In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola counsels the retreatant, when the time comes for considering the Resurrection, to realize that the Risen Christ plays the role of consoler. The Gospel story of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus illustrates Jesus comforting two disciples mourning his passion and death. They had not been able to believe the stories told by others who had seen Jesus alive.
The Risen Christ joins them as they walk along grieving the loss of the one whom they thought was the Messiah. Through his teaching and companionship, they found that they wanted to spend more time with this stranger.
The consolation offered by Jesus illustrates not only his new life, but also a new relationship to his followers. He gives them a comprehensive view of why he had to suffer and die. He was meant from the very beginning to fulfill all of the Jewish prophecies concerning the Messiah. He has a totally new existence that becomes apparent only when this stranger breaks the bread just as Jesus broke bread.
The story of the two disciples and Jesus on the way to Emmaus shows the meaning of life in the time of the Resurrection. We are available to those who mourn. We are to offer companionship to the people we meet. We are to share our time with others as Jesus shares time with his followers.
In the third chapter of his apostolic exhortation, “On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World,” Pope Francis offers a brief explanation of the beatitudes as ways to holiness. When we compare the story of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus and Pope Francis’ exposition of, ‘Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted,’ we see that the Risen Christ acts in accord with the teaching set forth in the beatitude. Jesus is willing, even in his risen life, to share the suffering of the two disciples. His sharing transforms their suffering into joy.
As disciples of the Risen Christ we too embrace the ministry of consolation as Jesus consoled the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. We all know people who are suffering because of illness, a recent death, business failure or family strife. This week’s Gospel gives us the opportunity to ask ourselves how we show compassion for those who suffer. Showing compassion does not mean that we solve the problem or decisively alleviate the suffering. Perhaps we manifest our compassion by simply listening to one who suffers. We might make a phone call to let a person know that we have concern for them. When we do such things the distance between ourselves and another person vanishes. We are putting into practice the admonition of St. Paul, “Weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15).
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.