The following is based on a reflection from the 3rd Sunday of Easter (Luke 24:13-35)
One of the greatest gifts of being a parent is to recognize tangibly the beauty of life that God creates and blesses. Seeing your child run about with such joy and innocence is often a moment of contemplation for many. They may wish whimsically that they could keep them at 3 or 4 years of age forever. We all know too well the harsh realities of this world. How many, who began with the same innocence, have gone down a dark path.
However, we also deep down know that we can’t keep them in a bubble or “try to dominate the rhythm of life (Pope Francis, E.G. #82)” which must play out as it will. Yet, this fact doesn’t stop many from becoming what is popularly coined helicopter parents; hovering over their children trying to prevent the wrong choices. These parents, who know well the dangers of life, have all the best intentions for their children. But, is this how God our Father deals with us?
We see in today’s Gospel that Jesus has a much different way of treating his beloved. He profoundly respects the freedom of the disciples and chooses to quietly invite rather than force or even pressure. For there is no coercion in Love. This Road to Emmaus is more than just a physical walk, it is a powerfully symbolic spiritual journey. Jesus comes upon these two distraught disciples walking and takes pains to hide Himself. The passage says, “…their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.” The Lord just simple asks them questions as a fellow traveler. “What are you discussing as you walk along?” “What sort of things… (have taken place in Jerusalem)?” The two men go on to explain the mystery of the cross and the empty tomb. Jesus is encouraging them to engage their whole person in the mystery; mind, senses, and soul. The hidden Lord reveals the deeper meaning of Sacred Scripture as they walk along the way.
Then, the time for a choice has come to the disciples. A turning point in their journey…in their lives. Will they welcome the hope-filled, but challenging messenger or go along the way returning to their former manner of life secure in their ignorance. Jesus will not force Himself on any of us even though He loves us dearly. The choice is truly free with no coercion. The two make their choice by saying, “Stay with us…” So they have made a more profound free decision to open themselves up to a great mystery. A life changing decision is made so casually as the walk along the way. Finally, “in the breaking of the bread” their “eyes were opened and they recognized him.”
What a profound lesson we receive in the Gospel about the life long journey of faith. It becomes even more powerful if we realize that the gift of New Life is being offered in such a gentle invitation. This is not our way is it? No, as humans, we would try to control the situation. Try to ensure that a person we loved made the right decision. But, then choice of faith would not be free or fully embraced.
Throughout history human beings have used coercion and/or force to prohibit religious freedom. It happened within the Church in times such as the Spanish Inquisition. Just as often, it has happened in the world through atheistic communism or the enforcing of Islamic Sharia law. In fact, our own Religious Order, the Mercedarian Friars, was founded by in Barcelona, Spain in 1218 to ransom Christians held captive by Muslims and pressured to renounce their faith. St Peter Nolasco, the founder (Feast May 6th), lead the community to offer everything even their lives, if necessary, for those whose religious freedom was threatened.
Today, we face new forms of coercion from Secular Governments who wish enact laws which threaten the commonly known beliefs of Christians. This is the case with the HHS Mandate which forces religious institutions to provide coverage of sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs and devices as well as contraception. The Second Vatican Council document Dignitatis Humanae states: "This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such ways that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits."
Jesus, the Lord, profoundly respects the freedom of each individual even if this means that they continue on the way without Him. This sort of radical respect for free will is what leads us to learn the supernatural skill of journeying with others. God has placed a desire for Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in each of our hearts which leads us to Him. We must resist any attempts to control or force those who are adults, but instead appeal to the innate desires in their hearts. God’s grace is more powerful than any of our efforts and He givens abundant opportunities for us to choose Life. Let us respect the freedom of others and demand that ours be respected as well so that all may have the same chance to embrace Christ freely. This is the way of the Father; the way of a true Christian parent.
Happy Feast of St Peter Nolasco! May 6th