Apr 14, 2018

3rd Sunday of Easter - From your head to your heart

"Touch me and see . . . "

Luke 24: 35 - 48

About 20 years ago, I recall a couple who came to me unexpectedly on a Saturday afternoon.  I happened to be in the parish office on that morning and they simply found me there and politely introduced themselves.  I had never met them and was naturally curious about why they stopped in.  So, we sat down and they said they were interested in learning more about the Catholic faith.  That I was the first Catholic priest they had ever met or spoken to and though they both came from another tradition, the husband in particular was curious about learning more. Clearly, he already knew much about the Church and I soon realized he was very clear and had done a ton of research on the Catholic faith. 

I thought, wonderful!   As he started naming a few of the popular theologians like Thomas Aquinas, Augustine and more present day scholars I could tell their search was very sincere but one thing was missing.  I said, “Your faith needs to move from your head to your heart.” So, we spoke about the RCIA process which they both entered enthusiastically and during the Easter Vigil later that year, I was honored to welcome them to the full embrace of the Catholic faith.  Since then, the husband has gone on to become quite a Catholic writer and speaker with a few Catholic publishing companies. Being the first Catholic priest they ever spoke to I was grateful they returned after our conversation!

The point is this: we all need to move our faith from the head to the heart. In fact, this entire Easter season I feel contains that expectation and certainly that possibility. In Jesus’ resurrection experiences we hear him inviting his disciples to go beyond what they see and now know: “Touch me and see . . .”  Make a personal connection with me.  He greets them not with resentment or scolding for their abandonment at the time of his suffering but rather he offers them a blessing:  Peace be with you” (Shalom). That blessing is meant to draw them in to his life; to touch their hearts with a lived experience of the faith and to witness its power of transformation.

Our first reading from Luke’s great story of the early Church, Acts of the Apostles, sees Peter courageously preaching in the Temple area after the healing of a crippled man. He now has a captive audience and he informs them that it was by the power of the God which they knew well, the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of your fathers,” sent Jesus who was killed but is now raised.  He explains to them that it was by this suffering and rising that God has fulfilled all he promised to them.  So, now is the time to move that faith from your head to your heart: “Repent,  . . . and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.” In this way they respond on an inner level of conversion to all that God has done in sending his Son to us. It is the essential Christian message, the "Kerygma," that Peter boldly preaches here and that we all live by. We hear these words but must commit them to our heart, our souls.  Salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ raised from the dead. 

This Sunday, Luke continues the story of the road to Emmaus in the Gospel.  The two amazed disciples return hastily to Jerusalem to share their encounter.  They wondered: "Were not our hearts burning within us as he spoke to us." The encounter with the risen Christ moved their faith from knowledge to a deep experience of the heart. 

So, they return to share this with the brothers in hiding and as they are speaking,  Jesus suddenly appears before them. He well knew these men did not fully comprehend who he was and the ultimate meaning of his mission.  Yet, they needed proof; not just rumors or speculation but conversion of heart and a new direction for their lives – which is the same for all of us who place our faith in this Christ when we see our faith as not just a set of doctrines and theological opinions but as an invitation to live differently and walk a new road. So, he comes alive again but invites them to more than just knowledge. He speaks to them, he sits with them, eats with them.  So, he does the same in the Holy Eucharist where he becomes that very food as we gather. 

So, Jesus invites them to touch him. They must be absolutely assured of our Lord’s own transformation and that his mercy and forgiveness bring us all to a new life. Today, he continues to heal, forgive, feed us for this journey, unite us, and is present to us alive again. Our sacramental life, our prayer, our worship, our fellowship, and caring for one another all make his presence more than just words but an encounter. It all creates a communion between us and provides a new relationship that is beyond a simple gathering as Christ abides with us. 

This is the essential Christian message we all preach and live by: That Christ died and rose and remains eternally alive as God’s Son thereby setting a new course of salvation for all humanity which invites all to repentance and the forgiveness of sins for “all the nations.” These chosen men have seen it, heard it, and pray are convicted of it, as we hear in the first reading from Acts, and now they spread this Good News everywhere.

So, does that excite you?  How deep has that message touched your life?  The danger of any of us, including myself as priest who deals everyday with such a message in varied ways, is to simply hear the words but react to them with about the same level of enthusiasm as we do a traffic light changing from red to green. 

Today’s disinterest, apathy, and open rejection of the Gospel message is deeply concerning.  Many live as if there is no God or if there is rarely give thought to his existence.  In the end, every search for meaning, purpose, and deeper connection is a journey towards God.  He is not content with remaining distant but wants to pitch his tent among us. This, I feel, is why Jesus was so persistent in proving he was alive again, changed in some mysterious way, yet the same as they knew him.  That new way is where we must walk and it will happen if we move faith from our head to our heart.

These men went from fear, trembling, confusion, shame, ignorance, to wonder, awe, courage, and contagious conviction as God’s Spirit planted in their hearts.  So, we too in this Easter season are invited to ask the same.  Let us move from Grace to conversion. 

May the risen Lord be always our hope and a reason why our hearts now find him.

May your people exult for ever, O God, 
in renewed youthfulness of spirit, 
so that, rejoicing now in the restored glory of our adoption, 
we may look forward in confident hope
to the rejoicing of the day of resurrection. 
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God for ever and ever. 

(Collect of Mass)