Scripture tells us that after the crushing sadness of the crucifixion, the joy felt by the disciples in recognizing Jesus at Emmaus was intense. But as deep and personal as their joy was, it also compelled them to act. Their joy was alive; it was restless; it made them run back to Jerusalem through the darkness to bring the Good News to other disciples.
The Emmaus disciples embodied what the Prophet Jeremiah meant when he said: “(God’s) word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jer. 20:9).
That kind of joy is a foretaste of heaven. It’s what God intends for all of us. But we should also remember that in this world, feelings can be fickle. They’re hot and cold; they come and go. Ultimately, it’s not how we “feel” that shapes how genuine our encounter with Jesus is.
Our relationship with Jesus Christ will be determined by how much we’re transformed into Him and how much we burn to bring Him to others — in other words, by our actions in sharing the Gospel with other people, by serving the poor and the needy, by defending the unborn child, by building a culture that supports and encourages the growth of Christian families.
We can learn a vital lesson from the Emmaus story in the way great artists have portrayed Christ’s breaking of the bread with the two disciples in classic art.
Rembrandt, the great Dutch painter, did two versions of the supper at Emmaus. In both, the two disciples are filled with joy and awe. Yet in both, a servant seems oblivious to what is taking place at the table.
Another very famous painter, the Italian Caravaggio, also created a scene showing two amazed disciples with a serene Jesus. But his work was criticized by the people of his time for “lacking decorum” because the man serving the table in the painting seems bored and wears a hat — a sign of disrespect.
The great French painter Delacroix showed a dark room lit by a golden halo that surrounds Jesus while He dramatically breaks the bread. But again, in a staircase just behind the scene, a woman in the painting is shown who completely ignores the miracle happening right in front of her.
These famous paintings of Emmaus carry a warning: It doesn’t matter how close we are to the presence of Jesus. We can still completely ignore Him, and therefore never experience the transforming power of His love.
It’s not enough to be next to Jesus, or to approve of His teachings, or to know “about” Him. We need to love Him. We need to be with Jesus, and in Jesus. And no one can ever be fully “with” Jesus if she or he rejects the Catholic Church, the Church Jesus founded precisely to act in His name and fulfill His promise, so that He would remain with us until the end of time.
The sacrament of the Eucharist that anchors our life as Christians comes to us through the power given to the Church by Jesus Himself. In adoring Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, we celebrate the mystery of His Church as well.
And when the Holy Father joins us at every World Youth Day, as he did in Madrid last year, we welcome him not as just another human leader or “superstar,” but as the Successor of Peter, the visible head of Christ’s Church — a Church defined not by the failures and sins of us, her children, but by being the sacrament of salvation that draws humanity to the experience of Emmaus every day.
May God grant each one of us, on our personal road to Emmaus, the gift of acquiring, as Pope Benedict says, “a deeper faith … a faith robust because it is from the word of God and the Eucharist, not human ideas.” This is the source of salvation and lasting joy.