AS EVENING FALLS: An Emmaus Reflection - Fr. Eamonn Monson sac

“…they pressed him to stay with them. ‘It is nearly evening’ they said, ‘and the day is almost over.’ So, he went in to stay with them. Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; but he had vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’

This is one of the loveliest and most tender moments in the Bible, a moment that inspired this prayer that we say in the Divine Office:

‘Stay with us, Lord Jesus, as evening falls;
Be our companion on our way.
In your mercy inflame our hearts and raise our hope,
So that, in union with our brothers and sisters
We may recognize you in the Scriptures
And in the breaking of Bread
Who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.’

It is the desire of us all that the Lord Jesus would stay with us, that we would experience the warmth of His presence and of course He is with us but we don’t always recognize Him or feel His presence. We are often at the early stage of this journey to Emmaus – the time of sadness, darkness, blindness and confusion; we find ourselves running away from the painful realities that might in fact be our salvation.

I think that we as an Irish nation are at this early stage of the journey even as we long for the warmth of its conclusion.

My young companion Fr. Jaimie and I often have a kind of spontaneous Emmaus evening when we sit together and chat about the things that matter to us; we have conversations about some of the hard realities of our lives, conversations that eventually warm our hearts because they have Jesus as their centre. Jaimie has a purity and keenness of spirit that I have come to trust.

Recently, after his return from pilgrimage in Medjugorje he spoke about the strange coldness he found in Ireland, a coldness that contrasted with the warmth of Medjugorje – and he wasn’t talking about the weather! He was talking about a coldness of the spirit and it resonated with me because I have been feeling it myself of late.

It’s a feeling I usually experience with death and grief. When someone close to me dies, I am already cold inside even before I hear the news of their death. And I feel cold in relation to Ireland – as if we are dead or dying.

When I reflect on what transpired at the Citizen’s Assembly last weekend then I understand why there is such coldness in the spiritual air of the country. We have become a people like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus – a people walking away from salvation, our eyes, hearts and minds closed to the presence of Jesus and to the Way He has marked out for us. We go on as if Jesus does not exist at all.

It seems to me that the Assembly has accelerated our descent into the cold dark night of the soul. But unlike todays Gospel there can be no warm conclusion – not yet and maybe not for a long time to come. These decisions separate us as a people from Christ in a most profound and radical way.

There’s a Scripture from the Bible that has struck me very forcibly. The Lord spoke to His people through Moses, “I put before you fire and water – stretch out your hand and touch which one you choose. I put before you life and death, a blessing and a curse. Choose life then so that you and your children may live in the love of the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 32 and parallel texts) Choose life! Choose life! The words of God Himself.

The choices we make, the choices we allow to be made on our behalf have their own consequences. These dark realities are the things that we as Christians need to talk about as we journey through life and our conversations must have Jesus at their centre, leave space for Jesus to reveal Himself, leave space for Him to instruct us, to open our minds and set our hearts on fire with the love that He has for everyone and especially for the least of all.

St. John of the Cross says that the life of faith, hope and love means aligning our will perfectly with the will of God and making sure that we do not align ourselves with anything else. It is the prayer of Mary and the prayer of Jesus Himself - these two prayers - that made salvation possible in the first place – “let it be done according to Your Word…not my will but yours be done!”

Emmaus - Cleopas and his wife Mary with Jesus
Without this alignment with the will of God we remain in the dark but if we pray this prayer in union with Jesus and Mary, if we mean it and do our best to live by it then we will reach that lovely evening in which Jesus comes in to the reality of our home, to our table, to His table and to the warming of our hearts with that Love that overcomes every difficulty, every obstacle, every darkness that we encounter. And then we can pray with integrity:

‘Stay with us, Lord Jesus, as evening falls;
Be our companion on our way.
In your mercy inflame our hearts and raise our hope,
So that, in union with our brothers and sisters
We may recognize you in the Scriptures
And in the breaking of Bread

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