there seems to be a shift in Mary’s understanding. She goes from using the term “Lord” to refer to a corpse that has been taken and put somewhere, to simply and authoritatively saying, “I have seen the Lord.” That is, “I have seen Jesus, who is Lord and God. He is risen and is ascending, and He has given me a word for you endowed with plenary authority.” This is resurrection faith: to see the glory of Jesus and understand that He is the Lord of glory and the Word who is God.

Here is true Easter faith. Not merely to see a corpse come back to life, but also to be able to see who He really is: “the Lord” (ton Kyrion). Jesus is Lord and is risen from the dead. Scripture says elsewhere,

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:5).

Mary Magdalene has made a journey from fear to faith. She began by looking for a corpse to anoint. She ends by making the mature Easter declaration: “I have seen the Lord.” It is truly Jesus who is risen in the self-same body. But He is glorified and now shows forth fully the refulgence of His glory as the eternal Son of God and Son of Man. To come to Easter faith is not only to see Jesus of Nazareth raised from the dead, but even more so to behold that He is the Lord of Glory.

Mary has made the journey. How about you?

Why Was the Resurrection Such a Hidden Event?

easterThere is something of a hidden quality to the resurrection appearances that has always puzzled me. St. Peter gives voice to this when he says to Cornelius,

God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commissioned us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:41 to 42).

Note that Jesus did not appear openly to all but rather only to some. Why is this? It is so different from what most of us would do.

If I were God (and it is very good for you that I am not), I would rise from the dead very dramatically. Perhaps I would summon people to my tomb with trumpet blasts and then emerge amid great fanfare (including a multitude of angels), inspiring awe and striking fear in the hearts of the enemies who had killed me. Or maybe I would ride down on a lightning bolt right into the temple precincts and then go up to the high priest and tell him to seek other employment. Surely to accomplish such a feat would be an event that would never be forgotten! It would draw many to faith, would it not?

And yet the Lord does none of this! Not only did He appear only to some after His resurrection, but the actual dramatic moment of the resurrection itself seems to have been witnessed by no one at all. Instead of emerging from the tomb in broad daylight to the sound of trumpets, the Lord seems to have come forth before dawn to the sound of nothing but crickets chirping. Although St. Matthew mentions a great earthquake causing the rolling back of the stone and the guards stunned into unconsciousness, it seems that Jesus had already risen from the dead before the stone was rolled back.

Such a hidden event! It was the greatest event the world has ever known, and yet it was hidden from human eyes. No, this is not our way at all; Cecil B. DeMille would not be pleased.

And then when the Lord does appear, it is only to some. Two of the appearances have often intrigued me because the details are so sparse; they are really mentioned only in passing:

One is the appearance to Peter. It would seem that the Lord appeared to Peter before appearing to the other apostles on that first resurrection evening. For when the two disciples return from Emmaus they are greeted with the acclamation, The Lord has truly been raised, he has appeared to Simon (Luke 24:34). Shortly thereafter, the Lord appears to ten of the apostles, along with some of the disciples.

Why is there so little information about this appearance to Simon Peter? We are told in great detail about a conversation between Jesus and Peter two weeks later in Galilee (John 21), but of this first appearance in Jerusalem we get only this passing reference.

In a certain sense it is a very significant appearance because it elevates the resurrection from just “some news” that the women were sharing, to the apostolic proclamation, the Lord has truly been raised. What moves it from rumor to fact? The difference is that he has appeared to Simon. Here is a kind of early and seminal act of the Petrine office and the Magisterium! But of this crucial apparition, no details are supplied.

The other appearance cloaked in obscurity is His appearance to the five hundred, which Paul relates here:

He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep (1 Cor 15:5-6).

This is an amazing appearance; it’s not to two or three, or even to a dozen, but to five hundred at once. And yet no details are supplied. Where did it happen? When? For how long? What did the Lord say? What did He do? Silence.

And then there are the resurrection appearances that never happened (but to worldly minds should have): Jesus’ appearance to His accusers and persecutors, to Caiaphas, to the Sanhedrin, to Pilate, and to all who jeered at Him as He hung on the cross. Surely they deserved a good dressing down—and they probably could’ve used it. Who knows, maybe they would have fallen to their knees and converted on the spot; maybe they would have worshiped Jesus.

Such are my thoughts on the strange and hidden quality of the resurrection. Why so hidden, why so selective an audience? Ultimately, I cannot say why; I can only venture a guess, a kind of theological hunch, if you will.

My speculation is rooted in the identity of God: God is love (1 Jn 4:16). Love is not merely something God does, nor is it just one of His many attributes. Scripture says that God is love. And it is the nature of true love (as opposed to lust) to woo the beloved, to invite rather than overwhelm, importune, force, or coerce. The lover wants to be loved, but to force the beloved to love or to overwhelm the cherished into a fearful love would mean not receiving true love in return.

It is in the nature of Satan to pressure, tempt, and overwhelm, in order to coerce us into sin. Satan is loud and loves to use fear as a motivator.

By contrast, God whispers. He calls us and gently draws us in. He supplies grace and evidence but does not overwhelm us with fearsome or noisy events. He is the still, small voice that Elijah heard after the fire and the earthquake (1 Kings 19:12). He is the One who has written His name in our hearts and whispers there quietly: Seek always the face of the Lord (1 Chron 16:11). At times He does allow our life to be shaken a bit, but even then it is more often something that He allows rather than directly causes.

God is not interested in loud, flashy entrances or in humiliating His opponents. He does not have a big ego. Even if He chose to compel the Temple leadership to worship Him by using shock and awe, it is unlikely that their faith response would be genuine. Faith that needs to see isn’t really faith; one doesn’t need faith to believe what he can plainly see with his own eyes.

Thus the Lord does rise from the dead and He does supply evidence to witnesses who had faith—at least enough faith to be rewarded. He then sends these eyewitnesses, supplies His graces, and gives us other evidence so that we can believe and love. But none of this is done in a way that overwhelms us or forces us to believe.

God is love, and love seeks a free and faithful response. The hiddenness of the resurrection is an example of tender love. There’s only so much that the human person can take. So the Lord rises quietly and appears (but only briefly) to some and then seems to withdraw—almost as if respectfully giving them time to process what they have experienced. He gives them time to deepen their faith and to come to terms with what was, for them, a completely new reality, one that would change their lives forever.

How different this is from the way we operate! So many of us think in terms of power, fame, glory, vindication, conquest, and so forth. How different God is! He is so often tender, hidden, and whispering. He doesn’t need to get “credit” for everything He does. He doesn’t need to crush His enemies. Rather, ruing the day on which their “no” might become a forever “no,” He works to win their love, always hoping for their conversion. Until then, He is always calling, willing, and giving grace. His mercies how tender, how firm to the end, our maker, defender, redeemer, and friend.

Why was the resurrection so hidden? God is love. And love woos, it does not wound. It invites, it does not incite. It calls, it does not crush. It respects, it does not rule or seek revenge. Yes, God is love.

Of her glorious Groom, the Church and Bride says,

Listen! My beloved! There he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice … [He speaks to her and says], “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me” (Song 2:9-10).

Here’s how Cecil B. DeMille would do the Easter fire:

Jesus is Real: A Homily for Easter Sunday

At the Tomb, Peter Cornelius (1815-22)
One of the possible Gospel readings for Easter is from John (I have written about that account here.) This year I present a reflection on Matthew’s account (28:1-10) of Easter morning, which is another option for the Easter liturgy.

Nearly all of the resurrection accounts in the Gospels present the apostles and disciples on a journey to deeper faith. In stages they come out of this world and the darkness of despair into the light of faith. Matthew’s account, which is read at the Easter Vigil and can also be read at Masses during the day, is no exception.

Let’s look at the Easter journey that Mary Magdalene and Mary (likely, Mary the Mother of James and Joses) make out of darkness into light. Mark’s Gospel account adds that Salome (the wife of Zebedee and the mother of James and John) went with them. Luke’s Gospel account has Joanna (wife of Herod’s steward, Chusa) accompanying them as well. Hence, even though Matthew only mentions Mary Magdalene and Mary by name, it would seem that there were four women. As the women journey through the events of Easter morning we see their faith deepen and brighten. In a condensed sort of way, we also see the whole life of the Christian, who in stages comes to deeper faith and a brighter vision of the paschal mystery that is our life.

Let’s observe their journey in four stages.

Disturbance at Dawn

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men.

In this first stage it is still quite dark. The text here notes, with hope, that the new day was dawning. The Greek word that is translated as “dawning” more properly means “approached,” or “drew on,” without specifying the time so closely. In Mark’s account he notes that it was very early in the morning, at the rising of the sun. In other words, the sun was not already risen but about to rise. Luke notes that it was “very early in the morning” (the Greek text indicates that it was “deep twilight” or when there was scarcely any light). John’s Gospel says that it was “very early, while it was yet dark.”

The point is that it is still quite dark but dawn is near. This creates for us readers an air of great expectation. An old song by the Taizé community says, “Within our darkest night, you kindle a fire that never dies away.”

Next, there is a great earthquake. Sometimes God has to shake things up to open new doors and new vision. In our life, too, there are often violent shakings, but remember that in just a few short years we’ll be with God if we are faithful. So it is that this earthquake is not unto destruction but is unto the opening of the tomb that has claimed our Lord and unto the opening of tombs that have claimed us emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. This earthquake, frightening though it may seem, serves only to draw these women deeper into the paschal mystery and toward the risen Christ.

Note that they have yet to see Him or even hear that He is risen. For now, there is only this earthquake, but it has a purpose. Now it is barely dawn and things are still very unclear to them.

Declaration: Do Not Be Afraid

Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.

Note that the angel summons them to deeper faith. He exclaims, “Do not be afraid.” To many of us this may seem like a throwaway line, one we often hear when others perceive us to be as anxious. Sometimes when others say this to us it can be both annoying and unhelpful. In this case, though, the angel presents a basis on which their faith should grow and their anxiety dissipate.

That they should not be anxious or afraid is rooted in the Lord’s promise and in His word. The angel is reminding them that the Lord promised to rise on the third day and that He has done just that. The Lord, who has raised others from death and healed multitudes, has done exactly what He promised.

Hence, the angel summons them to grow in their faith by pondering the Word of Jesus Christ and coming to trust in His promise.

The angel also presents evidence to them—the evidence of the empty tomb. He invites them to connect the dots between Jesus’ promise and the empty tomb before their eyes.

It’s getting brighter, by the power of God’s Word and its application to the present situation.

We, too, must journey through this stage as we become more deeply immersed in God’s Word and apply it to our circumstances. As we grow in knowledge and remembrance of God’s promises and His word, our anxiety begins to dissipate. This happens especially when God helps us to connect His word to what is actually happening in our life. We start to notice the empty tombs, the many signs of God’s favor and blessing. Things start to add up and we begin to connect the dots between faith and experience. As we do this it gets brighter and our faith grows stronger.

Deepening Dispatch

Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.”

Learn by teaching – Having been instructed in the paschal mystery and grown deeper in their faith, they are sent by the Lord to inform others. An interesting side effect of teaching is that we often learn more by teaching than we learned as a student. We grow in our faith as we begin to teach and testify to it. The acts of teaching and witnessing cause us to grow.

Note that the text says, Behold, I have told you. True faith is received from God; we do not invent it. St. Paul says, “Faith comes by hearing.” Do not go out and invent your own faith; that would be a very bad idea! We receive the faith from God through the Church and the Scriptures approved by the Church. These women have first been instructed by God’s angel. Only after that are they told to go and tell others. We too are instructed by the Church. Our faith comes from what we hear, and we pass that on.

So, these women are sent. As they go they have a great breakthrough, but prior to that breakthrough, they are sent to witness, to proclaim. This very act deepens faith even more.

The Discovery that is Definitive

Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

This final stage is an important and powerful one. Unfortunately, too many Christians ignore it. In this moment they go from inference to experience. Up until this point their “knowledge” was based only on what others said, but now they know from experience. They can now personally vouch for the truth of what they proclaim. Inference is a necessary stage of our faith, but the Lord invites us deeper to more personally experience the truth of what the Church has always proclaimed and what her Scriptures have always announced.

These women heard from the angel that Jesus is risen, and they receive the teaching with joy, but on the way, on the road of their life, they come to personally meet the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Suddenly the truth of what they have been taught is made personal to them and experience it as real. They have gone from inference to experience. From now on they will tell not only what they have heard from others but also how they have personally experienced it as true.

We are invited to do the same. Each of us needs to be able to say, “In the laboratory of my life I have come to personally experience as true all that the Church and her Scriptures proclaim. I am a firsthand witness to Jesus, for I have experienced Him personally in my life. I have met Him in my prayer and in my experience. He is alive and real to me, and He is changing my life. I have done more than hear about the Lord; I have met Him. I do not merely know about Him, I know Him.”

Do you know the Lord, or do you just know about Him? Have you met Him or have you just heard about Him? On this Easter Sunday morning we have observed a group of women go from the darkness of this world to the light of the normal Christian life. What is the normal Christian life? It is being in living, conscious contact with God and personally knowing the Lord of all glory. It is being in a living and transformative relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

“And in the Morning Watch, the Lord … Cast a Glance” – A Meditation on the Look of the Lord

Lest the Easter Season slip away and I miss the chance, I would like to look back on a reading from the Easter Vigil.

There is indeed an astonishing verse in the Exodus account, which was read at the Easter Vigil. The Lord has parted the waters of the Red Sea by a strong eastern wind and the Israelites have just made the crossing with the Egyptians in hot pursuit.

And in the morning watch, the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud, cast a glance on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic (Ex 14:24).

Just one look … that’s all it took! One can imagine many other ways that God could have despoiled them: lightning, angelic forces, etc. Instead, the Lord merely “cast a glance.”

Was it an angry glance? The text does not say. I would propose, based purely on speculation, that it was a look of love. For if God is love, then how could it have been anything else?

Why, then, the panic among the Egyptian forces? Perhaps it was like the reaction of those accustomed to the darkness, who wince in pain when beautiful light shines. Love confronts and drives out hate the way light drives out darkness. Love is what it is; it cannot be something else. To those held bound by hatred, though, love is like kryptonite. Thus the Egyptian army falls at the glance of God, panics at the weakness it experiences. Yes, love can be like kryptonite.

I propose that despite the panicked result, God’s glance was one of love. God does not change. Even when we speak of His wrath or anger, we are speaking more of our experience than of what is in God. God is love and so He looks with love. That we experience something other than love is a problem in us, not in God.

Indeed, sometimes we see the look but miss the love. In the Gospel of Mark is told the story of a rich young man who sought perfection, but somewhat on his own terms. Jesus looked at him with love and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mk 10:21). The young man saw the look and heard the words, but missed the love. As a result, he went away saddened.

And lest we reduce God’s look of love to one of mere sentimentality, we ought to recall that God’s look of love can also convict us and move us to repentance. Peter’s denial of the Lord is recounted in all four of the Gospels. Simon Peter was in the courtyard of the high priest warming himself by the fire; he had just denied knowing the Lord for the third time when the cock crowed. The Gospel of Luke recounts, The Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly (Lk 22:61-62). Here was a look of love that caused pain, but it was a healing pain that led to repentance.

For those of us with deeper faith, we learn to count on the look, the glance of God, to save us. An old hymn says, “Though billows roll, He keeps my soul. My heav’nly Father watches over me.” Another says, “His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.”

Yes, the glance of God may make you feel sad, or mad, or glad; but it is the look of love, always seeking to console or to set us right and bring about healing.

I have a large icon of Christ in my room. In my opinion, what icons from the Eastern tradition do best is to capture “the look.” No matter where I move in the room, it seems that Christ is looking right at me. His look is intense, though not severe. In the Eastern spirituality, icons are windows into Heaven. Hence this icon is no mere portrait that reminds one of Christ; it is an image that mediates His presence. When I look upon Him, I experience that He knows me. He is looking at me with a knowing, comprehensive look.

The Book of Hebrews says of Jesus, No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account (Heb 4:13). Christ’s look in the icon in my room is not fearsome; it is serene and confident.

Particularly in Mark’s Gospel, there is great emphasis on the eyes and the look of Jesus. The following expression, or one like it, appears more than 25 times in the Gospel of Mark: And looking at them He said, …

Looking on Christ and allowing Him to look on you is a powerful moment of conversion. Jesus Himself said, For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day (Jn 6:40). And in the First Letter of John we read, What we shall later be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 Jn 3:2).

Keep looking to the Lord during this Easter season, through the art that most moves you and especially in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Look at Him and let Him look at you. Be not dismayed like the Egyptians of old. God is love and therefore His look is always one of love, no matter how we experience it.

The Lord is casting a glance at you right now. What do you see?

This video is a collection of clips from the movie The Passion of the Christ, set to music. It shows many of the looks of Jesus as well as some that come from us. Look for the “looks.”

What Does Jesus Mean When He Says, “I Am Ascending”?

Even as Easter moves swiftly on, it is valuable to ponder some of the puzzling aspects of the resurrection. In this, St. Thomas Aquinas remains our teacher, along with the Fathers of the Church whom he references.

Let’s explore the enigmatic statement of our Lord Jesus to Mary Magdalene:

Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17).

There is much to ponder and distinguish here.

First, we should set aside certain previous translations (e.g., the King James and the Douay-Rheims), which rendered “Do not cling to me” as “Do not touch me.” The Greek text has subtleties that were missed in these early English translations. “Do not touch me” sounds almost rude. The Greek expression Μή μου ἅπτου (Me mou haptou) is best rendered, “Do not go on clinging to me” because haptou is a verb in the middle voice.

The middle voice is one that English lacks. It is midway between the active and passive voices and indicates that the subject of the verb (in this case, Mary) both acts and is acted upon. Mary lays hold of the Lord, but needs to do so in light of the fact that something is different. Something deeper is being shown to her and she is missing that. Mary actively sees as alive the Jesus she has known, but passively needs to receive something new about Him. This is the middle voice, with elements of the active and the passive.

Further as Strong’s Greek dictionary sets forth, ἅπτω (haptou) means, “to fasten to,” “to adhere to,” or “to cling to.” The translation “Do not touch me” misses a subtle difference. What the Lord asks of Mary is that she not merely cling to what is familiar, but step back and see what is new. He is no longer a mere rabbi or teacher. He is not merely the Jesus she knew; He is Lord and He is risen.

Second, we must ponder what Jesus means when He says that He is ascending. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that these words can be understood in two ways.

As Augustine says (Tract. cxxi super Joan.), “these words of our Lord, ‘Do not touch Me, for I am not yet ascended to My Father,’” show “that in that woman there is a figure of the Church of the Gentiles, which did not believe in Christ until He was ascended to the Father. …” (Summa Theologiae III, Q. 55, Art. 6, Reply to Obj. 3)

This seems weak to me because although Scripture does speak to later ages, it also speaks to those who experienced it contemporaneously. Thus, to say that it refers to the Church of the Gentiles should not be understood exclusively, for it also must have spoken to Mary and the non-Gentiles of the time. St. Augustine is and was far holier than I, so if there is doubt, listen to him, not me, but I don’t believe that we should reduce the Lord’s meaning only to this.

[Augustine says] “… Jesus would have us to believe in Him, i.e. to touch Him spiritually, as being Himself one with the Father. For to that man’s innermost perceptions He is, in some sort, ascended unto the Father, who has become so far proficient in Him, as to recognize in Him the equal with the Father … whereas she as yet believed in Him but carnally, since she wept for Him as for a man.” Or as Chrysostom says (Hom. lxxxvi in Joan.): “This woman wanted to converse with Christ just as before the Passion, and out of joy was thinking of nothing great, although Christ’s flesh had become much nobler by rising again.” And therefore He said: “I have not yet ascended to My Father”; as if to say: “Do not suppose I am leading an earthly life; for if you see Me upon earth, it is because I have not yet ascended to My Father, but I am going to ascend shortly.” Hence He goes on to say: “I ascend to My Father, and to your Father” (Ibid).

In other words, Jesus’ ascent in Mary (and in every other follower) must take place. He is far more than a man resuming mortal nature. He is more; He is Lord. We must come to see Him as Lord and God. In this way, He must ascend in our sight. We must see Him at a higher level and in a higher way. He is no mere sage or rabbi; He is Lord and God! He must ascend in this way, in our understanding.

In recent years, Mary had rightly reverenced Jesus as teacher and rabbi, but Jesus the Lord is doing more now than merely leading an earthly life and fitting into earthly categories.

In effect, Jesus is saying to Mary, “Don’t go on clinging to what in Me is familiar to you. Step back, take a good look, and then go tell my brothers what you see.”

When Mary Magdalene did this, she ran to the apostles and said, “I have seen the LORD (emphasis mine)” (Jn 20:18). I presented “LORD” in uppercase here because up until this point, Mary had used the word “Lord” as a title of human respect. She had said, “They have taken my Lord and I don’t know where they have put him.” Of course, regarding the divine LORD, you don’t take Him and put Him anywhere. He is LORD and He does as He pleases. Now, no longer clinging to him in merely a familiar way, Mary says, “I have seen the LORD (emphasis mine),” meaning it in a plenary and divine sense.

For Mary, the Lord is ascending. She is seeing Him in a higher way. The Lord has ascended for Mary Magdalene. How about for you?

Finally, what of the Lord’s expression that He was ascending to “My Father and your Father, to My God and your God”?

In English, we can use the word “and” in either an equivalent or a comparative sense. I could say to someone, “You are my brother and my friend.” This uses the “and of equivalence” because it indicates that you are both a brother and a friend to me in the same, or in an equivalent way.

Other uses of the word “and” indicate a more comparative sense. When we say that Jesus is “Son of God and Son of Mary,” we mean that He is the Son of His Father in a different way than He is Son of Mary. He is Son of both, but in very different ways. In the liturgy, when the priest says, “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the almighty Father,” he indicates that while both his sacrifice and the sacrifice of the people are both sacrifices, they are sacrifices in different ways. The priest acts in persona Christi capitis (in the person of Christ the head), while the faithful act as members of the body. Both are rightly called sacrifices, but they are so in different ways.

Thus, when Jesus says that He is ascending to “My Father and your Father,” He does not use the “and of equivalence” but the “and of comparison.” As a man, Jesus can speak of God as His Father, but His human nature is hypostatically united to His divine nature as God, the Second Person of the Trinity. So, although God is our Father and also Christ’s Father, He is Christ’s Father in a far richer and more profound way.

He says to them, “My God and your God,” not by way of equivalence, but by way of comparison.

In all these ways, the Lord Jesus must ascend in our understanding. He will do so, as long as we do not go on clinging to Him in a merely human and familiar way.

Let the Lord ascend in your life.

Mass on the Move – A Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter

In today’s Gospel we encounter two discouraged and broken men making their way to Emmaus. The text describes them as “downcast.” That is to say, their eyes are cast on the ground, their heads are hung low. Their Lord and Messiah has been killed, the one they had thought would finally liberate Israel. Some women had claimed that He was alive, but these disciples have discredited those reports and are now leaving Jerusalem. It is late in the afternoon and the sun is sinking low.

They are also moving in the wrong direction, West, away from Jerusalem, away form the resurrection. They have their backs to the Lord, rising in the East.

The men cannot see or understand God’s plan. They cannot “see” that He must be alive, just as they were told. They are quite blind as to the glorious things that happened hours before. In this, they are much like us, who also struggle to see and understand that we have already won the victory. Too easily our eyes are cast downward in depression rather than upward in faith.

How will the Lord give them vision? How will He reorient them, turn them in the right direction? How will He enable them to see His risen glory? How will He encourage them to look up from their downward focus and behold new life?

If you are prepared to “see” it, the Lord will celebrate Holy Mass with them. In the context of a sacred meal we call the Mass, He will open their eyes and they will recognize Him; they will see glory and new life.

Note that the entire gospel, not just the last part, is in the form of a Mass. There is a gathering, a penitential rite, a Liturgy of the Word, intercessory prayers, a Liturgy of the Eucharist, and an ite missa est. In this manner of a whole Mass, they have their eyes opened to Him and to glory. They will fulfill the psalm that says, Taste, and see, the goodness of the Lord (Psalm 34:8).

Let’s examine this Mass, which opens their eyes, and ponder how we also taste and see in every Mass.

Stage One: Gathering Rite – The curtain rises on this Mass with two disciples having gathered together on a journey: Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus (Lk 24:13). We have already discussed above that they are in the midst of a serious struggle and are downcast. We only know one of them by name, Cleopas. Who is the other? If you are prepared to accept it, the other is you. So, they have gathered. This is what we do as the preliminary act of every Mass. We who are pilgrims on a journey come together on our journey.

It so happens for these two disciples that Jesus joins them: And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them (Luke 24:15). The text goes on to tell us that they did not recognize Jesus yet.

The Lord walks with us, too. It is essential to acknowledge by faith that when we gather together at Mass the Lord Jesus is with us. Scripture says, For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them (Matt 18:20). For many of us, too, although Jesus is present we do not recognize Him. Yet he is no less among us than He was present to these two disciples who fail to recognize Him.

Liturgically, we acknowledge the presence of the Lord at the beginning of the Mass in two ways. First, as the priest processes down the aisle the congregation sings a hymn of praise. It is not “Fr. Jones” they praise; it is Jesus, whom “Fr. Jones” represents. Once at the chair the celebrant (who is really Christ) says, “The Lord be with you.” In so doing He announces the presence of Christ among us promised by the Scriptures.

The Mass has now begun and our two disciples are gathered; the Lord is with them. So, too, for us at every Mass. The two disciples still struggle to see the Lord, to experience new life, and to realize that the victory has already been won. So, too, do some of us who gather for Mass. The fact that these disciples are gathered is already the beginning of the solution. Mass has begun. Help is on the way!

Stage Two: Penitential Rite – The two disciples seem troubled and the Lord inquires of them the source of their distress: What are you discussing as you walk along? (Lk 24:17). In effect, the Lord invites them to speak with Him about what is troubling them. It may also be a gentle rebuke from the Lord that the two of them are walking away from Jerusalem, away from the site of the resurrection.

Clearly their sorrow and distress are governing their behavior. Even though they have already heard evidence of Jesus’ resurrection (cf 24:22-24), they seem hopeless and have turned away from this good news.

Thus the Lord engages them in a kind of gentle penitential rite, engages them about their negativity.

So, too, for us at Mass. The penitential rite is a moment when the celebrant (who is really Christ) invites us to lay down our burdens and sins before the Lord, who alone can heal us. We, too, often enter the presence of God looking downcast and carrying many burdens and sins. Like these disciples, we may be walking in the wrong direction. In effect, the Lord says to us, “What are thinking about and doing as you walk along? Where are you going with your life?”

The Lord asks them to articulate their struggles. This calling to mind of struggles, for them that day and for us in the penitential rite, is a first step to healing and recovery of sight.

Again, we see in this story about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, the Mass that is so familiar to us.

Stage Three: Liturgy of the Word – In response to their concerns and struggles, the Lord breaks open the Word of God, the Scriptures: Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures (Luke 24:27).

Not only does the Lord refer to Scripture, He interprets it for them. Hence the Word is not merely read; there is a homily, an explanation and application of the Scripture to the men’s struggles. The homily must have been a good one, too, for the disciples later remark, Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32)

So, too, for us at Mass. Whatever struggles we may have brought, the Lord bids us to listen to His Word as the Scriptures are proclaimed. Then the homilist (who is really Christ) interprets and applies the Word to our life. Although the Lord works through a weak human agent (the priest or deacon), He can write straight with crooked lines. As long as the homilist is orthodox, it is Christ who speaks. Pray for your homilist to be an obedient and useful instrument for Christ at the homily moment.

Notice, too, that although the disciples do not yet fully see, their downcast attitude is gone; their hearts are now on fire. Pray God, that it will be so for us who come to Mass each week and hear from God that the victory is already ours in Christ Jesus. God reminds us, through Scripture passages that repeat every three years, that although the cross is part of our life, the resurrection surely is, too. We are carrying our crosses to an eternal Easter victory. If we are faithful to listening to God’s Word, hope and joy build within our hearts and we come, through being transformed by Christ in the Liturgy, to be men and women of hope and confidence.

Stage Four: Intercessory Prayers After the homily, we usually make prayers and requests of Christ. We do this based on the hope, provided by His Word, that He lives, loves us, and is able. So it is that we also see these two disciples request of Christ, Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over (Luke 24:29).

Is this not what we are doing when we say, in so many words, “Stay with us, Lord, for it is sometimes dark in our lives and the shadows are growing long. Stay with us, Lord, and with those we love, so that we will not be alone in the dark. In our darkest hours, be to us a light, O Lord, a light that never fades away”?

Indeed, it is already getting brighter, for we are already more than halfway through the Mass!

Stage Five: Liturgy of the Eucharist – Christ does stay with them. Then come the lines that no Catholic could miss: And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them (Luke 24:30). Yes, it is the Mass to be sure. All the basic actions of the Eucharist are there: He took, blessed, broke, and gave. They are the same actions that took place at the Last Supper and that we repeat at every Mass. Later, the two disciples refer back to this moment as the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:35), a clear biblical reference to the Holy Eucharist.

The words of Mass immediately come to mind: “While they were at supper, He took the bread and gave you thanks and praise. He broke the bread, gave it to His disciples, and said, “Take this all of you and eat it. This is my Body, which will be given up for you.”

A fascinating thing then occurs: With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight (Luke 24:31).

It is the very act of consecration that opens their eyes. Is this not what Holy Communion is to do for us? Are we not to learn to recognize Christ by the very mysteries we celebrate? Are we not to “taste and see”?

The liturgy and the sacraments are not mere rituals; they are encounters with Jesus Christ. Through our repeated celebration of the holy mysteries, our eyes are increasingly opened, if we are faithful. We learn to see and hear Christ in the liturgy, to experience his ministry to us.

The fact that Jesus vanishes from their sight teaches us that He is no longer seen with the eyes of the flesh, but with the eyes of faith and the eyes of the heart. Although He is gone from our earthly, fleshly, carnal sight, He is now to be seen in the sacrament of the altar and experienced in the Liturgy and in other sacraments. The Mass has reached its pinnacle for these two disciples and for us. They have tasted and now they see.

Consider these two men who began this Gospel quite downcast. Their hearts are on fire and they now see. The Lord has celebrated Mass in order to get them to this point. So, too, for us: the Lord celebrates Mass in order to set our hearts on fire and open our eyes to glory. We need to taste in order to see.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. … Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him (Psalm 34:4-8).

Yes, blessed are we if we faithfully taste in order to see, every Sunday at Mass.

Stage Six: Ite Missa Est – Not able to contain their joy or hide their experience, the two disciples run seven miles back to Jerusalem to tell their brethren what has happened and how they encountered Jesus in the breaking of the bread. They want to, they must speak of the Christ they have encountered, what He said and what He did.

Note that this liturgy has reoriented them. They are now heading back east, toward the Risen Son.

How about us? At the end of every Mass, the priest or deacon says, “The Mass is ended. Go in peace.” This does not mean, “We’re done, go home and have nice day.” It means, “Go into the world and bring the Christ you have received to others. Tell them what you have seen and heard here, what you have experienced. Share with others the joy and hope that this Liturgy gives.”

Have you ever noticed that part of the word “mission” is in the word “dismissal”? You are being commissioned, sent on a mission to announce Christ to others.

Finally, the Lucan text says of these two disciples, So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them … 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 (Lk 24:33,35). How about us? Does our Mass finish that well, that enthusiastically? Can you tell others that you have come to Christ in “the breaking of the bread,” in the Mass?

Jesus has used the Mass to drawn them from gloom to glory, from downcast to delighted, from darkness to light. It was the Mass. Do you “see” it there? It is the Mass. What else could it be?

Why Did the Lord Appear to the Women Before the Apostles?

It is curious that upon rising from the dead the Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene and other women before appearing to the Apostles, His chosen witnesses. It is even stranger that He sent the women to the Apostles as witnesses, given that women were not considered valid witnesses at that time. Indeed, the Apostles do resist their testimony, considering it fanciful. While this behavior makes many modern people wince, it is not presented as a way of approving those reactions, but in order to highlight the curious fact that the Lord would send the women to the Apostles.

A common modern tendency (and I would say error) is to interpret the Lord’s actions sociologically and with a kind of revolutionary meaning. Many today prefer to see the Lord as an ancient version of a 1960s radical, so that in sending the women He was dismissing and overthrowing the social order of the time. They then continue by claiming that the Lord was pointing toward our far more “enlightened” times and would have us go even further, by ordaining women for example.

Aside from the radical revolutionary elements, the sociological interpretation has some validity. The Lord is in fact bypassing the norms of His day in sending the women to the Apostles.

But it is refreshing and enlightening to consider the action of the Lord theologically and spiritually as well. This seems a more likely purpose of the Scripture than as a sociological commentary or a tool for cultural revolution.

In his Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas considers the meaning of Jesus sending the women, summarizing the interpretation of others and adding his own thoughts. St. Thomas’ teachings are presented in bold, black italics, while my comments are shown in plain red text. The sections shown below are all from the Summa Theologiae Part III, Q. 55, Art. 1, Obj. 3.

St. Thomas’ replies to an objection that it was not in fact fitting for Christ to appear first to the women and then send them to the Apostles. Thomas records the objection to his teaching as follows:

Objection 3 … Now [the apostles] bore witness by preaching in public: and this is unbecoming in women, according to 1 Corinthians 14:34: “Let women keep silence in the churches”: and 1 Timothy 2:12: “I suffer not a woman to teach.” Therefore, it does not seem becoming for Christ’s Resurrection to be manifested first of all to the women and afterwards to mankind in general.

The stated objection is not without merit and should not simply be dismissed as misogynistic. The texts referenced from First Corinthians and First Timothy are underreported today, likely because they make modern people uncomfortable and because many commentators dismiss them as merely cultural artifacts.

But in these writings, St. Paul (and the Holy Spirit who inspired him) does not appeal merely to custom or culture. He gives a theological reason for the inappropriateness of women giving the official teaching of the Church in the Liturgy and other such gatherings. He writes, For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor (1 Tim 2:13-14).

In this passage, St. Paul is reflecting the teaching of Genesis, which describes the roles of Adam and Eve in the first sin differently: When confronted by the Lord, Eve responds, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). But the text says that Adam’s response was “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen 3:11).

So Eve was deceived and then was able to tempt Adam. This is at the heart of why St. Paul says that a woman should not teach officially in the Church. Although politically incorrect today, Paul argues that women are generally more easily deceived by the evil one. Also implicit in the Genesis text, a woman (perhaps through her beauty) can unduly influence men, who are often weak in this regard.

This sort of reflection elicits many objections today, both rational and emotional, but the sacred texts from St. Paul and Genesis should not be simply set aside as cultural artifacts. They are also theological reflections and deserve our attention. I have written more on this topic here: How is Adam’s Sin Different from Eve’s?.

St. Thomas makes an important distinction and shows why, despite the texts of Scripture, the objection does not hold in this case. He writes,

Reply to Objection 3. A woman is not to be allowed to teach publicly in church; but she may be permitted to give familiar instruction to some privately. And therefore as Ambrose says on Luke 24:22, “a woman is sent to them who are of her household,” but not to the people to bear witness to the Resurrection.

Thus the objection is set aside in this case because although a woman should not give magisterial teaching in the sacred assembly, it is certainly fitting that she should witness to and give instruction within her household.

St. Paul also mentions many women (Lydia, Chloe, Nympha, Apphia, Mary, Persis, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Priscilla, Euodia, Syntyche, Phoebe, and Junia) participating in extended roles of service and in the work of evangelization. Outside the liturgy and other modes of official teaching, St. Paul’s teaching of women remaining silent does not seem to apply.

St. Thomas here reminds us of an important distinction. While a woman is excluded from giving the official teaching in the liturgy, in the familial setting she is still called to be among those who teach and bear witness. St. Thomas implies that the Apostles and first disciples form a family, hence there is no violation of the norms.

St. Thomas then turns his attention to another reason that it was fitting for the women to see Christ first and then to announce this to the Apostles:

But Christ appeared to the woman first, for this reason, that as a woman was the first to bring the source of death to man, so she might be the first to announce the dawn of Christ’s glorious Resurrection. Hence Cyril says on John 20:17: “Woman who formerly was the minister of death, is the first to see and proclaim the adorable mystery of the Resurrection: thus womankind has procured absolution from ignominy, and removal of the curse.”

Here is a great reversal of the order of Original Sin. Whereas Eve was deceived and then enticed her husband, now woman is offered the opportunity to see first and then to call man back from darkness and sin to behold the grace of the resurrection glory.

St. Thomas then adds a third teaching:

Hereby, moreover, it is shown, so far as the state of glory is concerned, that the female sex shall suffer no hurt; but if women burn with greater charity, they shall also attain greater glory from the Divine vision: because the women whose love for our Lord was more persistent—so much so that “when even the disciples withdrew” from the sepulchre “they did not depart” [Gregory, Hom. xxv in Evang.]—were the first to see Him rising in glory.

Love more quickly lays hold of the beloved than does mere affinity or friendship. The intensity of the women’s love described in the scriptural account makes them more tenacious and the Lord rewards such love, sending them to men of the family of disciples. Indeed, many a man has been saved unto the Lord by the devotion of his wife and her constant call for him to join her at the Lord’s feet.

Beyond theology, it is a culturally observed phenomenon that women are more naturally spiritual and intense than men. And while this may have disposed Eve to be too willing to succumb to the deceiving appeals of Satan, it is also what made Mary Magdalene and the other women more able to see him first.

Here, then, are some reflections, popular or not, on the sending of the women to the Apostles. The reflections are not devoid of sociological or cultural elements, they are rooted more richly in the world of spirituality and theology. To those who consider such reflections antiquated or even obnoxious, let me counsel contemplation and consideration rather than reaction. Often, the challenging and upsetting teachings of Scripture have much to teach us.