When I was a young priest, I was often surprised by the number of people I met who were “disappointed by God”, and so they walked away from Him. “God never answered my prayers, so I stopped praying.” “I lived a ‘good Catholic life’, believing that God would look after me and my family, and yet we have had one set-back after another. So I stopped going to Church.” “I worked hard and struggled to be able to send my children to a Catholic School, but when they graduated from school they never went to Church again. And so I left the Church.” A recent study of adult Catholics who are “Not at the Table” discovered that the majority of them left after their children had graduated from a Catholic School and had stopped going to Church. So they too stopped going to Church.
In today’s gospel we have the story of a couple who were disappointed with God and therefore left the Community in Jerusalem and were returning home. Most Scripture scholars today believe that they were a married couple since only one name is given (the man’s obviously!). They may have sacrificed a great deal in order to become followers of Christ. They were impressed with the things Jesus said and did. They warmed to the Kingdom He preached. They looked forward to His renewing Israel and maybe even restoring the Kingdom of David. And so they joined the Community of His followers and continued to support Him. And then it all came crashing down. He was arrested by the Religious Leaders of Israel who turned Him over to the Roman authorities. He was condemned by them and was crucified as a criminal. Their belief and hope were shattered. Before leaving Jerusalem they heard rumours that He was still alive, but they didn’t trust them.
As they walked along talking of their disappointment, Jesus, in the guise of a stranger, joined them. He listened patiently to the pain of their disappointment. But He then explained to them how God was faithful in God’s love for His people and for Jesus. God never abandoned them. Jesus went through the readings of the prophets and the Psalms and showed them that Jesus’ rejection and suffering had been foretold. God’s way of loving His people would always be patient and gentle. God would not let violence be used to bring about His Kingdom. And therefore God’s accompanying those who were suffering was also to be seen as a demonstration of God’s love.
The stranger stirred up their hope and their dreams again, and so they invited him to have dinner with them. There they recognized the stranger as Jesus in the “breaking of the bread”. So they then quickly returned to the Community that night to let them know that their faith and hope – their dream -- were still alive. This is the Easter story that keeps our hope and faith alive.
One Sunday I was standing on the stairs in front of our Seminary Chapel in Techny and a man came over to talk with me. He said: “Father, you probably don’t recognise me. But I came here to the seminary to go to confession four weeks ago and you heard my confession. Father, at that point I was in total desolation and was thinking of suicide. I had been drinking too much. I was about to lose my job. And my wife was going to leave me and take the children with her. But since then my life has completely changed. I have stopped drinking. I have been promoted at work and was given a hefty raise. And my wife is not going to leave me after all. In fact today we are celebrating my daughter’s First Communion.” When he finished I could feel a chill going down my back. I was thinking: that is not what God has promised us if we are good—instant wealth, success, secured happiness. That is not the legacy Jesus gave us! That is not what the Easter story is about.