For many people, the past two months have been nothing short of a recurring nightmare on more levels than they want to assess. A transcendent fall and a recent Gospel provide us with a guide to waking up with our bearings aimed toward the right direction. We can wake up and continue to do the wrong things, or we can wake up to how we can change.
Road #1: The Road to Damascus
We have all heard the famous story of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19). He was literally knocked off his high horse on his way to persecuting Christ by seeking to destroy Christ’s followers. This man who thought he knew it all and had it all figured out was suddenly fumbling and helpless, eating dust in his blindness.
It was only through Paul’s ordeal of physical blindness and vulnerability that he was shaken to realize his spiritual blindness and moral vulnerability. In persecuting Christ and the followers of Christ, Paul was really trying to stamp out the only truth threatening to invade his delusional existence.
History tells us that from that day onward one of the most passionate opponents of Christ switched sides. He became one of Christ’s most fervent evangelists, a great preacher and missionary who helped spread this young Faith across the known world. Words of condemnation against Christ became words of inspiration in Christ that read throughout the year whenever, and wherever, the Liturgy of The Word is pronounced.
Christ is the Way
The one consistent part of this is that Paul never stopped pointing his finger at Christ. He began by pointing his finger in condemnation of Christ and Christ’s followers. He ended up pointing his finger at Christ as the way and the truth and the life.
Our Lord brushed aside Paul’s past and actualized Paul’s future. Christ transformed one who was an instrument of death into a living instrument of life in Christ. The Almighty shrouded a spiritually darkened man in physical darkness so that he could rise to spiritual and moral light amid, and despite, the continuing darkness of the world around him.
Our Lord ignored the litany of reasons why Paul was useless to the cause of Christianity. Christ transformed Paul’s qualities into reasons why he was indeed very useful to the purpose of God.
Christ whacked Paul off his horse. Paul had to somehow rise from that fall, still blind, and relentlessly continue to seek Our Lord, to offer himself as a humble servant in the service of God.
We All Have Our Damascus Moments
Like Paul, we each may face one or more Damascus moments in our lives. These are moments when we are also knocked off our high horses. We tumble down from our haughty assumptions, preconceptions, and selfish obsessions. The fall may be a job loss, a career setback, family struggles, a financial battle or, yes, even a deadly virus.
We will likely each face our own Damascus moments during the course of our journey through life. The issue is not if, or even when, those moments will come. Rather, it is firmly what, as in what we will do with those opportunities. Some may even curse them as excuses. Like Paul, we have each been gifted with many skills. We may use these talents to pull us farther from, or closer to God.
Just Like Paul, we may be the most unlikely candidates to serve such a wonderful Lord. Like Paul, we may likely seem more useful as instruments of destruction, our own or others. But just Like Paul, we must be willing, open, and humble enough to rise up from our falls to fulfill our destiny as instruments of love an service to God and others.
Out of Blindness into the Light
Like Paul, we must each be willing to stumble through our blindness into the light of truth and love that only Christ can bring.
It is not why, how, or when we fall, for those falls may be many. Rather, like Paul, it will be what we make out of those falls that matters.
Perhaps this virus has knocked society out of its complacency, ingratitude, and selfishness. Perhaps it has given society the chance to rewrite an earthly story into what God had already planned for us to become. All we each have to do is seize these types of moments to guide our path beyond our Damascus moments into our eternal destiny and purpose in the service of God and others.
The road from Jerusalem to Damascus is approximately 135 miles long. This is 20 times longer than the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. The much shorter Emmaus road, however, is just as significant during this time in our lives.
Road #2 The Road to Emmaus
The recent Gospel regarding the journey of Cleopas and his companion toward Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) is yet another rise from a fall. While clearly much less dramatic than a fall from a horse, these two men represented a whole community’s fall in faith. While coming toward the end of a much shorter seven-mile journey, this encounter with Christ has just as far-reaching implications for all of us.
Recall the story. Cleopas and his friend were discussing the setbacks of the previous weeks. Perhaps they were even brooding over how disastrous and shattering the falls from their expectations had really been. As only the wonderful Mother Angelica of EWTN fame could describe it, these two knuckleheads conveniently and easily forgot most of what Christ had told his people in the midst of their depression.
Sister Angelica reminds us that the two disciples were described as “downcast” and spoke of how Jesus “was” a prophet powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. They added how much they “had hoped that he ( Christ) was the one who was going to redeem Israel” and how “amazed” they were that his body was not found in the tomb after three days. Basically, Jesus had spent three years with these people performing miracles and inspiring them just so they could become downcast in a matter of days and start putting Our Lord, His words, and His deeds in the past tense!
What is Our Faith Really Made Of?
One might rightly ask what their faith was made of. Apparently, it was made of nothing stronger than paper in the breeze, easily blown away or even ripped by the winds of change or life in this imperfect world. How frustrating it would be for any of us to experience such utter lack of faith or respect for what we had sacrificed so much for!
Imagine teaching a group of students for three years only to have them forget most of your lessons in a week! If Jesus was disillusioned he did not show it, because he patiently and lovingly shepherded them back to the fold of his teachings. One might throw one’s hands up in the air in exasperation at how such a wonderful, merciful, and loving Lord could count on such imperfect, disloyal, ungrateful, and fleeting followers as we each can be!
In what Tense is Christ For Us?
The bottom line of Emmaus is that these two men had allowed Christ to fall into the past tense in a matter of days and after a matter of setbacks despite the tons of evidence and words that he had given them for three years. We may rightly ask ourselves in what tense is Christ for us?
Is Christ in the past tense of what we used to believe when we were children? Is He in the past tense of what we used to buy when we now see ourselves as having been so gullible? Has He fallen into the past tense of what used to work in a different world or different circumstances? Has He fallen into a past tense of being a convenient parachute, excuse, scapegoat, or old fashioned hat we refer back to?
Neither Past nor Future
Christ cannot be our past. He cannot be what we used to believe in until we had a stumble here or there. He cannot be a Santa Claus we used to leave cookies for when we were naive. We must never allow Our Lord to become the reason we are downcast or depressed much less hopeless.
Christ cannot merely be in some distant future for us either. He cannot be a distant target ahead of us that we will blame whenever things do not go well in our future. He cannot be merely the landlord of a place we someday hope to become tenants in without having a clue how we will ever find the place or earn the lease. Christ is not merely what I will do tomorrow or how good I will be when I get the chance.
Christ must always be our present. He must be right here, right now, all the time in our lives. We must see him and his love in everything we do, see, feel, experience, and hope for. Our Lord must be present in every face we see. His teaching must be the road sign at every fork in the road we encounter today and all of the todays in our lives.
Two Roads, Two Lessons
The roads to Damascus and Emmaus remind us that the true tests of our faith are not the sunny days, the convenient moments, or the instances where the false security that ‘we know it all’ lull us into moral and eternal delusion.
Damascus reminds us that in order to truly see and serve Christ, we need to get off our high horse. We have to humbly apply our gifts in his service and the service of others.
Emmaus reminds us that our faith cannot be so flimsy that we turn our backs on Christ at the slightest setback. We must never forget everything He has meant and should always continue to mean for us.
Let us embrace our Damascus and Emmaus moments and remember that Christ will always make himself known to us in the breaking, be it of bread, of expectations, of assumptions, of judgments, or of our convenient lives. Let us live Christ always in the present tense, for He is always present among us.