On Christ, the Eucharist, and the Road to Emmaus

Reflection by Igor Kowalewski of Moscow

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MOSCOW, MARCH 16, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address delivered by Father Igor Kowalewski of Moscow during a recent theologians videoconference on "The Year of the Eucharist," organized by the Vatican Congregation for Clergy.



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The Spiritual Development of Christians and of the Church
In Light of Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Letter "Mane Nobiscum Domine"

By Professor Igor Kowalewski
Moscow

After announcing the Year of the Rosary, the Holy Father John Paul II proposed to the universal Church that it should "interiorize the mystery of the Eucharist."

For this reason he called for the "Year of the Eucharist" which lasts from October 2004 to October 2005.

There is no better route to follow than that of the disciples from Emmaus to understand and interiorize the route that the Lord follows with His Church and to analyze in depth the meaning of the Eucharistic mystery. A path of growth within the faith and within prayer, a path of enlightenment, of communion, solidarity and recognition of the Lord and his mission.

On the subject of the icon of the disciples of Emmaus, the Holy Father says: "Amid our questions and difficulties, and even our bitter disappointments, the divine Wayfarer continues to walk at our side, opening to us the Scriptures and leading us to a deeper understanding of the mysteries of God" (apostolic letter "Mane Nobiscum Domine," No. 2) and communion with him.

All spiritual paths begin in Christ. It is he who calls upon us to be his disciples. He is the Beginning and the End, the Alfa and the Omega of the whole creation. All has been created through him and all achieves fulfillment in him. It was Christ, the Lord, who called those disciples who, disillusioned, were about to return to their home in Emmaus. It was the Lord himself who walked toward them moved in their midst enlightening their minds and bringing them to communion with Him. Christ is not only the center of the Church's history, but also the center of humankind's history. All is summarized in him.

We must also remember the vigor with which the Second Vatican Council, quoting Pope Paul VI, stated that Christ "the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and of civilization, the center of the human race, the joy of every heart and the answer to all its yearnings" ("Gaudium et Spes," No. 45). In him, the Word made Flesh, not only is the mystery of God revealed, but also the mystery of humankind (ibid., No. 22). In him humankind finds redemption and fulfillment.

Learning the "art of prayer." In this itinerary of faith, Christ makes himself known; he comes to us, becoming our interlocutor. He invites us to share with him our thoughts burdened with sadness, our lack of hope and the events that cause us to experience these thoughts and feelings.

The disciples from Emmaus, even before they recognized the wayfarer next to them as being Christ, told him about what had taken place ... is this not a way of praying with the Lord! The Lord always listens to us and is always there. It is part of the Lords' pedagogy regards to his disciples to always listen to them, especially when times are hard, when one has fallen, experiences doubt, disillusionment and frustration.

Hence the Lord comes toward us even before he is asked and always listens to us and is always ready to fill us with courage and clarify all that happens to us. He knows how to listen and then he speaks to us, he provides us with a meaning for everything that discourages our hearts. Those who learn this art of prayer achieve the highest sanctity (see "Mane Nobiscum Domine," No. 8).

Sunday is a particular day for prayer, for listening to the Lord. It was the day on which, having risen from the dead, he approached the disciples from Emmaus and walked along the road with them, explaining the Scriptures.

To improve in the art of prayer, the Holy Father wishes "to stress particularly the Sunday Eucharist and Sunday itself, experienced as a special day of faith, the day of the Risen Lord and of the gift of the Spirit, the true weekly Easter" (ibid., No. 8). Then, he invites the faithful to cultivate the Liturgy of the Hours, through which the Church sanctifies the various hours of the day and the passing of time in the articulation of the liturgical year, to also cultivate Marian prayer such as the rosary, so dear to God's People (see ibid.)

The path toward God is a path of progressive enlightenment.

The Christian does not live in the shadows, nor does he stumble without knowing where he is going. Together with him walks he who is the Light of the World. Christ comes to provide the light that lights up his intelligence, opens his eyes, strengthens his will, fills his heart with joy ... whatever may happen.

For the Christian "on the path" the fact that the Lord is with him becomes a certainty, and all the events he or the entire community may experience, even the most dramatic ones, assume a redeeming meaning both individually and for the community, In this very context Jesus' apparition to the disciples from Emmaus is a real path of enlightenment. The Lord explains to them the meaning of all that has happened (see Luke 24:27). Along this path the Lord progressively reveals himself to them until they "open their eyes" and then, enlightened, they recognize the Lord. The Word that is light for the eyes precedes the "breaking" of the Bread.

We know that at every Mass, the liturgy of the Word of God precedes the Eucharistic liturgy. There are two "communions," one with the Word and one with the Bread. One cannot be understood without the other.

Jesus described himself as the "light of the World" (John 8:12) and this characteristic is emphasized by moments of his life, such as the transfiguration and the resurrection, in which his divine glory shines clearly.

In the Eucharist instead Christ's glory is veiled, as is the wayfarer's identity for the disciples from Emmaus until they recognize him when he "breaks the bread." The Eucharistic sacrament is a "mysterium fidei"; it is a hidden Light that wishes to reveal itself (see "Mane Nobiscum Domine," No. 11).

Returning to the disciples from Emmaus, we see that Christ himself intervenes to show, "starting with Moses and all the prophets," how "all the Scriptures" lead to the mystery of his person.

His words make the hearts of the disciples "burn," they remove them from the darkness of sadness and desperation, provoking in them the desire to remain with him: Stay with us, Lord.

All the holy Scriptures brings light to the believers. They progressively lead the Christian to knowledge of Christ, to his revelation and Jesus knows this well when he explains the Scriptures to the two disciples. Christ is the new Moses, the Prophet par excellence. Christ is therefore fulfillment and achievement of the law and the prophets. This is why the Old and the New Testament are needed to achieve understanding of the Christian mystery.

So that the Word may enlighten our minds, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council in the constitution "Sacrosanctum Concilium" wished the "table of the Word" to abundantly open the treasures of the Scriptures for the faithful. This is why they allowed that the liturgical celebration, especially for biblical readings, should be made available in languages understandable by everyone. It is Christ himself who speaks in Church when the holy Scriptures are read.

It is not, however, sufficient for the biblical passages to be read in comprehensible languages -- says the Pope -- if the proclamation does not take place with care, preparation, devote listening, meditative silence [and] sufficient time needed for the Word of God to touch and enlighten lives. We need the Word of God to be preached in a manner that lights up the eyes and warms the hearts and thereby be prepared for the braking of the bread, the second "table." [It] is significant, adds the Pope, that the two disciples from Emmaus, correctly prepared by the Lord's words, recognized him when at table thanks to the simple gesture of "breaking the bread."

Once minds are enlightened and hearts warmed, the gestures "speak." It is through the gestures that in some way one opens the eyes of the believers. To the extent that we are able to listen each day to the Word of God, we are ready to understand the gestures that the Lord makes in our presence.

The Christian is called to communion with the Lord. It is the Lord who gives us his Body and chalice of his blood, that we may nourish ourselves, assimilating this totally to the point of transforming ourselves into he himself. We therefore are transformed into his body. To do his will, and not to ask the Lord to do ours.

On this subject, the Holy Father tells us that there is no doubt that the Eucharist's most obvious dimension is that of a meal (see "Mane Nobiscum Domine," No. 14). The Eucharist was created, on the evening of Holy Thursday, in the context of the Paschal supper. Hence it bears in it structure the sense of conviviality: Take and eat this. ... Drink from it, all of you. ... This aspect expresses extremely well the relationship of communion that the Lord wishes to establish with all his disciples.

To communicate with Christ means the death of sin and living for God.

The sacrificial aspect is another fundamental element of the Eucharist, and therefore of the spirituality of Christians, of their growth. According to St. Paul, the Christian is crucified with Christ (see Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:6). Destroying sin and living for God. The Lord's Body that we eat is a broken, sacrificed Body. Hence we do the same.

The Pope too reminds us of this concept telling us that the Eucharistic meal has a profoundly and primarily sacrificial sense (see "Mane Nobiscum Domine," No. 15). In it Christ re-presents to us the sacrifice made once and for all on Golgotha. The liturgy reminds us with the acclamation made after the consecration: "We announce your death, Lord, we proclaim your resurrection."

Communion with Christ is also communion between us. We were saying that a Christian is not a person isolated from the rest of the world or one who walks alone. The disciples returning to Emmaus were two ... and a third wayfarer joined them. So a small community that walked with Christ was formed.

At the end of the route the two disciples shared the same experience: "Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?" The hearts of those two disciples spiritually became one. Christ places us in a communion of feelings, thoughts and wishes. After all, the two men returned to Jerusalem.

The disciples from Emmaus slowly acquired one heart to the extent that they walked with the Lord and if one walks with Christ, a little at a time one establishes a relationship "with his Body" and one become one body with him.

The Apostle Paul states: "Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf" (1 Corinthians 10:17).

In the Eucharistic mystery Christ builds the Church as Communion, following the supreme model expressed in the sacerdotal prayer: "So that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me" (John 17:21). The visibly unity of Christians is the sign through which the world will believe in the presence of Christ. Communion between we who are believers is also the sign of spiritual growth.

The Eucharist is the epiphany of communion, and also the highest manifestation of unity. It is Communion with Christ; it is hierarchic communion based in awareness of the different roles and ministries continuously reconfirmed also in the Eucharistic prayers mentioning the Pope and the diocesan bishop; it is fraternal communion, that leads us to feelings of reciprocal friendliness, affection, understanding and forgiveness (see "Mane Nobiscum Domine," No. 21). Fraternal communion leads us to the sharing of spiritual goods, and must extend also to the sharing of material goods.

The encounter with Christ brings us to the mission. When one achieves a personal encounter with Christ, with Love made Flesh ... then the mission begins for every Christian.

After recognizing the Lord, the two disciples from Emmaus "set out at once," to tell people what they had heard and seen. When one has really experienced the Resurrected One, taking nourishment from his Word, his Body and his Blood, one cannot keep to oneself the joy one has experienced.

The encounter with Christ, constantly more profound in the intimacy of the "mensa" of the Word and the Eucharistic Bread, gives rise in the Church and in each Christian the urgent need to bear witness and evangelize. The parting words at the end of each Mass are an order that encourages the Christian to commit to the spreading of the Gospel and the Christian animation of society.

But how is it that in so many Christians the apostolic zeal and the fire that lit the hearts of the disciples in their meeting with Christ is not present? Is it perhaps because they do not feel the call to Christ and do not know that he sends them out into the world?

Is it perhaps because they do not recognize him in the piece of Bread and do not listen to his Word?

The Eucharist does not only provide inner strength, but also a certain sense of the plan. It is in fact a way of living -- says the Pope -- that is past from Jesus to the Christian, and, through his witnessing is addressed and spreading in society and in culture. So that this may happen, it is necessary for each believer to assimilate, through personal and communitarian meditation, the values that the Eucharist expresses, the attitudes it inspires and the proposals for life it gives rise to (see "Mane Nobiscum Domine," No. 25).

Communion with Christ leads to a never-ending act of grace. The act of grace is fundamental for our spiritual growth. The Holy Scriptures often invites us to remember the great gifts the Lord has bestowed upon us. To forget the work that the Lord has done for us means forgetting the history of our redemption.

The Eucharist is the highest act of grace. It is Christ who offers himself as the perfect sacrifice to the Father. As the Pope reminds us, [with] Christ, with his unconditional "yes" to the Father's will, there is the "thank you" and the "amen" of all humankind.

In our secularized culture that experiences the forgetting of God and cultivates the vain self-sufficiency of humankind, it is urgent for the Church to remind humankind this fundamental attitude: "Without the Creator the creature would disappear."

This transcendent reference, which commits us to an everlasting "thank you" -- to a Eucharistic attitude, precisely -- for all we have and we are, does not prejudice the legitimate autonomy of earthly realities, but founds them in the truest way, at the same time setting them within the right borders (ibid., No. 26).

Communion with Christ renders us sympathetic will all humankind. As real Christians we must take Christ as our example! In his incarnation, Christ sympathized with all humankind. He gave away everything, even his glory and became one of us (see Philippians 2).

In the Eucharist he even removes his identity as a man because we ourselves become the continuation of his humanity. And more, in the Eucharist, Christ becomes sympathetic with the poorest among the poor; with the most humiliated and forgotten, with "the last." And in how many tabernacles and temples does Jesus remain for hours forgotten and ignored, this is without doubt proof of extreme love.

The Christian who participates and contemplates Christ in the Eucharist, learns to become a promoter of communion, peace and solidarity in all lives [and] circumstances. He learns to be poor among the poor and not to be afraid of insults or humiliation. He learns the meaning of total love.

Now more than ever, says the Pope, our world lacerated by terrorism, exploitation of the weakest, devastated by wars ... represents a pressing request to all Christians that they should live the Eucharistic dimension of solidarity and service to the last (see "Mane Nobiscum Domine," No. 27).

Solidarity, disinterested service -- says the Pope -- will be the criteria that will prove the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations and the spiritual development of Christians and of the Church.

Our God has made manifest in the Eucharist the highest form of Love, overturning every criteria of domination, that usually characterize human relations emphasizing radically the criteria of service: "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all" (Mark 9:35).

It is no coincidence that in John's Gospel there is no word of the creation of the Eucharist, but rather the "washing of the feet" (John 13:1-20): Leaning over to wash the feet of the disciples, Jesus explained the meaning of the Eucharist in a unequivocal manner. St. Paul also repeated vigorously that there is no legitimate Eucharistic celebration that does not show the shining mercy witnessed by real sharing with the poorest (1 Corinthians 11:17-22,27-34) (see "Mane Nobiscum Domine, No. 28).

To conclude, every Christian must remember this truth: God chose us in Christ, his Son, to be saints and irreprehensible in love, and for this very reason our spiritual development is possible achieving perfect communion with Christ. It is he who chose us and is the path we must follow. He also accompanies us along this path.

Faith that has in him its beginning and its perfection, is no static thing; like life itself it needs to grow. It grows luminously with prayer, hence listening to the Word of God that in turn provides us with the real meaning of all that happens around us.

In this spiritual growth the faith experience crises that in turn make us turn back like the disciples from Emmaus. However, the Lord has called us and will never abandon us. He walks toward us, and also shows his presence in different ways, but he himself allows us to understand the redeeming sense of what makes us turn back.

If we allow him to walk beside us when we are discouraged, hence if we do not abandon prayer and continue to listen to the Word of God, He will make light around us and set fire to our hearts. Like the apostles from Emmaus we will ask: Stay with us, Lord!

We could once again recognize him as he breaks the bread as a mark of extreme love for us and this will allow us to joyfully return to carry forward the mission.