Monday, May 09, 2011

Stay with us, Lord

My Dear Friends in Christ

May the Grace and Peace of our resurrected Lord Jesus Christ be with you as we continue to celebrate this Easter season. I have a friend who is a priest that I always see at priest gatherings. In a one-on-one situation, he’s a great person to talk to. He keeps the conversation going and always has interesting stories to tell. But, if you get him in a group, I hate talking to him because, as you talk to him, he is constantly scanning the room looking for someone else to talk to. I just want to grab his head, turn it towards me, and say, “Please pay attention to me while we are talking!”

I’m sure most of us would say that, when it comes to God, we want to put all our attention on our relationship with him. And yet, our readings today present us with three situations in which we’d probably prefer God wasn’t there. The first is illustrated in the gospel account of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. One commentator that I read said that this may have been Cleopas, whose father may have been the brother of St. Joseph, and Mary, his wife, who was present at the crucifixion next to the Blessed Mother and Mary of Magdala. If so, it stands to reason that this husband and wife, one a first cousin of Jesus and the other an eyewitness to his death, would have been very disappointed in the results of Good Friday and very skeptical of the women’s reports of the empty tomb. As they’re walking along, Jesus comes to them and starts talking to them but their eyes are prevented from seeing him. It’s only when he takes bread, blesses it, and hands it to them that the scales fall from their eyes and they are able to see. As one commentator put it, “Jesus miraculous presence is hardly necessary when one has his presence in the Eucharist.” Yet, honestly, how many times to we come to mass, not pay any attention to the prayers, barely listen to the readings or homily, scuttle to the front of the communion line, consume the host, and have no real sense that the Lord was here among us the whole time? Stay with us Lord when our spiritual blindness prevents us from recognizing you in the breaking of the bread.

In the second reading, the Apostle Peter exhorts us that, if we call God our Father, which we do each time we pray the Our Father, then we have to accept God as a father. Part of what isn’t communicated as well in today’s society as it would have been even 40 or 50 years ago is that we call God “Father” because he is head of the household. I’m not trying to diminish the role of women, especially on this day, Mother’s Day. But, one of the sad things that has happened to men in modern media is that we often view fathers as total buffoons. From Al Bundy to Homer Simpson to Peter Griffin to Doug Heffernen to Phil Dunfey and the list could go on and on and on, most fathers on television are shells of the real dads I’ve met who love their wives, work hard, and, yes, occasionally discipline their kids when they’re bad. I can’t help but notice that, as our image of fatherhood has been so diminished and distorted, so has our image of God as Father. We don’t like to think of God as being in charge or God as having the master plan. Stay with us, Lord, when we misunderstand you and distort who you are for our own convenience.

And, lastly, there’s the first reading. In this first Papal Address made by our first Pope, Peter courageously speaks to the people he blames for the death of Jesus, his fellow Jews. He addresses them and witnesses to them about how Jesus has appeared to him. In our modern era, religion is considered by many to be a private matter. Part of the reason for this is because we don’t want to seem like a Bible thumpers, right? First of all, most of us (myself included) don’t know enough Bible passages by heart to be a bible thumper but, just as important, we don’t want that image. And, yet, believing in Jesus demands that we speak to others about him, that we let others know about the love God has for them in sending his son to be our savior, especially in this time when there is so much misinformation out there about the church. Stay with us, Lord, when we are with others who need to know you.

We may think that we always want God to be close to us but there are times when we may think it would just as good if he wasn’t. In those times, it’s most important that we echo the prayer of two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “Stay with us, Lord.”