Emmaus Moments

By Anthony Maranise, OblSB

Teachers like to call them “ah-ha” moments, when the matter of clarity seems to be pertaining to an intellectual or academic concept. Haven’t we all experienced moments like this? You must know the feeling: Surrounded by confusion and struggle to really grasp the concept(s) being conveyed, you stare blankly at a page of text, a diagram, or even the instructor. Then, just as quickly – in an instance of inexplicable randomness – about as predictable as charting where the next strike of lightening will hit the ground – you experience a break-through you finally get the point! The concept is now crystal-clear. But, what about these moments of sudden clarity not necessarily pertaining to theory to academic concepts? What about the moments when suddenly – life, or faith, or a matter of belief – finally become clear? I like to call these, “Emmaus Moments,” because I think nothing illustrates what I am speaking of better than the Gospel itself concerning the travelers and “the stranger” on the road to Emmaus. 

Allow me to refresh your memory. In St. Luke’s Gospel (24:13-35), we read of two followers of Jesus. They are casually walking along a road heading for the small town of Emmaus. Immersed in conversation about the events of the previous week, that is, the accusation, condemnation, crucifixion, death, burial, and supposed vision of angels and resurrection of Jesus, a stranger walks up alongside the two and inquires about their conversation. Astounded that he hasn’t heard, the two ask, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who has not heard about Jesus of Nazareth? We believed he would be the one to redeem our people!” The stranger then enters into their conversation, gradually explaining how Jesus had to and did fulfill prophesies dating back as far as the time of Moses. Only in this way could he enter into the fullness of glory with his Father. 

Nevertheless, as time passes, the stranger bids them farewell as the two men are about to stop for dinner. Sincerely interested in all he had to say, the two invite the stranger to dine with them. He accepts. Then, during their shared meal, the stranger takes some bread, blesses it, breaks it, and distributes it to them. Immediately, upon the completion of this action, the two men recognize that the stranger was, in fact, no stranger at all, but the Resurrected Lord Jesus Himself! Overcome with joy, they rush ahead to Jerusalem to find the Apostles gathered in an upper room together, also filled with joy (as they too had seen the Risen Lord)! So it was… the two men on the road to Emmaus had no idea with whom they were in dialogue, and were shrouded in confusion as to how this “stranger” hadn’t heard about the events surrounding Jesus, but just as suddenly, in one action – the breaking of the bread – their confusion vanishes and all becomes crystal-clear. 

They had not only seen the Risen Lord, but even more importantly, they had experienced His very presence in both Word (the way he explained the Spirit to them during their walk) and in Sacrament (the communal meal). Jesus’ very presence in their midst dissolves all of their prior confusion takes away the ‘blindness of their hearts,’ restores them to confident faith, inspires hope, shatters doubt, and fills them with incomprehensible joy! 

Recently, I experienced my own “Emmaus Moment,” and while I cannot know just how deeply it will impact my future, I have a sense that the clarity of faith and heart that I received from it may be only the beginnings of my own sort-of ‘resurrection’ from a pervasive feeling of what Walker Percy, in his character Will Barrett, might call, “death-in-life.” Basically, I have felt as if though my eternal-life, my very salvation, hinged upon the severity, or lack thereof, of my sins that God punishes me every time I err in this life and that such punishment will continue in the life to come that I am beyond the point of either salvation or worthiness for goodness. 

I have felt, hopelessly, the weight of my own sins and how they might prevent me from ever being able to pursue a religious vocation. Then, just as randomly as that strike of lightening, my pessimistic conception of God as ‘unrelenting judge’ and ‘divine score-keeper’ of my sin-to-righteousness ratio was shattered! I realized something, guided ever-so-gently and patiently by my professor-mentor and several friends in my Masters course, namely, that for upwards of 20 years of my life, I have had the completely wrong idea about who God really is! This utterly shocked me (not simply because I hate to be wrong), but because for years  I have intellectually and academically understood Theology – even excelled in its study,  to a degree.  Apparently, I had mistaken knowledge for faith! 

The very same professor-mentor who guided me during my “Emmaus Moment” in the middle of our course proceedings once told me some years ago something that only became both real and clear to me recently. In an email to me regarding a prior difficulty I was experiencing and speaking on the subject of God’s love for me, he wrote, “I know that you know this, but do you believe it?” 

Apparently, though I truly thought I did for so long, I did not. The course of events leading up to my own “Emmaus Moment” and those that have followed have confirmed for me what I believe to be God’s intervening in my life His gradually revealing His real self to me and disabusing me of the inaccurate beliefs about Him that I so long held dear. All of these emotions, concerns, fears, and missteps ‘came to a head’ while, in partial fulfillment for the requirements of a course I just completed, I was reading C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed

When I began reading it, I had received some distressing news that was and still is forcing me to make a difficult decision. Faced with this decision, I couldn’t help but imagine how disappointed God might be with me, but also how much more disappointed He would be if I don’t respond generously to His call to service as a religious. The thoughts continued to flood my consciousness: What have I done? How will I ever be able to serve God now as He has called me for so many years? Am I surely destined for hell? How can He possibly love me? Has He grown tired of me because I constantly petition Him for so much? 

The answers given me by my 6 supportive classmates, my ever-wise professor, and enlightened both by the Holy Spirit and C.S. Lewis’ own words “broke me,” and I mean that in the best possible way. Midway through our discussion of Lewis’ work, I was in tears because all of the theories all of the knowledge all of the certainty I thought for so long I had possessed, I discovered was naught, yet still, somehow, there remained hope for me – in my future vocation, in my salvation, and in a life which never ends. 

It was explained to me that my desire to please God by answering His call, to avoid hell, to be eternally reunited with my departed loved ones, even the very guilt I felt for having been so shallow in my faith, were, in fact, ALL signs of my faith, and that God only needs that “faith the size of a mustard seed” in which to accomplish His greatest works. In that moments and those that followed, God incarnate in Jesus Christ, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament and in my sisters and brothers around me, became to me no longer the “unrelenting judge” and “divine score-keeper,” but became, as St. Thomas so brilliantly confessed, “My Lord and My God” (Jn. 20:28)! He is now a “true friend” to me-that is, One who loves me despite my imperfections and numerous failures.  

He is my consolation in every sadness my hope in every moment of distress and my LIVING fount of mercy!

Ironically, C.S. Lewis ends his A Grief Observed by quoting Dante’s Paradise and saying so beautifully, of his (Lewis’) departing wife, “Poi si tornò all’ eterna fontana” (Then unto the Eternal Fountain she turned). Jesus’ mercy and love for us never runs dry – no matter what we have done no matter what we will do. Mistake after mistake, He never gives up on His beloved! And so, though not yet entirely finished with my earthly journey – nor my trials – I choose to at least attempt to daily sip from the Eternal Fountain Himself. 

To close, let me merely remark that my “Emmaus Moment,” while not a miracle in the commonly-accepted sense of the term, was, in fact, a miracle, at least to me. Certainly, I will still have uncertainties, doubts, concerns, fears, anxieties, and troubles in this life, but when juxtaposed against what I pray awaits me in the life to come, and what I am promised by the Resurrection of Our Lord, these frustrations seem to lose all their power over me, and anyone in whom even the “smallest grain of faith” is found. C.S. Lewis said it best: “Heaven will solve our problems… We shall see that there never was any problem” (pg. 83). How simple, yet how profound. To Lewis and to Our Lord, I offer this reply, “Amen, Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20). As I have shared with you, now, my “Emmaus Moment,” let me simply ask: “What’s yours?” 

Anthony Maranise, OblSB, of St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama, is Lasallian History & Research Curator at Christian Brothers University in Memphis. 

Posted by Josh Colfer at 1:09 PM

The Galleon is curated and managed by Christian Brothers University, a Memphis-based university founded in the Lasallian tradition (a sect within the Catholic faith). Part of our founding mission is to uphold respect for all persons-regardless of political, religious, or social beliefs. As an institution, we take no stand on political matters; to do so would undermine our commitment to intellectual inquiry and thoughtful response to events taking place in our World by members of the CBU community.

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