To Know Him in the Breaking of Bread

Third Sunday of Easter

Sometime next month, a group of our young people in 10th and 11th grade will be celebrating the sacrament of Confirmation …  I don’t remember much of my own confirmation.  I was four years old.  It was a different time and place.  I could have used some preparation, to better understand the sacrament, to know its importance in my spiritual life, but I can’t go back and do it differently now.  Yet I am grateful to have since been privileged to witness, and even participate in the celebration of the sacrament of Confirmation as pastor, and on at least two occasions, as sponsor.  The celebration of the sacrament of Confirmation is one specific moment in history and in the life of a young person.  At that one specific moment we truly believe that the Holy Spirit is poured out on the candidate who receives the sacrament through the laying on of hands and the anointing with sacred chrism.  Yet I can tell, as each and every person present at the liturgy is able, that no visible physical change takes place in the candidate, much as we hope and pray something would happen.  Instead, the candidate walks away with oil on the forehead and a handshake from the bishop.  Not much to write home about, if you stop to consider it.  And yet, that one specific moment in history is a marker along the journey in each young Catholic’s life.  I know it was for Matthew, my brother’s son who asked me to be his sponsor a couple of years ago, not only because that moment was memorable in and of itself, but because the journey to that moment was a tremendous experience of awakening, of opening one’s eyes and smelling the coffee.  It can leave you unbelievably changed and charged.

Many of us can look back into our lives and point out particular moments of trial, moments of tremendous sorrow and anguish which we had to face with as much courage as we were able to conjure, while holding on to our friends and loved ones for moral support, and storming heaven with our prayers and cries of frustration.  I can recall one such dark night of my soul which I had to struggle through for about a year and from which I had to work my way back into the land of the living.  … I believe I have come to realize many truths along that journey, about myself, about people I trusted and shouldn’t have, about people I underestimated and misjudged, about God whom I discovered anew, about the universe around me I didn’t really know because I wasn’t really looking.  I made many discoveries, sometimes exciting, sometimes awesome and scary.  And I believe I am a better person for having been through that rough patch along the journey.

Each young person preparing for Confirmation walks a similar journey.  The fact that this journey coincides with the most tumultuous period of life also known as adolescence makes it tougher.  It is that time in life when we are faced with most powerful and frightening forces, ideas, values, emotions and attitudes which we can learn to master or end up being mastered by.  It is a time of great upheaval, when we can discover our greatest strengths as well as our most unfortunate flaws, when we come face to face with beauty and truth in all their wonder and magnificence, when we confront terrifying evils in all their horror.  And when a young person faces these challenges honestly and truthfully, they become opportunities for much needed growth toward one’s potential, physically, intellectually, spiritually.  The journey to self-fulfillment is seldom as challenging as we imagine it would be.  But when we look back upon it, we will only be as satisfied with our effort as we have been honest and sincere.

On the evening of the third day after Jesus died on a cross, when two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus looked back upon the most awful tragedy of their lives, the horrible death of their friend, the paralyzing fear that gripped them so they could not prevent his suffering, the shame that overcame them after so they could not admit their betrayal, their hearts were clouded over, they were unable to recognize the stranger walking with them.  So we often imagine God leaving us in our darkest moments as teenagers, oblivious to his presence, unaware he walks beside us.  God is often quiet, listening with compassion to our frustrations, our rage and our discontent.  But when the disciples pose the question to the stranger walking with them, “Have you heard?,” they were not actually looking for answers or comfort.  They were simply venting.  Misery seeks company.  So as teenagers, we seek those who share our frustrations, our rage and our discontent.  And when we ask questions, we seldom truly hear any answers because we are just venting.

But Jesus indulged their heartache.  “No, I haven’t heard.  Tell me.”  So when we come upon a welcoming smile or a comforting presence, we pour out our hearts to any who would spare a bit of attention.  And after the disciples poured out their hearts, they were ready to hear a message of hope.  So Jesus took the opportunity to enlighten their minds.  This is the task of the confirmation sponsor who walks the journey with the young person, listening to their doubts, their fears, their frustrations and the emptiness of their souls.  And with great patience and kindness, our aching heart is soothed.  Without our knowing it, we are being prepared for yet another encounter with God – the breaking of bread.

Whenever we gather to break bread in the Eucharistic assembly, the long, hard journey that has brought us to this point will come into clearer focus if only we had already met Jesus on the road.  It is only after the experience of Jesus explaining the mysteries we encounter in life, after we have reflected on our experience with the assistance of others who have walked a similar journey to ours that we are able to recognize him in the breaking of bread.  If the journey of our lives is not examined in light of God’s plan, the breaking of bread can become no more than an ordinary human experience.  So each time we celebrate Eucharist, we are invited to look back upon the road we have traveled.  For we are more likely to find God at the table if we have first encountered God along the journey.  And when we find God at the table, do we not as the disciples in today’s gospel wonder, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”  When was the last time Jesus’ words stirred into a raging firestorm the Spirit of God who already dwells in your heart?