At Sunday Mass, we heard the familiar story of the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus in their struggle to recognise Jesus. This echoed the message of the previous Sunday’s liturgy when Thomas faced a similar challenge. So my Sunday homily, preached in Athlone friary, centred on the importance of recognition in Christian living. I mentioned three levels of recognition, one relatively superficial and two of greater depth.
The first sense is, usually, simply a matter of putting a name to a face. You see someone approaching from a distance. They look familiar. You delve into your memory and hey presto! you see it is Joe Soap or Mary Murphy. Importantly, this kind of recognition demands no participation on the part of the person recognised. They may be totally oblivious of your presence, engrossed in their own thoughts, or deep in conversation with someone in their company. But they are recognised.
The second sense brings us deeper, for there is a vital role to play in the person who is to be recognised. They must reveal themselves to you. It happens when you are developing a relationship with someone, as in friendship. Each person has to reveal something of their sincere thoughts and feelings about life. Important aspects of a person’s personality and character are shared. No revelation, no recognition!
And, of course, such revelation is not always easy. There can be issues of trust involved. Is it safe to open myself to the other? Will they respect my revelation? Will they accept me in my newly vulnerable state? It is sometimes easier to put on a face, a mask, to act as someone else, someone more likeable, someone who fits in with the other’s expectation. Truth is the key, but speaking the truth is risky!
Now the encounter between Jesus and his disciples is a good example of this process of deeper recognition, since it is based on the two aspects of recognition, viz. revelation and acceptance. Before Jesus reveals his true identity to the travellers, he first invites them to reveal their thoughts and feelings. They are ones of despondency and hopelessness, and the Lord listens receptively. He recognises their pain. He is the recogniser before becoming the recognised.
Now his own revelation takes over, by means of the Scriptures which point to his anointed status and his destiny to suffer for love of the Father’s Creation. It happens step by step because acceptance of revelation takes time, patience, and courage, among other qualities. The full revelation takes place in the house, with the breaking of bread, but this could not have happened without first the breaking of the Scriptures. As Jesus is attentive to their revelation, the disciples are attentive to his. And the recognition spurs them to action, immediate return to Jerusalem, where they are met with other joyful, confirming stories of Resurrection Recognition.
But there is yet another level of meaning we must embrace, perhaps the most important! True recognition of another person, or group, or event, or thing, is a matter of appreciation, reaching its perfection when we love that reality.
It came home to me when I saw an official document from the local government authorities in Westmeath, which was presented to the friars in a civic reception just before the community left their house in Athlone. It was called an “Address of Recognition.” That official recognition reflected the appreciation of generations of people from Athlone and the wider region who visited the church and came in contact with the friars over the years.
Recognition as a loving valuation of some aspect of God’s work in his Creation, human and otherwise, brings us to the heart of this concept. For indeed, it is a matter of the heart, not just of the head!
“Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the way,” the disciples exclaim!
As he listened to their pain and then salved it with his healing revelation, they fell in love with their Master and Friend all over again and could not wait to share their love story with their friends in the city. Jesus is truly the “Arsonist of the Heart,” delighting in creeping up on us unawares and lighting the fire of his love in our hearts. May we receive the grace from the Spirit to be ready for that conflagration!
As I reflect on this theme in this week of Easter, I know I must deepen my appreciation/recognition of the privilege of living and ministering in this ancient friary of Multyfarnham, recognising the wonderful help of our supporters and recognising the value even of our frail brothers in community who have given their lives to the recognition of Jesus at work in and through the Franciscan charism.
Kieran Cronin OFM