Once upon a time, someone gives Sacred Heart Monastery a new motorcycle. Quietly one afternoon two sisters walk into the garage. They get on the motorcycle and off they go. They do not even travel one mile when a police officer stops them. “Excuse, me, but you are going way too fast. Where are you coming from today?” “Officer,” we are two Benedictine sisters down the street. And we just got this new motorcycle.” “Well,” says the officer, “you are not obeying the rules of the road. What if you have an accident?” “Oh, don’t worry,” says one of the sisters. “Jesus is with us.” “Ok, that’s it,” blurts out the officer, “I’m giving you a ticket. Three people are not allowed to ride on a motorcycle.”
Have we ever had a sacramental moment? Recall the Catholic Catechism: “What is a sacrament?” “A Sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” There are Sacraments with upper case “S.” There are sacraments with lower case “s.” Then, there are sacramental moments- those times when we touch, we see, we hear, we feel, we intuit the holy, and something inside happens to us.
The Emmaus story is a collection of sacramental moments. We might be interested to know that the main character, the Risen Lord, meets two fascinating people. Luke names one of the persons as “Cleopas.” In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Cleopas is the uncle of Jesus. And according to the scripture scholar, Fr. John O’Donahue, the other person on the road to Emmaus is his wife, “Mary,” who stands with the other women at the cross. For our homily today, they are the first couple to experience deep sacramental moments as they meet “the Stranger” on the road. “The Stranger,” as Benedictine Sister Verna Holyhead calls him, explains the true meaning of the scriptures and something burns inside them. “The Stranger” walks with them along the road and something burns inside them. “The Stranger” enters their home for the evening supper and something burns inside them. “The Stranger” breaks the bread and vanishes from their sight. “And it happened,” these sacramental moments one after another after another set their hearts aflame!
Ever have a sacramental moment in which God set your heart on fire? Has the Holy ever stopped us in our tracks?
While the Spirit often grants me many sacramental moments with the Pilgrim People of God, one such moment is outstanding still. It took place in the abbey church in 1977 when I was a young novice monk. Fr. Brendan was chaplain for a physically challenged organization. One weekday as they came to visit the abbey for mass and lunch, my novice master asked me to assist Fr. Brendan and our guests. At Communion time, I noticed that a blind woman was trying to negotiate the slanted floor. So I walked over to her and asked her if I could help her get to the altar for communion. Her response burned within me. “Yes, please. This is a beautiful church.” As I started to tear up, I realize now that as I accompanied this blind woman to Communion, God set my heart on fire with a sacramental presence.
It must have been a powerful sacramental moment years ago when the founders of Daybreak of Lisle witnessed women and their children sleeping at the PADS program for the homeless. Many hearts must have been on fire. Many hearts are still on fire, because today at this mass with many here at Sacred Heart Monastery Chapel, they celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary. Based at St. Joan of Arc Parish, Daybreak provides transitional housing and supportive services to homeless families with children so that they can work toward recovering economic and familial stability.
It is possible to encounter “The Stranger” and walk home with burning hearts. But we need to let go of the old tired stories. Cleopas and Mary had to let go of their old hopes and dreams that Jesus would be a Messiah-Political King. I needed to let go of my own prejudices that since I can walk and talk and move about freely everyone else can do the same. The founders of Daybreak of Lisle needed to let go of the notion that homelessness and poverty are self-defeating. And for us to be Easter people we need to let go of the ideas that all homeless people are lazy people who siphon money from society.
Meeting “The Stranger” is a Benedictine grace-filled moment. In the words of St. Peter, when we invoke the name of God we find reverence on the journey. We tell stories. We break bread. It may be two, three or more of us. When these sacramental moments appear, they stop in us in our tracks. We are never alone- Jesus always accompanies us! Alleluia!
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
3rd Sunday of Easter