Saturday, April 13, 2013

Good News on the Road to Emmaus

When it comes to recognizing Christ in the lives
and relationships of LGBT people, the Catholic hierarchy
and the Catholic laity are at different points on the journey.
But Christ, the 'good news' of presence and transformation,
remains always beside us.

Last Sunday's gospel reading was the Road to Emmaus story. It's a story that, for a number of reasons, I've always been drawn to. One reason for this is that I very much resonate with its theme of journeying – an important metaphor within numerous spiritual traditions, and a particularly meaningful one in my own spiritual life as a gay man.

In light of this, I'm heartened by how on the Road to Emmaus answers and realizations and transformations unfold. I also like how the friends of Jesus are changed, once they awaken to his presence in their midst. And it's not only their thinking that is transformed, but also their actions. For instance, these once sad and fearful individuals are now so intent on sharing their encounter with Jesus that they embark on the dangerous nighttime journey back to their friends in Jerusalem, their hearts aflame with joy, hope and purpose.

And what does it mean that Jesus vanished from sight once his friends came to recognize his presence? Is it possible that in this part of the narrative we're being challenged to contemplate the idea that Jesus may never had been physically present to his friends at all?

Could it be that the risen Christ 'appeared' in the travelers hearts and minds as they shared their memories, thoughts and actions of their friend Jesus?

Could it be that this sharing brought to consciousness Jesus' wisdom and, yes, presence? Put another way, did such awareness ensure that they became Christ for one another?

Does such a reading diminish the power of this story? I'm sure for some people it does, and perhaps there was a time when it would have done so for me. But not anymore. For regardless of how one interprets the Road to Emmaus story, the truth remains: Jesus was truly present to his friends, and awareness of this presence transformed them.

I've been thinking a lot recently about these two key components of the Road to Emmaus story – presence and transformation. I've also been thinking about how they relate to the church today. Aren't we all, as church, on a journey whereby we're seeking to recognize, experience and embody God's transforming presence? And how does all of this happen?

It seems to me that when we're truly present to one another; when we listen, empathize, and honestly open ourselves to our own and others' experiences and insights, we experience the presence of the sacred. And this presence is transformative. We're not the same. We become living embodiments of God's transforming love; our hearts are aflame, and we find ourselves thinking and doing things we'd perhaps never have dreamed of thinking or doing before! Yes, it can be quite unsettling, to say the least!

After all, it is unsettling to realize that we can indeed recognize and experience Christ – one of many names for God's transforming love – whenever we're truly present to our deepest self and to the deepest reality of others. I know that it has been these 'being present' moments that have helped me grow and mature emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. I'm sure many of my readers can relate to this experience – one that is ongoing, ever unfolding. And of course, because individuals are offered the opportunity to grow and change as the result of encountering and responding to God present in others, so too are the groups and institutions we as individuals comprise.

I find this to be a source of hope – especially within the context of the institutional Roman Catholic Church. And we're seeing this hope unfold within the institutional church around a number of issues, including many relating to gay people and their lives and relationships. The ancient catholic principle that 'matter channels spirit while remaining matter' lives on in Catholic sacramental theology (and in what Jamie Manson calls the "Catholic imagination"). I believe this means that Catholics are intuitively open and responsive to God's presence in, as I like to say, "unexpected faces and places." Yet, tragically, for reasons that I won't go into here (but have explored here, here, and here), the majority of men who comprise the clerical caste of the Catholic Church have abandoned this sacramental understanding when it comes to issues of gender and sexuality. They are thus neither open nor responsive to God's presence in the lives and relationships of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Yet as the Road to Emmaus story reminds us, the potential for transformation is always with us, as Christ – God's transforming love – is always in our midst.

And who knows, maybe the growing number of bishops and cardinals (one of whom is now pope!) who have expressed support for legal recognition of same-sex relationships is a sign that Christ's presence in the lives and loving relationships of gay people is beginning to break through within the collective consciousness of the hierarchy.

Regardless of whether this is indeed the case or if civil unions are being used by the bishops as a desperate stopgap measure against marriage equality, those of us who have encountered and been changed by Christ's presence in our own and/or others' gay lives, must be like the disciples in the Road to Emmaus story. We must joyfully and fearlessly tell of our experiences. Indeed, I like to think that being a follower of Jesus is not about changing other people but about sharing our 'good news' stories of God's presence and transformation. Such stories obviously have the power to change hearts and minds, but how others choose to respond to them is ultimately beyond our control. The main thing is that we keep joyfully sharing – through both word and action – how our lives as LGBT and allied people have been transformed by God's love. Through such sharing we embody Christ in our church and our world – an embodiment that has the power to transform both.

Now how's that for good news!

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Passion of Christ (Part 12): Jesus Appears to His Friends
The Many Manifestations of God's Loving Embrace
LGBT Catholics Celebrate Being 'Wonderfully Made'
Trusting God's Generous Invitation
The Triumph of Love: An Easter Reflection
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
Be Not Afraid, You Can Be Happy and Gay!
Joy: The Most Infallible Sign of God's Presence
Jesus: Path-Blazer of Radical Transformation
Thoughts on Archbishop Nichols' Support for Civil Unions
The "Gay Civil Unions" Approach of Some Within the Catholic Hierarchy: Too Little, Too Late

Recommended Off-site Links:

Why Do So Many Catholics Support Marriage Equality? Blame the Catholic Imagination – Jamie L. Manson (National Catholic Reporter, October 10, 2012).
Catholic Cardinals, Bishops Evolving on Civil Unions, Gay Relationships – Terence Weldon (Queering the Church, April 12, 2013).
Two More Cardinals on the Record Endorsing Civil Unions – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, April 12, 2013).
"Records Show Pope Francis Supported Gay Unions" – Terence Weldon (Queering the Church, March 19, 2013).
Bishop Gumbleton to Pro-Marriage Equality Catholics: "Don't Stop Going to Communion" – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, April 12, 2013).
The Appearance on the Road to Emmaus – Sacred Art Meditations.

Image 1: "Emmaus' Door" (1992) by Janet Brooks-Gerloff.
Image 2: Albert Decaris.
Image 3: Sadao Watanabe.
Image 4: "Jesus Appears at Emmaus" by Doug Blanchard.
Image 5: "The Supper at Emmaus" by Edward Knippers.

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