Were Not Our Hearts Burning Within Us

By Scott Wright, Director

This week marks the end of the Easter season and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Spring is fast giving way to summer, although the change of seasons is more and more marked by the disruptions in our climate.

More and more people in the world are on the move, crossing borders in search of refuge. The present is filled with anxiety and the future with uncertainty.

In times such as these, we look to the past for wisdom, and ask: How did previous generations deal with crisis? We live somewhere between memory and hope.

Recently, on retreat, I was given a Gospel story to reflect on: The Road to Emmaus. We can recall the setting together. Two disciples are on a journey. After their beloved friend Jesus was crucified, the one upon whom they had pinned their hopes as the awaited Messiah, they flee to another village, full of fear and anxiety, their hopes shattered.

A stranger appears to them, invites them to see what has happened in light of their story of faith, and they in turn invite him to share a meal with them. At the breaking of bread they recognize the stranger as the risen Christ

What happened to open their eyes and to restore their hopes? They recall how the stranger had caught their attention along the road to Emmaus, helping them to understand the power of the resurrection in a world filled with crosses, how a crucified Messiah had become a risen Christ, how life, not death held the key to the future. 

They in turn, are filled with joy: “Were not our hearts burning within us,” they say, when he invited us to see their failures and disappointments in a different light. 

This joy, they will discover, comes with sacrifice. Jesus invites us to see beyond our fears, to take up our cross and to follow him. When the two disciples return to Jerusalem and gather again with the others to share their joy, Jesus appears to them with his wounds. There is a cost to discipleship, he seems to say by his appearance, but your joy will be complete. Life, not death, will have the last word in history. 

When I think about the days we are in, filled as they are with wars and rumors of wars, with building walls and spreading hatred, with damaging our precious creation and destroying the environment, I go back to the Gospel message, and to the stranger on the Road to Emmaus.

This week we celebrate Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit when the joy of Easter is complete, the hearts of young and old are turned toward each other, and people of different languages and cultures understand one another. We are not to be left alone, but will have the Holy Spirit as our advocate, to speak truth to power and to renew the face of the earth.

Here the challenge of this time in history meets the radical invitation of the Gospel, and we are invited to move from “our hearts burning within us” to “set the world aflame” with a Gospel message of justice and mercy, welcoming the stranger, caring for creation, and bearing witness to nonviolence and peace in the world.

That, it seems to me, is the cost of discipleship and an invitation to make our own the joy of the Gospel.

Weekly Reflection on Justice is produced by the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach staff, volunteers, interns, and visiting Columban Missionaries. We hope these reflections help to guide you on your own spiritual journey working toward justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.