The story begins with two disciples trying to make sense of what they witnessed and believed to be true. They are wrestling with an unsettled matter of the heart:
“Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” (Luke 24:13-17).
They share with Jesus all that has happened in Jerusalem concerning the crucifixion, death, burial, and most amazing, the resurrection of Christ. Jesus responds to their inner turmoil by walking and entering into dialogue with them. As the disciples share what is going on in their hearts, it becomes clear that they cannot rightly interpret what has happened. Jesus, using the Jewish scriptures, the law and the prophets, explains, “‘Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:26-27).
Jesus offers a course correction for the imagination and worldview of the disciples by helping them to see the true story. He chooses to first listen to them and allow them to articulate where they had strayed. He then shares and initiates them into his own worldview through the scriptures.
It is for this reason that I have been emphasizing the importance of re-acquiring a biblical worldview and putting on an apostolic mindset. For us to recognize Jesus in the Eucharist, we must first share his worldview and vision of reality, especially as revealed in John 6. If our way of thinking is radically different or even opposed to Jesus’ it will be difficult for us to open ourselves to the grace of the Eucharist. We, like the disciples, have an opportunity at every Mass to hear Jesus’ story in the readings (the Liturgy of the Word), and allow our imagination and worldview to conform to his.
After Jesus unpacks the scriptures for the disciples, they are satisfied intellectually by his teaching but remain discontent. They beg him to stay with them. Then we read:
“And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24:30-32).
In this passage we notice three things which are intricately connected and show us the disciples’ love for Jesus: The desire for him to remain with them, the burning within their hearts, and the recognition of Jesus in the scriptures and the breaking of the bread. The one that shows up first in the story is their desire for Jesus to remain with them. When we genuinely love someone, we do not want to leave them or them to leave us.
The second element that is revealed is that the disciples recognize Jesus in the scriptures and the breaking of the bread. This recognition follows an authentic desire to be with and close to Jesus. In recognizing him, they pinpoint the hidden catalyst and third key piece of the encounter. The disciples’ love comes from an inner experience of Christ’s presence burning within their hearts. The desire for him to remain is expressed before they even recognize who he is. It cannot be attributed to a pious respect for a religious authority. It is the result of an encounter from within. The burning of the disciples’ hearts leads both to their desire for him to remain with them and their recognition of him in the breaking of the bread.
It is no coincidence that the words Jesus speaks in this encounter with the disciples on the road to Emmaus are so similar to the words he speaks in the last supper. “Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me’” (Luke 22:19). St. Luke intends to connect the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper with the encounter of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We must allow their experience to inform our own approach to the sacrament.
Considering this, the question that concerns me, as your shepherd and brother, is, Do our hearts really burn out of love for Christ? It would be easy to be satisfied by the many faithful who still follow the Lord’s command and worship him at Mass. Yet, Jesus longs for all of us to burn with love for him. If we are to spread authentic Eucharistic devotion to the world, our aim must be to foster a burning love for the person of Jesus Christ as much as, if not more than, a correct understanding of the doctrine of the Real Presence. Both are completely necessary, yet love is primary!
When we love Jesus, our experience of the Mass becomes more fruitful. Through the lens of love, Catholics joyfully join their sacrifices to the sacrifice of Christ and long to be transformed by mystery made present. The eyes of their hearts are opened to the choirs of angels and saints who worship alongside us at every Mass. For the lover, no cost is too great, no request too small. Let our hearts burn with the love of Christ, which is the only things that truly satisfies.
“So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, ‘The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!’ Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:33-35).
We must remember that after Jesus is revealed to the disciples in the breaking of the bread, they immediately go and witness to their experience of the Risen Christ. They go on mission. We too, after receiving the Eucharist at every Mass, should go forth into the world, to those on the peripheries, exercising the works of charity for the poor and announcing the Gospel through our testimony. Every reception of the of the Eucharist should propel us deeper into the mission of evangelization.