Words from Fr. Frank Cordaro

April 14, 2002


ACTS 2, 14,22-33, 1 PT 1, 17-21, LK 24,13-35

Luke 24:13-35: The Road to Emmaus. The Easter Day story of the two disciples encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Emmaus is found only in Lukeís gospel. Itís a well-told story, working on several levels.

Two of Jesusí disciples were leaving Jerusalem, heading for Emmaus, a village a dayís walk from Jerusalem. On their way they encountered the Risen Jesus, though they did not recognize him. Jesus asked them what they were discussing. Saddened by the recent events the disciples were surprised by the strangerís questions. They asked Jesus if he was the only one in Jerusalem unaware of what happened to Jesus. They summarized for Jesus in a creedal form all that had happened. (Lk 24:19-23)

Then Jesus told them how foolish they were for not believing the testimony of the women. He asked them, "Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter his glory?" (Lk 24:26) Then beginning with Moses and the prophets, Jesus interpreted to the disciples all the scriptures that pointed to this moment. The disciples were captivated by Jesusí command of the scriptures and his interpretation of recent events.

As they approached Emmaus and the house where they were to stay, Jesus gave the impression that he was going ahead. The disciples begged him to stay with them. Jesus agreed. As they sat at table for supper, Jesus in a Eucharistic manner, took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples. Immediately two things happened: the disciples recognized the risen Jesus, and Jesus disappeared.

That night the two disciples returned to Jerusalem to report to the rest of the disciples what had happened to them and how they came to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Their encounter with the risen Lord was confirmed by reports of others encountering Jesus, too.

Points of Note

The story is divided into two main parts corresponding to the two main parts of Mass. The first half of the story corresponds to the Liturgy of the Word. The second half of the story at the supper table corresponds to the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

In reporting the recent events in Jerusalem to the unrecognized Jesus, the disciples list all the elements of the creedal proclamation (mini-gospel) used in Peterís speeches in Acts and by Paul in his letters. The crucial matter that is missing is belief in the resurrection. When it comes right down to it, faith in Jesus is not a matter of reason, but of experience. Our dogma and creeds can only describe what is believed. They cannot produce it.

The claim that Jesus makes in the story regarding the necessity that the Messiah had to suffer and die as foretold by the prophets and the scriptures can only be made after the Easter experience. Without an experience of the Risen Lord, none of the scriptures, old or new, can produce belief.

The act of doing hospitality, offering a stranger a place to stay and sharing in a meal, was the opportunity for the disciples to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

Tying the recognition of the Risen Lord to the Eucharist is a very deliberate and intentional connection. Clearly Luke wants his readers to connect their faith and believe in Jesus with what is done in Eucharistic celebrations. Again, making the point that belief is Jesus is more than a "head" thing, itís an experience, and for Catholics it is a Eucharistic experience.

My Emmaus Story: An encounter with Christ

My father, George, died Easter Sunday morning, April 6, 1969. He had a fatal heart attack. It was my senior year at Dowling High School, a boyís school in Des Moines, Iowa. My dad was the athletic director for my school. I loved and admired my father more than anyone in the world. His death shattered my world.

The following Fall I attended the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) in Cedar Falls, Iowa on a football scholarship. After twelve years of Catholic education and being brought up in a very close and insulated, Italian-American family and community, I looked forward to getting out of Des Moines, away from my familiar surroundings. UNI was the place where I could question and test all my beliefs, especially my Catholic faith. I spent four years at UNI (1969-1973). These were great years to be on a college campus, at the height of a counter culture, questioning authority, anti-war, and anti-establishment era.

During this time I met and got to know two priests who would become lifelong friends. They helped me discern the important matters of faith and vocation to the priesthood. Both were campus ministers at St. Stephens Student Center at UNI.

Fr. Bob Beck was the younger of the two. He was at St. Stephens the last two years of my tenure at UNI. He is a very talented priest. He is a great musician, played both the guitar and piano, and writes music besides. Great at parties, Bob could lead a sing-a-long at the drop of a hat. He is head smart, well read and widely diverse in his literary and scientific interest. A James Joyce (Fineganís Wake) buff, he is also a natural leader and his favorite subject, Scripture. What knowledge and love I have for the Word of God I owe a great debt to Bob. I was fortunate to follow Bob to Aquinas Institute of Theology in Dubuque, Iowa. Bob went there to teach scriptures, and I went as a seminarian. I needed those added three years. I am a slow learner and what Bob had to teach me did not come easy. But once I got it, it never left me, and no one can take it away. I will always be indebted to Fr. Bob for leading me to my love and understanding of scripture. Bob is currently head of the scripture department at Loras College in Dubuque.

Fr. Jack Kissling was the older of the two. Jack was the pastor at St. Stephens. A veteran campus minister of many years, his gifts lie with his pastoral skills. He is a great listener and reader of hearts. He believes that to be truly and fully human is to be truly and fully Christ-like. A great preacher, he preached at my First Mass. He gave me the first book I ever read on the Catholic Worker movement, Richard Millerís A Harsh and Dreadful Love. It changed my life forever.

The thing I admire most about Jack is that he is the same person on the altar that he is off the altar. He has served as a role model for me as to what a good priest is like. Now retired, he lives in Wisconsin. I last saw him in the courtroom on March 6, ever a friend, ever a support.

In the deepest sense, both of these good men offered me hospitality into their lives. They accept me for who I am and affirm me in my struggles and journey. My encounter with these two good priests have helped me recognize Christ in myself, in the people around me, in the poor and the oppressed, in the struggle for peace and justice, and in the priesthood I share with them.

Acts 2: 14, 22-23

This weekendís first reading from Acts is taken from Peterís speech to the people of Jerusalem on Pentecost day, right after the disciples received the Holy Spirit. In this text Peter directs his words to the Israelites whom Peter says "killed" Jesus, "using lawless men to crucify him." (Acts 2:23)

Peter sure has come a long way since Holy Thursday night when he denied knowing Jesus, or during those days right after the crucifixion when he and the other disciples hid behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. (John 20:19)

Peter and the other disciples had good reason to fear for their lives. Their Rabbi (leader), Jesus, was arrested, charged, tried, and crucified for rebellious, anti-Roman behavior. Anyone associated with such a known and public criminal could be subject to the same fate.

Yet, on this Pentecost Sunday, Peter and the disciples boldly proclaimed the Risen Lord, pointing out clearly the very people responsible for Jesusí death. These were dangerous assertions to be making in public. It was just such talk that would land Peter and the other disciples in jails and before judges, branded as outlaws.

Where did they find the courage? Somewhere in the Upper Room with the help of the Holy Spirit, it dawned on them that with the resurrection, Jesusí death and fears attached to death were conquered. With the death of Death they also came to believe that any and all of the lies and fears in our human experience had no claims on them. Somehow because of Jesus, they now had the right and the obligation to proclaim all truth over all lies and conquer any fears that protect lies. In fact the measure of their newfound faith in Jesus was the measure of their willingness to risk their lives for the truths that expose the lies hidden in human hearts and given life in human society.