April 14, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Wednesday within the Octave of Easter
Reading (Acts 3:1-10) Gospel (St. Luke 24:13-35)
In the Gospel reading today as we hear about these two men who were walking to Emmaus, the first question that one has to ask would be – why? After all, before they left, the women had come to say that they had a vision of angels; that they had been to the tomb and they had looked in and they did not see the body of Jesus, but the angels had spoken to them and told them that He was risen from the dead. Then, of course, some of the apostles went and found it exactly as the women had said, and then these two men packed up and left. It just does not make sense, except that they still clearly did not understand.
“We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel,” they said. But their idea of what that was supposed to be was clearly very different from the reality of what it was. And so “to rise from the dead”, even the idea that angels had appeared and spoken to say that He is risen, one would naturally think that, even if they did not understand, they would have stayed around. If you had heard that the Lord was in the vicinity, risen from the dead, would you pack everything up and leave? It does not make sense. Yet, at the same time, even though it was evening and people did not normally travel in the dark at that time in that place of the world, these two men, once they recognized Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, got up and walked straight back to Jerusalem to be able to announce that they had seen the Lord.
So we see that there is this change that occurs within them. It was going from a point of not understanding at all and really not even believing. Recall what happened when Our Lord asked them what it was they were discussing: they looked downcast. They had completely disregarded what the women had said. And what the apostles had confirmed regarding what the women said they obviously did not accept either because they were still looking downcast. This is now a week and a half after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, so the concept of coming back from the dead – even without being resurrected, but just being resuscitated – is something that should not have been too terribly difficult for them to be able to understand; but even that they did not grasp. Yet, once they recognized Him, there is a complete change not only in their disposition but in their whole entire outlook and everything that was important to them. They had understood that indeed Our Lord had been the One to redeem Israel. They understood at this point that He was still with them, but in an entirely different way. They recognized Him in the breaking of the bread. They recognized Him in the Blessed Sacrament and they understood that Christ was there with them.
This is precisely what we see with Peter and John going up to the temple with this beggar sitting at the gate of the temple and Peter saying, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I have I give to you.” And then he tells him, “In the Name of Jesus Christ the Nazarean, rise and walk.” It is in the power of the Holy Name of Jesus. But they did not believe in the power of the Name of Jesus, even though Our Lord had told them, “Whatever you ask the Father in My Name, I will give you.” He told them about the power of His Name, but they did not understand. Now they did. And their lives being completely transformed, they were now living in an entirely different way.
We, of course, recognize Our Lord in the breaking of the bread. We know that that is Him truly present. We know the power of the Holy Name of Jesus. We know the power of His Precious Blood. But, quite frankly, it is generally we who do not believe. We are just like those disciples on the road to Emmaus. We have Our Lord right there, but what does it really mean to us? We know that He is there. We know the promises that He has made. When was the last time that we called upon the Name of the Lord? When was the last time that we really sought the power of Christ to be able to do something for us? We do not. It is just not the way we think and it is not the way we have been taught, which is pretty tragic. For some odd reason, we are far away from Our Lord. That is the point we need to recognize. We know Jesus is there. We know that He is there – risen from the dead and glorified and seated at the right hand of the Father – yet it does nothing to change our lives, just like the disciples on the road to Emmaus: They heard all about what had happened and they turned around and walked away. But if we were going to be like the disciples, once we understood, it would make a difference; it would change our lives. Peter went from not understanding to being able to have the courage to stand up and proclaim the truth and to look at this man lying at the Beautiful Gate of the temple and invoke the Name of the Lord to heal him.
That is the kind of transformation we would need if we were really going to be able to put into practice what we profess. It does not mean you are going to be running around healing everybody that you see, but what it means is that we are going to start changing the way we look at things, the way we do things, calling on the Name of the Lord, turning to Him in prayer, allowing our faith to really be central in our lives. For too long, we have heard the truth, we have read the Scriptures, and we have walked away unchanged, believing on one level and yet unbelieving on another level. We have heard astonishing things, and yet we walk the other direction. It is time that we believe the astonishing things we have heard. And I do not mean to believe it in an objective way; I mean to take it into the heart and allow what we have heard, what we have seen, what we have believed to change our lives.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.