Saturday, May 3, 2014

May 4, 2014: 3rd Sunday of Easter A

Have you had the experience when traveling by plane that the person sitting next to you shared information about himself or herself? You may have been surprised with the amount of detail and personal information they shared with a complete stranger. Perhaps, this was you. Several years ago following my ordination, I traveled to South Korea to visit relatives. For my return trip home to the States, I decided to travel incognito and was wearing casual shorts and shirt. A lady sitting next to me began to spill her guts--i.e. extremely personal information. She was returning back to the States from a business trip that was cut short by news from her family that her father died. She said that the moment she heard of her father’s death that she was distraught and emotional. In her deepest sorrow, her plea to God was to be able to speak to a priest who could speak English. I then thought to myself, ‘I’m trying to relax incognito after a tiring visit to my relatives, but God has other plans for me.’ I told the lady, “Well, God answered your prayers, I’m a Catholic priest. I don’t look like one right now, but I can show you my card.”

How difficult is it to recognize God in our daily situations? We find it is easy to see Him in the joyful moments of our lives where we thank Him and praise Him -- perhaps on our wedding day or when a baby is born. Are we able to praise God when we experience a sad or unexpected tragedy? In today’s Gospel passage, the two disciples walking the Road to Emmaus could not comprehend the suffering and death of Jesus and the reports of his resurrection. “We had hoped,” were the words the two disciples spoke to the stranger who joined them on their walk. Similarly, all of us have known the sorrow of having high expectations dashed. Like the two disciples, we all have had experiences of being crushed and lost. Yet, what is the way through the dark veil of hopelessness? 

There was a young girl who was dying from cancer and she was in her final hours. She was in a hospital
room and her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and many family friends, surrounded the bed where she lay. They all knew that her death was imminent as they listened to her labored breathing. One person told me that her breathing was unbearable to hear, almost torturous. There was no other sounds in the room -- no talking, no crying, just the sound of her breathing -- until, the little girl’s father began to pray: “Heavenly Father, we thank you for giving us Rebecca 13 years ago today and we return her to you on this, her birthday. You gave us a great blessing and we treasured her each day.” The father began to weep, and then the girl’s mother said: “You gave us the privilege to have her these years and we cared for her as we promised and now we know that You will care for her in all eternity.” The person telling me the story said that all in the room were weeping by then and the young girl died just minutes later.

Certainly those parents had hopes and dreams that were crushed by the ravages of the disease. How did they find the courage to pray with gratitude when the pain of death shredded their hearts? I believe their courage came from their relationship with God that they cultivated over time. We too can cultivate a relationship with God. First, we need patience. If we are patient, sometimes we are afforded a glimpse of a new way of looking at suffering; over time we can find meaning in its midst. Second, we need openness. The two disciples invited Jesus to dinner with them and thus they recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. We also have to invite Jesus into our lives. When we take the focus away from ourselves, to turn outward, and invite others into our lives, then we begin to recognize God. Third, we need to pay attention. We must work against spiritual laziness in our relationship with God. If we think about our relationship with God in terms of a close friendship, then when our “Friend” is talking to us, we need to pay attention. We may be tempted to focus on ourselves and on the painful parts of life. However, God invites us to not be stuck to our past, our failures, our self-condemnation, or our inability to forgive, but to be aware of His great hope for us.

The resurrection of Christ opens all our stories to the prospect of not just a good ending, but of a glorious ending. Can we also trust that the first and last words in each of our stories belong to God?