The Roads to Damascus, Emmaus, and Jericho
On the first night of the Parish Mission at San Xavier, this past Monday, Father Richard Gielow C.M., preached about the road to heaven. He borrowed much of what he presented from a Baptist preacher, he met in Los Angeles, when he and his preacher brother Father Robert Gielow C.M. were there as Catholic chaplains of the Chicago Bears. On the day when he first heard this concept, he and his brother had said mass for the Catholic members of the Bears and were invited to stay for a second service led by the Baptist preacher.
The Baptist preacher told all in attendance that no matter how important they thought they were, how rich how big, whatever, the way to heaven required them to travel on three roads.
The first road is the Road to Damascus that Paul was traveling when he was suddenly presented with the reality of Jesus Christ, and was brought to conversion. As Father presented it, we must all come to conversion daily in our lives. In essence the Road to Damascus is a road we travel each and every day of our lives.
Like Paul, we each live in judgement of our fellow man, trying to justify our own actions and beliefs as the truth. Like Paul, we live in spiritual arrogance. We think we detest the evil in others, while being righteous ourselves. But, the truth is that what we hate in others is what we see when we look into a mirror. We might not actually have or commit an abortion. We might not actually kill someone with our bare hands or a firearm, or some weapon of mass destruction. Paul, before Damascus was not evil because he wanted to be evil, but because he was blind to the good in other men, and to the truth about his own sinfulness.
For me, I detest most of the ramblings of a commenter on Father Tim Moyle's blog, Small Town Guy. But, the truth is though his words are filled with self aggrandizement and arrogant judgement of the Catholic Church, from a revisionist and narrow view of history, that anger in his heart which he spews forth is no different than the self protecting anger that I carry in my own heart.
So, the Road to Damascus is not an event, like the moment of conversion that Paul encountered there, but the whole journey to Damascus that Paul took, from the moment he started until he arrived and encountered the Brothers there. He had a moment of awakening, but a lifetime of conversion, as do we all.
The second road we must travel is the road to Emmaus. On that road, men who had been close followers of Jesus were walking after the Resurrection, and though Jesus walked along with them, they did not recognize him for some time. Father Gielow told a personal story of not seeing Jesus that opened his eyes.
He was in Denver Colorado a number of years ago, preaching for the day (Sunday - a football Sunday at that) to 700 teenagers who were preparing for Confirmation. As he stated, almost all of them did not want to be there, and so he worked hard for about 10 hours preaching, saying Mass, speaking to them. By 8 PM he was exhausted and had headed back to the Basilica rectory, where he was staying, to rest. As he approached the parking lot, he saw a man who looked dishevelled coming towards him, and carrying a bottle in a brown bag. The man also had long hair down to the middle of his back. He made the obvious, though erroneous, conclusion that this was someone who was down and out, and actually prayed to God to have someone else come and speak to him, as he was exhausted.
As he got out of his car, and beetled his way to the rectory door, the man approached him. Father Gielow had reached into his wallet previously and had taken out a $5 bill to hand the man, if necessary. As the man approached, he pulled out the bill and went to hand it to him. The man said he did not want the money, but wanted to know if he could enter the Church to spend some time in front of the tabernacle, and also to fill his bottle with holy water for his home. This incident brought home to Father the Road to Emmaus, and how we fail to see Jesus in each other.
For my friend Small Town Guy over at Father Tim's, the Road to Emmaus is elusive, since he is so busy telling anyone who will read his screed of the evils of the Catholic Church, that, like me in many of my fatuous ramblings, he cannot hear the voice of the Master. As Jesus travelled with the men on the road, he listened to them, and conversed with them, meeting them in their grief, confusion, disbelief. Yet, they did not recognize Him for who He was. They did not know who He was until He broke bread with them and blessed the bread and them. Jesus did not judge them for their unbelief. He walked with them. He did not criticize their confusion at the events that had occurred. He listened to them, loved them, and spoke gently with them. In essence, He set an example for us to awaken our faith in His midst, in our daily lives.
But, should we awaken to our own sinfulness on our Road to Damascus, and should we become aware of His presence amongst us as we travel our Road to Emmaus, we must put our converted selves and our aware selves into action, and so we must travel the Road to Jericho.
On the Road to Jericho, a Jewish man had been robbed and beaten. As Father Gielow described it, a priest happened by. The priest had priestly functions to attend to at the Church, things that were obviously more important to him than seeing to this injured man, and so he scampered on to what was more important (at least to him, if not to he injured man). The Levite happened along next. He was important in the administration of his parish/church, and had churchy things to handle, setting up for the bingo, preparing for coffee Sunday or whatever, and so he was too self important to minister to the injured man.
But along came a Samaritan. Samaritans hate Jews, and it is mutual, not a lot unlike Catholic Christians, and many Protestant Christians. But, when he came along, he set aside this animosity, and took it upon himself to help this man. He did not look upon him as a Jew, an enemy, but as a man who had been injured and needed help. He was colour blind. Before he carried on with his own business, he looked after him, and even when he left to do his own thing, he left money to care for the man, and promised to return to pay any additional charges for his care.
This is where faith is put into action. Yes, our salvation is purely by the Grace of God, but "faith without works is dead", and so if we have been traveling to Damascus and Emmaus in our lives, we must also travel to Jericho, and make our faith have substance in the world we live in, not by our churchy words, but by our love inspired actions.
I bet that priest who passed by gave a rousing good homily in the synagogue that day, railing against those hated and hateful Samaritans, who so despise the Jews that they would kill them and torture them. I bet he heard a lot of Amens, and "Preach it Brother" from the Levites that were present. They might even have gone out from synagogue later that day, and beaten up a Samaritan, possibly even the one that had helped their Jewish neighbour.
That's the thing with self righteousness. It can pretty much justify any response to imagined or real injustices. But, the Samaritan in this case was heeding the words of Jesus to love thy neighbour, and also to judge not lest you be judged.
Which is easier; to stop what you are doing in your busy life to love a neighbour that you may never have met before, or to rail on about the differences between us?
Oh, one final thing. The three Roads, to Damascus, to Emmaus, and to Jericho converge in a place we will all meet one day. They converge at Golgatha, at the foot of the Cross. There we will meet Him and each other face to face, the crucified Christ, the one who died to set us free from all the sin and corruption that has kept us from Him, and all those who have been His body here on earth.
There is a fourth road that meets there, for all roads lead to Golgatha. It does not have a name, but it is a path of self righteousness, and judgement. It is the road the priest and Levite were taking when they stumbled onto the Jericho road for a few moments.
There in the midst of Holiness personified, we will have no choice but to drop all pretence as to our own holiness, and self righteousness. There, His eyes from the cross will pierce our being, as the sword pierced His side. His love will wash over us, and in an instant we will have to choose between our own sin that has not drawn us closer to Him, but further away from Him, and Love personified.
What road/roads are you taking to Golgatha? If you see me on the Road to Jericho, will you stop to help me? If I see you there, will I stop to help you?