OUR ROAD TO EMMAUS
Witness of José Prado Flores,
Here on the altar, we have the Word of God. I’d like us all to stand up so we can venerate God’s Word. Let us bow our heads for three seconds to welcome the Word in. May this Word become part of us. May it enter into us as into the virgin womb of Mary. Let us now welcome God’s Word.
I’ll begin today by telling you what God has done in my life, not necessarily what I’ve done for God. I’m here before you to glorify his name.
I’d like to take up the passage about the disciples on the road to Emmaus, in Luke 24:13–35. Luke tells the story beautifully and vividly. In my life, I too have walked the road to Emmaus. The disciples here are returning to their village—sad, frustrated, disappointed—dragging their feet as they return to their daily lives. They are disappointed in God and in themselves.
The same thing happened in my life. I went through a stage when I thought of myself as a disciple of Jesus, but I had no strength, no enthusiasm. My Christian life was just a tradition. I had grown accustomed to the affairs of God. I can express it with a symbol. My life was like this, that is, this can of Diet Coke I have in my hands. My life had no calories and you know, calories are units of heat. I had studied philosophy and theology; I read the Bible. Everything was in my head without making its way down to my heart. I had been around some of Mexico’s greatest scholars, but there were no calories to fire me up. I’d grown comfortable with the affairs of God. Falling into routine or habit is the worst thing that can happen to us.
The company Boeing makes planes. They ran a contest for their pilots to see if pilots knew what the greatest aviation risk was. Some of the pilots said terrorism; others said the price of fuel; others, aviation security. The pilot who got it right answered that the greatest risk is that of getting accustomed to flying—letting it get routine.
This also happens in our relationship with God. We get used to holy things. Like the disciples of Emmaus, we’re headed back to Emmaus—that’s all there is to it. When we try to pass on what we have to others, we have so little to give. I’m talking about myself here.
The Emmaus disciples were great; they were good guys, maybe a little too good. The companion of Cleophas has no name, he’s anonymous; I identify with him. He could be a professor of Christology; he gives a great lesson in Christology—to Jesus. He had, after all, witnessed the death of Jesus. But he was only a reporter. He knew all there was to know about Jesus. He’d seen him die on the cross; he could describe all that Jesus suffered before dying. But when he talked about the resurrection, he couldn’t be a witness. Like a reporter, he relayed what his correspondents had told him: what the women told him that the angel had told them.
I was like that too. I had no experience of the risen Jesus. I repeated what I’d read, what I’d studied, what I’d been taught in school. As for the resurrection, I kept my hands clean. I said “some women told us that an angel said he had risen.” What was I communicating? What I had in my head, a cold theory—zero calories. [Takes out a steak] I was like this frozen steak. It has all the same properties as a steak on the barbecue. But I can’t eat it or digest it or give any to anybody else. It’s hard. (Hits himself in the head with the steak.) Ouch! Really hard! That hurts. My head might not have been quite that hard.
How many times are we giving people things that are too stiff to understand. The language is incomprehensible. Why? Because it’s frozen in our heads or in our heart. What can I give anyone under those circumstances? Everything inside me is frozen. But God is mercy. He took pity on me. I’ll just tell you briefly how God worked in me.
First I became conscious of my sin. The sin of the good. The sin of good people. I figured I was good because I hadn’t committed any monumental screwups. Good people’s sin is sometimes the worst. Good people’s sin is to get accustomed to the affairs of God. Getting accustomed to having the Word of God in my life, getting accustomed to prayer, getting accustomed to the mysteries of faith, letting it all get routine. Cooling off bit by bit and doing what should be extraordinary in a routine kind of way. That was my sin.
Like Cleophas, I wanted to teach things to Jesus, to teach things to the expert of experts, teach him how things should be. I fell into good people’s sin. Talking more about Jesus than with Jesus. I was truly a fine one for talking about Jesus, but I talked with him very little and listened to his Word even less. I read it; I taught it, but it never made it down to my heart. They say that the greatest distance in the world is the distance between your head to your heart. The stuff in your head has to sink, make its way down to your heart. I was trying to teach Jesus rather than let myself be taught by his word. Most of the time, I was just a reporter who just repeated what others had said.
In my situation as a sinner, as a good person, I wanted to control God. I wanted to manipulate him so that he’d do what I wanted, so that he’d follow the plans I made, and in the end to get him to help me do what I thought was right.
The violent wind of Pentecost, that mighty wind, that rûah of God, blasted down on the 120 people who were in that upper room. Why? To push them! You want to control that? Sure, control it—transform it into air conditioning. Take your remote—here it is—and we’ll turn that violent wind into a comfortable breeze, for my convenience, so it doesn’t bother me, so I don’t have to change too much, so I don’t have too many problems, so I can take it easy and be comfortable. I get to hold the remote. But God, because he is God, doesn’t take orders from a remote. There you have it—I had the controls, and I got to decide. And not only that—I was good! That’s good people’s sin!
Of course, God started working on me. He wasn’t going to be manipulated, for all I tried. One day I really was sure I was being genuine, and shrewd, too. I said to him, “All right, Lord, you’ll drive the car of my life, I’m handing over the keys, I’m giving you the wheel, sit down in the driver’s seat and drive my car, take the wheel. I’ll sit in the passenger seat; you’ll drive the car.” You know what I was doing? Good people’s sin. Lord, you’ll have the wheel; I’ll take the road map. I’ll map out our route.
How many times did I tell the Lord he had control of my life? I’ll just hang on to the road map. I’ll be the one who says if we go left, right, stop, speed up, slow down. But, blessed be the name of the Lord, God is God and you can’t push him around. Blessed be his name!
But God showed his mercy on me. He did it the same way he did it with the disciples of Emmaus. First, he made my heart burn with the fire of his Word. Christ celebrated a long Eucharist with the Emmaus disciples, to explain the scriptures to them, to teach them that he was the son of God, but above all to make their hearts burn with the fire of his Word.
That’s what I experienced too in my conversion, by taking part in the liturgy of the Eucharist with my eyes and heart open. It was as if I fired up that barbecue to grill that frozen steak. That’s when that steak on the barbecue started to turn into real steak straight from Argentina. It started to sizzle. People smelled it when they went by. To paraphrase Saint Paul a bit, it was the sweet smell of Christ. Hey, it looks like a party; let’s check it out. Jesus had made his Word burn in my heart; he opened my eyes that had been closed. I needed serious surgery so the scales and cataracts preventing me from seeing God would fall from my eyes. It was a revelation. It’s the Holy Spirit who reveals it to us. It’s part of the mystery.
The Eucharist, God’s presence among us, is a mystery. The Eastern rite Eucharistic liturgy we experienced yesterday was so beautiful; it brought us a little further into the mystery of God. Sometimes, we are so wise and knowledgeable that we want to explain everything. We can forget the mystery of the Eucharist that welcomes us, that transports us into the dimension where God is.
It was God who took the initiative in my conversion. This is why the prophet Jeremiah said, “Bring me back, let me come back.” As I said earlier—I was good. I thought of myself as good, like many people here. Because I thought I was good, I couldn’t see that I needed to be brought back—to be converted. The Pharisee wanted God to deal with him according to his acts. He turned God the giver into a God who owed him. But God had mercy on me. The most important transformation isn’t the transformation of a sinner into an upright person, but the transformation of an upright person into a son or daughter. That’s the biggest conversion. When you are one of God’s children, you can be the heir of God. To begin to live as God’s son or daughter is to fall under the power of the Holy Spirit who makes you say Daddy, living out the experience of God’s loving fatherhood. He’s not my boss or judge; he’s my father, my dad. It’s the work of the Spirit in our hearts that makes us say dad, our daddy.
The last part of my conversion was about my being an expert on the Word—because I was teaching classes on the Bible and Biblical languages in a university in Mexico City and in other institutions—even in Rome. I was an expert—and I say it with shame—I was an expert on the Word instead of being a disciple of the Word, a servant of the Word. It was a conversion. Ceasing to be an expert and becoming a servant; letting God be God. It was God who transformed me and I can explain it by quoting the prophet, “You have seduced me, Lord, and I have let myself be seduced; you have overpowered me: you were the stronger”—with your Word. That’s the way it was.
So we return to Jerusalem with the Emmaus disciples to bear witness. That’s how I got into evangelization with the San Andrés School, which—I’ll explain this briefly—was founded to train evangelists, with 2,000 schools in 61 countries. It’s a school of evangelization using a participatory and dynamic method for learning—and above all showing—how to teach. That’s how the School of Evangelization began, tiny, like a mustard seed, growing by looking for and finding teachers. God gave me the gift of understanding one thing—something I, of course, already knew intellectually, with the head: that the Word is inspired by God and the Bible is inspired by God. The Holy Spirit breathes the Word and the Word exhales the Holy Spirit into our lives.
The Word of God is pregnant with the Holy Spirit as Mary was when the Word became incarnate inside her. The Holy Spirit is the Word, the rûah of God. But the Word of God exhales the Holy Spirit, exalts the Holy Spirit. Whoever listens to the Word of God has been sealed with the Holy Spirit. The Word is filled with the wind of the Spirit. I wanted to control it, limit it, not let the Spirit blow where he wills, knowing not whence he comes nor whither he’s going. Letting the Holy Spirit be the Holy Spirit. It’s the power of God for the salvation of those who believe, as Saint Paul says. If we don’t tie him down, we give up the control and let ourselves be controlled by him.
So, it’s time now for you to blow up your balloons. (Each participant had been given a balloon before Mr. Prado Flores’ witnessing.) Now you have to make a decision. Either you tie up the end of your balloon, or you let it go, let the air get out so it can go where it wants. (Coloured balloons go flying and bouncing all over the stadium).
Lord God, I entrust this assembly to your Word, as Paul did with the apostles of Ephesus. Take care of your bishops; take care of your Church. Protect it, Lord. Protect all of us here according to your Word. Amen.