As we joyfully celebrate Easter, the greatest feast in the Church's liturgical year, I invite all of us to reflect on how we can dramatically encounter, love, and follow the Risen Lord Jesus. Truly, this Feast of feasts and Solemnity of solemnities provides us the blessed opportunity to grow in discipleship.
In Luke 24:13-35, our resurrected Lord appears to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. The two disciples did not recognize Jesus at first, even though He was literally walking with them! We know that eventually the disciples open their eyes and see Jesus “in the breaking of the bread.” However, notice how Jesus prepared the minds and hearts of His disciples prior to their life changing realization: “He interpreted to them what referred to Him in all the Scriptures.” Thus, an understanding of Sacred Scripture played a crucial role in the disciples' encounter with the Lord. Jesus is both the Word made flesh and the Bread of Life. As Catholics, we have the sublime privilege of encountering God in both Word and Sacrament. Nowhere is this more true than in the Mass.
How exciting was it to celebrate for the first time, Sunday of the Word of God (during the 34 Sunday in Ordinary Time earlier this year)? As I have in the past, I encourage all of us to become deeply biblical Catholics who not only pray with Scripture (via lectio divina, Ignatian contemplation, etc.) but seek to understand it as well. Reading and studying the Bible is one of the best ways to learn about Jesus and who He is.' It is no coincidence that the word “disciple" comes from the Greek word “to learn.” Fundamentally, a disciple is one who learns.
If we desire to authentically love and follow the Risen Christ, we must not only encounter Him but also learn about Him. A disciple cannot love Jesus without first knowing who He is. How can anyone love a person without knowing them?
Furthermore, the more one learns about who Jesus is, what His mission is, what He taught, what He has done, and what He will do, the more one can genuinely love Him. There is a direct relationship between knowing Jesus and loving Him because there is a direct relationship between the mind and the heart. This virtuous cycle of knowing and loving Christ is
not a closed loop, but it necessarily extends to following Him as His disciple. This model of discipleship of encountering, learning, loving, and following the Lord Jesus is a lifelong process. Discipleship is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but at the same time, it is an awesome and life-giving adventure to be embraced.
Brothers and sisters, we must never forget that the Risen Christ accompanies us on our journey to our heavenly homeland and will never abandon His Church. He is always faithful and continues to nourish us with His Word and the Sacraments. His glorified wounds heal and illumine our wounds and the wounds of the Church.
Fully aware of the current challenges that we are facing today, I am convinced more than ever: there is no better time to be a missionary disciple of Jesus Christ! God has called us personally in this particular point in time to exemplify and to live out the very best of discipleship. Over and over again, throughout the rich history of the Church, it was precisely during the times of seemingly unsurmountable turmoil and trial that the outstanding disciples and saints of our tradition have emerged. Indeed, holy men and women have always been God's answer for the renewal and purification of the Church in the past – today His answer is no different.
What a great time to be alive and to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in and for the Church on Long Island and beyond! Following the example of our Blessed Lord on Easter morning, we RISE with Him out of our “tombs” of ignorance, disbelief, distrust, or whatever it is that is preventing us from becoming holy as God is holy. We become the missionary disciples and saints God is calling us to be.
May this Easter Season be a time of great joy in the Risen Lord for you and your families.
John O. Barres is the bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre