‘Who Walks With You?’ asks Chris McDonnell in his Catholic Times column
Who walks with you?
Chris McDonnell CT April 9th 2021
There is something in the story of the Road to Emmaus that is very different from other Gospel narratives, different because of its mystery and the very humanity of its experience.
Two men, tramping the dirt road from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus, some ten miles distant, warm in the afternoon sun, talking to each other of the days they had lived through, the Passover that had just been celebrated and the death of their friend, the Nazarene.
They were joined by a stranger who spoke with them and talked of Scripture but did not disclose himself. We are told they did not recognise him. They obviously made some real contact though for they invited him to share their supper when they finally arrived at the end of their journey.
Then, over their meal together, he broke bread and shared it with them and they realised his story. After he left them, they reflected on his journey conversation and even commented to each other on how his words had stirred something within them. Anxious to get their news back to those left behind in Jerusalem, they immediately set out again on the return journey.
What a fine story of faith, of revelation and commitment, simply told. It is a story that we too can experience in our lives of struggling faith. In the final part of The Waste Land, T S Eliot asked the question:
“Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
but when I look ahead up the white road
there is always another one walking beside you….”
There is always that other presence on our journey, unrecognised and sometimes unrecognisable, the Risen Lord. He is there for us even if we do not realise it. In a similar manner the joy of the Gospel asks each one of us to walk beside others whose journey may be difficult and whose feet are sore. There is the arm to lean on, the hand on the shoulder, the attentive listening to their story, all are reflective of the Emmaus Road.
So what can we take from that afternoon walk and the meal with the stranger? That simple Eucharist offered us the example of how we learn, by listening, of how we experience the growth of faith, round a table, of how Christians should share what they have one with another.
That is never more so that in our present time of contagion. This last year has been marked by the stranger walking beside us. How many nameless people have cared for us in a multitude of ways, often at risk to their own health?
Some we have been aware of, others have slipped by in our company unnoticed. Just as the man from Cyrene once helped carry the Cross for the man from Nazareth, so strangers have shared our load during these difficult days.
At the time of the last Conclave, in March 2013, there was an image on the net of a man kneeling on stones in front of St. Peter’s Basilica , his face upturned.
Bare footed, on the rain-swept pavement, wrapped in heavy, worn clothing, hooded to save against some of cloud’s tears kneeling he gathered well-worn hands round a wooden staff, silent in a gesture of prayer. Who he was, where he came from, does not matter. Maybe Cyrene. A poor man with less than nothing whose darkened image haunted the heart in that early Spring.
There are countless stories from these months that may never be told, of ordinary people who did extraordinary things. Yet time and again we have failed to recognise the Christ who was our companion.
The Emmaus Eucharist was that point of recognition. For so many of us, the loss of sharing of the Eucharist has been the price we have had to pay during the weeks of lockdown. That gave rise recently to these few words.
‘Stay at home’
we were told
and so we did
in all the weeks
Now we approach
this year’s Pasch
holding a missing
in our broken memory,
a Eucharistic gap
so long, the casual
ache of loss, of empty
but the blurred
shadows of forgotten
gathered dismal days.
One consequence of deprivation is to make you appreciate what you had previously taken for granted. Events, places, relationships develop a fresh importance, be they trivial or significant. There is a lot of truth in the saying ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder.’
We search for the security of yesterday’s normal, where familiar circumstances were comfortable and life had a degree of predictability. Yet now we are asked to walk on an unfamiliar path where so much has changed and we are constantly looking over our shoulder, yearning for what we have lost, uncertain of the path that lies ahead.
Change can be hard to accommodate, rubbing as it does at the frayed edges of experience. We have had to face change in the Church in these post-Conciliar decades when, for many, the challenge of change proved too great a burden. In our anxiety, we have forgotten the one who walks beside us as we journey. Maybe after this experience we will value the small things of our daily lives and be aware of their significance.
Cup open hands and catch
the clear spring water,
cold and sparkling,
as it spills over worn rocks.
Gently press your damp hands
together in greeting another
in a peaceful gesture.
Speak in gratitude
for who you are, remembering
who you might become,
Take time to act
in mindful measure,
not rushing in a careless manner,
anxious always to be done.
Breathe the soft fragrance
from a vase of flowers
whose long green stalks silently
drink cool water.
Listen to the solitary bird sing
from the ridge tiles high
in wind-swept isolation
before taking to wing.
Watch the quiet, four-footed walk
of the house cat, moving with purpose,
unhurriedly, passing through the kitchen
to settle on a rug by the warming stove.
Laugh softly, and in each moment,
rest in peace.
Just as others have walked by our side in recent weeks, caring for our needs, may we also offer our help when there is opportunity to be of service.