In today’s gospel reading for the Catholic Church, we hear about the two disciples of Jesus on their way to Emmaus when they meet a stranger, just days after Jesus’ crucifixion. They explain to him what happened to Jesus and the stranger then proceeds to interpret scripture for them that shows why the Messiah had to suffer before conquering death. When it comes time to part ways they ask the wise man to stay with him and when he breaks the bread the disciples realize they have been walking with Jesus. And then he disappears.
In many ways, our lives are like this. We walk with Jesus and are unable to recognize him for some reason. It is only in looking back that we sometimes realize where God’s grace has been present. As the disciples say when reflecting on their walk with Jesus, “were not our hearts burning…?” In reflecting on times of our lives, we clearly see God’s presence.
But, we also look back and wonder where was God? We feel lost and alone, our prayers resulting in nothing more than silence, and the goodwill of humanity is found sorely lacking. We can look back at times in our lives and we don’t see God’s hand in it. Certainly these two disciples leaving for Emmaus were confused, lost, and perhaps even angry as they felt abandoned by God.
The problem is that we are not always able to recognize God’s presence, even when God is literally walking along with us. Many people in grief lose their faith because they feel no support from God. They have cried out and found nothing. They find the platitudes of “he is in a better place” or “God needed another angel” as not only empty, but abhorrent. For those of us who lose someone that should have outlived us, their death is a living example of evil. I want to feel God’s presence now, when I feel abandoned, and not just see it when reflecting back in the years to come.
The challenge for Christians to recognize, including those who are grieving, is that faith is not a passive act. Too often we wait for Christ to make his presence known without walking the road with him. The disciples in our story did not push away their faith, they sought to understand it more. And at the moment they were going to be left alone they invited this stranger to stay — without consciously being aware of it, they were inviting Christ to stay with them.
Throughout my son’s illness and his death, and in the years since, I approached God in prayer. I do not always get answers, or perhaps I just don’t hear answers I don’t like. At times I feel God’s presence and at times I do not. But our faith is a choice which means actions is required on our part. We cannot simply wait to feel God’s presence, we must seek it out. Be it through reading scripture, prayer, or the actions of our life, we must see our faith as an active faith. It is only when walking the road and seeking to understand that we can prepare ourselves for God’s presence. God is waiting for the invitation to stay and share a meal.