Ars Praedicandi: Third Sunday of Easter, Ed Foley

by Fr. Edward Foley, Capuchin

Many who commute to OSP from up north
understand with renewed awareness
the proverb that there are only two seasons here:
winter and construction.
Welcome to the Kennedy expressway.

Each morning I wake up to WBBM news radio
and hear traffic reports
about travel times reaching horrific levels.

The belief that travel is a curse is not new
One wag contends that the first road trip occurred
when God expelled Adam and Eve from Eden.

One of all time classic travel stories is Don Quixote
whose delusional anti-hero tilts at windmills
thinks his broken-down horse is a noble steed
mistakes prostitutes for courtiers
and whose sanity is restored only upon his return,
recalling that deep wisdom from the Wizard of Oz,
“there’s no place like home.”

Things don’t seem much brighter today.
A pre-COVID study about our travel exploits
Found that the average among us
experience 240 stressful travel moments in a lifetime.
Between flight delays, flat tires,
lost luggage and hotel debacles
1 out of 7 polled actually believe themselves
haunted by a travel curse.

On the other hand,
there is plenty of proverbial wisdom
and even scientific evidence
that travel is valuable, mind-expanding, and healthy.

Some believe that traveling and especially living abroad
can be strongly linked to heightened creative intelligence. [1]

There is evidence that traveling not only enhances our creativity
but also lowers the risk of depression
and things like heart attacks,
boosts our immune systems
and increases our happiness.

Besides personal travel, we vicariously enjoy the exploits of others,
whether that is Anthony Bourdain venturing into Parts Unknown
or epic travel trilogies such as the Lord of the Rings.
The risks and revelations of others
fire our imaginations and stir our souls.

While I don’t think this is the underlying reason why
Luke penned one of the most famous road trips in the NT
but if we imaginatively ponder today’s gospel
we might discover some new Emmaus gift in our own lives.

While it might be an exaggeration to call today’s gospel a road trip,
its text contains at least 9 verbs describing movement
the going, coming near, walking ahead, vanishing, returning
making it clearly a tale about movement
but not essentially of the feet but of the heart.

Two folk – possibly a husband and a wife – are traveling to Emmaus,
meaning backs are turned to Jerusalem
association with the executed messiah is severed
and discipleship is shelved.

While we cannot be sure what the two were discussing –
it was probably some combination of lament and worry:
a mix of “never thought it would end that way”
and “wasn’t that a wasted investment of time and energy,”
to “what will we say to the family”
and “so what do we do now?”

In my own imagination these two apostolic fugitives
appear to me to be utterly lost,
and it was precisely in their disorientated
and off-course wanderings
that they actually were found.

Preacher and spiritual guru Barbara Brown Taylor
offers an inspiring reflection about being lost
in her wondrous An altar in the World.

She admits that it has happened to her
more times than she can count:

  • Setting out to be married and ending up divorce
  • Setting out to be healthy and ending up sick
  • Setting out to live in new England and ending up in Georgia.

Maybe most surprising, as revealed in her memoir Leaving Church,
setting out to be an episcopal priest
dreaming of being a pastor of her own small congregation
but eventually experiencing so much compassion fatigue
that she left ministry for the sake of her own soul.

In the midst of all of her waywardness and wanderings
she admits that when she got lost
she found things that she would have never discovered
if she had stayed on the planned path.

Maybe most telling is her belief that getting lost
is actually a spiritual practice
not as a detour but as the path
not just a wound but as a gift
not a place where God is absent
but a place of divine revelation.

She concludes, “God does some of God’s best work
With people who are truly, seriously lost.”

That is a pretty fair assessment of today’s gospel
with disciples adrift after their leader was crucified
and with their dreams undeniably crucified as well.

It’s not clear whether they were intentionally
moving toward something
or simply escaping the Jesus catastrophe
that had prompted their untimely departure from Jerusalem.

And what changed them,
reversed their flight into the unknown
transposed their loss to gain
and triggered the most famous U-turn in the gospels
was the unlikely gift of a stranger.

As Taylor notes,
to receive the hospitality of strangers
can change us far more than providing it ever does.

A number of years ago, before Google Translate,
I was on my first visit to Japan
landing at Narita airport in Tokyo.

Being a somewhat seasoned traveler and typically wanting
to experience as much of ordinary life as possible
I opted for public transportation into the Center of Tokyo
and then a train to within a few blocks of my hotel.
The first leg of the journey into town was fine
but when trying to access the Metro
I experienced the travel curse.

Neither my credit card nor debit card worked
for purchasing a ticket from the ubiquitous machines
(and there were only machines).

So I exited the station and searched for an ATM.
After wandering for a half hour, I located a bank
and a whole row of ATMs
but none of them would talk to my debit card.

In frustration, I must have yelled something
in my best Chicago accent.

Then from a few machines down
an undeniable Boston accent
like your cousin out of a Sam Adams commercial, asking: “Are you ok?”

The 20-something-year-old Bostonian attached to the accent
then walked over, quickly analyzed my dilemma
led me to the international ATMs
then, helped me make an Emmaus U-turn back to the Metro
assisted in my acquiring the necessary ticket
put me in line for the right train
pointed out the correct stop for my exiting
and waited until my underground chariot arrived.

As the train was arriving, and we were about to say ciao
he turned to me and with a sudden seriousness asked
“Have you ever considered giving your life to Jesus?”
I laughed out loud, shook his hand, and said
“I work for him.”

I was no disciple on an Emmaus exit
and my dreams had not been crucified.
Rather this was an admittedly modest and amusing encounter
but still one in which a complete stranger
at the most unexpected of moments
invited me back into Jesus mode
rather than that of a petulant tourist,
and reminded me that on every journey
if we allow the stranger to open our eyes
whether by bread breaking
or ATM liberation
we might perceive again God’s spirit accompanying us
even when our dreams actually have been crucified.

From the ancients comes a wisdom tale
about a poor Rabbi named Isak
who lived in medieval Krakow and had a repeating dream
to travel the long distance from Krakow to Prague
and there he would find a bridge leading to a great castle
and if he dug under the bridge he would find a great treasure
that would put an end to his poverty.

After the dream repeated 3 times, Isak set out for Prague
and after many days he reached the city, sighted the castle
and found the bridge under which he was to dig.

But he could not dig as the bridge was guarded
day and night by soldiers.
After loitering about for many hours
the Captain of the guards approached him
and asked him what he was doing.

Being an honest man, the Rabbi shared his dream.
The captain scoffed at him saying he didn’t believe in dreams
for he too had received a dream telling him
to travel the long distance from Prague to Krakow
and there seek out the house of the Rabbi Isak
and dig behind the old stove in the back of the house.

There he would find a great treasure
that would put an end to his poverty
but he was a soldier and didn’t believe in such dreams.

The Rabbi thanked him, for he knew that old stove
traveled the long distance back to his own home
and there dug behind that stove,
finding a great treasure that put an end to his poverty.

The Rabbis tell us that the true meaning of the story
is that our real treasure is not very far from us
usually in our own homes, in our own selves
but it takes the shared dreaming of another to discover it.

When the stranger encountered the two lost disciples
on the road to Emmaus
the hidden Christ helped them find the treasure
not on the road
not even in Jerusalem
but in their own believing, their own ministry, their own selves.

We pray that no matter what road we are on
no matter how lost we might be
that the gift of others might help us, as well,
to discover God’s dream for us: our true treasure.

And in this season of baptismal renewal
we also commit ourselves to assisting the lost
those who feel themselves straying from the path
of their own treasure,
those who need some life-giving U-turn,
no matter how major or modest
so that in us they find the stranger they need
accompanying them toward
the resurrection God promises
through Christ Our Lord.

[1] Beau Lotto, Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently (New York – Boston: Hachette Books, 2017), p. 230.







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