What I love about the road to Emmaus is there are four distinct stages to the journey that mirror the Mass and personal prayer. We can learn alot about these 4 stages.
(1) We talk to Jesus, He listens -
(2) Jesus speaks to us, we listen
(3) We recognise Him in the breaking of bread
(4) Moved, we want to share our joy with others
There is no need to go into great detail about this wonderful story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus as it is so familiar to us.
At the outset they were going home, they were disappointed, as many of the disciples were, and they are going to return and get on with life as devout Jews, as if Jesus had made no difference and nothing had happened. Little did they know what would happen next. Little did they know that their 7-mile, 2-hour journey would be recounted all over the world for the next 2000 years!
(1) We talk. He listens. Sometimes in the course of a conversation we can be so busy talking that we forget to ask the other person how they are. We can be so caught up in ourselves and our problems and concerns; we might fail to recognise theirs. We have gone away satisfied that we have been heard or listened to, but have failed miserably to listen, hear or take stock of the other.
Often we cannot settle into personal prayer or even into celebrating at Mass because there seems to be a disconnect between where we are in our personal journey and what is being celebrated before us. If we are suffering, lonely, sad, depressed we are not much fun at a wedding. Similarly, joy and exhilaration and laughter do not fit in with a funeral. The emotions do not fit with or meet the occasion.
It takes time before we settle into the spirit and mood of a given occasion if there is a lot going on in our own lives. We need to acknowledge our mood and thoughts and concerns frankly to God as well as to ourselves, before we can be open to receive.
But Jesus is interested in what we have to say; ‘what are these things you talk about as you go along?’ In other words, ‘what’s on your mind?’ what ails you? What worries have you, what is upsetting you? What concerns you this moment?
He wants us to tell Him even though He knows the answer already. It often happens that in relating something it becomes clearer to us and we even begin to make sense of our situation ourselves. A doctor will always listen first even though he/she may have an inkling of the underlying problem just by looking at us. It always helps to talk.
(2) He talks , we listen. When we have had our say, then we can relax, sit back and listen. When we have told a doctor, a counsellor, a friend, and have gotten something off our chest, then we are ready for an answer.
So it is with personal prayer. I often spend the first few minutes of prayer just talking, verbalising, catching up, as it were, as I would in any conversation. So it is also that in arriving early for Mass, settling into our pew and surroundings and relaxing, we are more ready to celebrate properly.
We can read the Missalette and prepare for the readings and listen out for key words and ideas in the readings and homily and prayer of the faithful. What is it that Jesus wants me to hear? Just as the disciples hearts were filled with joy, as the scriptures were explained to them, so we must try to make sense of them too in the liturgy of the Word. ‘Then Jesus set out to teach them’.
(3) We recognise Him in the breaking of bread: now we see Him under the forms of bread and wine, but we truly recognise Him at last. Our minds and hearts have been opened and we can utter as with Thomas ‘My Lord and My God’, Amen! Jesus nourishes us with Himself – we are united with Him in Communion, and united with one another as one Body in Christ. We are one people. ‘Stay with us’
(4) ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’. We journey back to where we began our journey and our hearts are filled with joy, wonder and praise. We are called to live the life of the disciples on that evening of Easter – joyful, open, proclaiming, witnessing, by the words we say, by or expressions, by our lives. Our heads are no longer downcast. We are filled with a peace that the world cannot give. We want to share that joyful transformation with others.
Personal prayer time does that. The Mass, properly celebrated, does that too.