We Must Recognize Him in the Breaking of the Bread
April 10, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Sunday of Easter
Reading I (Acts 2:14, 22-33) Reading II (1 Peter 1:17-21)
Gospel (St. Luke 24:13-35)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear the story of Our Lord walking along the road to Emmaus with two of His disciples. These two disciples of His were engaged in lively conversation about all the things that had taken place in Jerusalem a couple of days earlier, all about the Passion and the death of Our Lord, and now even what they had heard about the Resurrection. But what we have to understand and what is made very clear is that they did not believe. They knew what the truth was. It is exactly what we hear in the second reading. Saint Peter, talking about Our Lord, says that He was known from the beginning of the world, but He was only revealed in the latter times. And so He was revealed plainly for everyone to see, but what is important is to continue on with the story and see how it unfolds. Our Lord goes through all the Scriptures and explains to them every single passage that referred to Him in Moses and in the prophets. This means He went through all the passages that talk about the suffering of Christ, all the passages that talk about the Resurrection. Their hearts were burning within them, according to their own testimony. But still they did not believe. This is precisely the problem. They could look right at Him and say, “Well, we were hoping that he was the one. He was a prophet mighty in word and deed,” and Our Lord looked at them and said, How slow of heart you are.
This is important for us because today Our Lord walks with each one of us, and He will ask each one of us about the events that take place: “What is it that you have seen? What is it that you believe?” He will ask you what it is that you believe about Him. Now most of us would be able to rattle off all kinds of things and say, “Well, the Church teaches that He is the Second Person of the Trinity, that He was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, that He is truly God and truly man but in the unity of one Person.” We can talk about the fact that He lived 2,000 years ago and all the things that He did because we have heard the Scriptures and read them so many times. Then He will look at us and say, “But you, what about you? What do you believe?” You see, these disciples of Our Lord, they knew what the objective teachings were, but it was the subjective element that they had trouble with. Human nature has not changed. We have the great grace of being able to have 2,000 years of the Church’s teaching. We have been taught about all these things since we were children. So we know in our heads what the truth is, but that is not the issue that is at the forefront. The question has to do with the subjective element of what it is that we truly believe.
If we look at what Saint Peter tells us starting in the first reading, quoting the Psalms he talks about how God would not allow His faithful One to undergo corruption. Saint Peter goes on to tell us that that could not have meant David because David’s tomb is right there in Jerusalem and all the people knew where it was and they all knew that his flesh had corrupted. So Saint Peter goes on to explain to the Jewish people Who it was that David was talking about and explains the Resurrection and the fact that the flesh of Jesus Christ was never corrupted in the least, neither by sin nor by death. Then in the second reading, Saint Peter talks about how each one of us was ransomed, not by silver or gold or by anything that was corruptible, but by the precious blood of a spotless, unblemished Lamb.
Again, we see what we all know to be the objective truth. We know Jesus is the Lamb of God, He is the Passover Lamb, He is the One who was sacrificed for us so that we could live, all these things; we could go right down the list. We know what the Church teaches about the Blessed Sacrament. We know what Scripture says. If we were asked, we could all repeat very quickly: “In the Eucharist is the true Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. It is His flesh and His blood.” And if asked why we say that, we could quote exactly what He tells us when in John 6, for instance, He says: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. My flesh is real food and My blood is real drink. We can talk about what happened at the Last Supper when He took the bread and said, This is My body, and He took the cup and He said, This is My blood. And as He talks to us about these things, we will find that our hearts will burn within us, but we will also find (if that is all that we do) that just like these two disciples we will not recognize Him.
In order to recognize Him, it is not a question of the eyes. It is not about the senses. Jesus was present to these two disciples for hours as they walked along the way. He told them every single Scripture passage that referred to Him. They had it all in their head, but still they did not believe and they did not recognize Him. They did not even recognize Him objectively – “Oh, yeah, all these Scripture passages refer to Jesus.” No, all they looked at was “We were hoping that he was the one. He was a prophet mighty in word and deed.” Even when it was all laid out before them, they still did not believe! How many times has it been laid out for us? He is right there in the Blessed Sacrament, and how many of us really believe? Not how many of us know – we all know what the Church teaches, and like I said, if we were talking about this in lively conversation, our hearts would burn within us – but how many of us have recognized Him there?
These two disciples recognized Him in the breaking of the bread. They understood, not in their minds, not with their senses, but with their hearts, their hearts that were so slow to believe all that the prophets taught. Our hearts are so slow to believe, not so much what the prophets have taught, but what the Son of God Himself has taught. If we can sit back now 2,000 years later and in our minds, in essence, we can chastise these two disciples for their lack of faith, for their dullness of heart, we also have to realize that we are held far more responsible than they were because we have all of the teaching, we have the knowledge. But do we recognize Him? To recognize Him, as I said, is not a question of the senses. When you receive Holy Communion, you do not see Jesus with your eyes, you do not taste Him with your tongue. The priest does not feel Him with his fingers. We do not hear Him in our ears. It is not about the senses. If we are going to recognize Jesus, it requires entering into the heart; the heart, which the prophet Jeremiah tells us is more tortuous than all else: Beyond remedy, he says, who can endure it; the heart, which is so slow to believe all that the Son of God has taught, all that the Church has taught.
You see, we live in this society where we are taught that we can decide for ourselves. We can make up our own minds, we can make the choice, and we can make the rules. We have all of these things out there, the teaching of the Church and the teaching of Jesus Christ being one among many, and so it is all at an arm’s distance. We think somehow that we can pick and choose what we want to believe. Even if we accept it, the real question is: how much of an effect does it have in our lives? The question each one of us needs to ask today is: if Jesus has been known from the very beginning of creation but He has been revealed to us, how many of us recognize Him? Not how many of us know what the Church teaches, not how many of us can talk about the Eucharist in eloquent and objective terms, but subjectively, in the depths of our hearts, how many of us recognize Jesus truly present in the Eucharist?
The Blessed Sacrament is not a “piece” of the Lord, it is not a symbol of the Lord, and it is not a sign of the Lord. It is the very Person – and the fullness of the Person – of Jesus Christ. Every single host contains the fullness of the Person of Our Lord. Now the question is not whether we know this in our head; it is not even whether we have accepted it in our head. The question today is whether or not we recognize Him in the breaking of the bread. To recognize Him, again, requires a relationship. It requires that we spend time with Him. If we are going to say in our heads, “I believe that Jesus is there in the Eucharist,” then the question is what we are doing with that belief. If we know that He is God and He is right there, then the obvious question is: why aren’t we? Why is the TV set more important than the tabernacle? That (the TV) is where most of us spend much more time. If we know that God is right there, why do we not recognize Him? Why do we not act upon what it is that we profess? Our hearts burn within us as we think about the reality, but then like the two disciples, who saw the events of Jerusalem and heard about the Resurrection, we turn around and walk away. They left Jerusalem and walked down to Emmaus. They were hoping that He was the one! But their hearts were slow to believe. Our minds have accepted the truth, but our hearts are slow to believe.
In this Year of the Eucharist, all we can do is be challenged to do exactly what Pope John Paul II asked of each one of us: to spend time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, to make changes in our lives, to truly recognize Him in the Blessed Sacrament. Not just to have the objective knowledge and faith, but to have the subjective faith, to recognize Jesus Christ truly present in the Eucharist in our hearts, not merely in our minds. If we recognize Him there, then we will be there with Him. We are not going to be like the disciples on the road to Emmaus any longer, who walk away with the knowledge but do not have it in our hearts. When we recognize Him Who has been revealed to us and has shown Himself to us in the breaking of the bread, we who come forward and receive Him into our own bodies and hold Him in our hearts, when we recognize Him there, we will come to Him and we will be with Him and we will enter into the depths of our slow and unbelieving hearts. We will doubt no longer, but we will believe. And we will live what we believe because we know and we have recognized that this is Jesus Christ, true God and true man, present with us and among us and within us, and we will change our hearts. Like those two disciples, we will be able to look at our own lives, we will be able to look at our wanderings in this world of tears, and like them we will get up and we will return. We will stop wandering about aimlessly, knowing what the truth is but not letting it in, and we will return so that we can announce to the whole world and live in our lives that we have recognized Jesus Christ truly present in the breaking of the bread.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.