Our Long Road to Emmaus

One recent Sunday morning I was completely saturated with staring into screens. Zoom calls for work and for The Well, book club, and the children’s schooling. FaceTime for piano lessons, conversations with friends, and BINGO night with extended family. iPhone for messaging. Facebook to order takeout from my favorite restaurant. Instagram for a peek into someone’s home I would just really, really rather love to visit in person. Twitter for arguing politics and public policy. YouTube for livestreaming everything from concerts to read-alouds to Mass.

Feeling ex-communicated and bitter at big tech for driving how we communicate these days, the last thing I wanted to do that Sunday morning was passively watch Mass livestreamed on the Internet. When the quarantine began two months ago, the Mass viewing experience hadn’t been too much a challenge for my family of six. As the weeks go by, watching Mass in the same space where we (once) watch sports, enjoy a movie and popcorn, wrestle and make forts, fight and bicker, and now also homeschool has grown quite challenging at Das Schmidt Haus.

So that Sunday morning as my husband faithfully and dutifully led his family to the living room to watch Mass, I begrudgingly made way to my favorite chair while muttering some choice words that shall not be shared here. There was nothing good, true, or beautiful with my heart’s posture at that moment.

Mass began. The audio was glitchy. What was that first reading even about? We stopped the feed and read the Mass readings together. Hopeful the glitches were fixed, we resumed the feed and listened to the priest’s homily. The audio seemed worse. “I can’t understand him,” one child said. “Let’s rewind it,” said another. A third child just flopped around on the floor. The fourth who always resists naps suddenly declared a mid-morning nap was in order. As set apart and sacred as this time ought to be, it’s simply difficult for the children to focus. It’s difficult for me to focus.

Pilgrims of Emmaus

The Gospel reading that Sunday related the story of the disciples encountering Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Being it’s one often proclaimed and discussed, the risk to tune out is high even when distractions don’t abound. But in between garbled bits of streaming audio, the priest said something I needed to hear AND I miraculously heard it.

Something turned inside them that day on the road. And something needs to turn inside usThe real impact of this thing we’re in the midst of can’t be measured simply by the impact on the economy or how much it’s messed up where we want to go or what we get to do. The real lasting impact of this thing depends entirely on us … and whether we allow this time to be a long road to Emmaus. Whether we allow the Lord Jesus to encounter us as we walk along the way. Whether in those moments of despair and despondency, we’re willing to hear someone speak a word that rouses our hearts.

Oh my! Heart roused.

“The Pilgrims of Emmaus on the Road,” an 1886-1894 painting by James Tissot. Public Domain.

There’s great spiritual connection between the two walking on the road to Emmaus to our journey today. Two disciples, one named Cleopas and the other unnamed. It’s useful the second person isn’t named as that opens space for us to enter into the scene and walk the road to Emmaus as well. Throughout Scripture, everything points eastward to Jerusalem, toward the foot of the Cross. But the two were going the wrong way, walking north and west away from Jerusalem. Jesus approached them, walked with them, and gets them to turn around on their own. He was with them long before they recognized Him.

So goes for us. We must be open to the possibility that just as Jesus accompanied the two on the road to Emmaus and gave them what they needed to turn around, He will accompany us and do the same. He will give us what we need to turn ourselves where we ought to go. In moments we least anticipate, that’s typically when Jesus appears, and He’s often with us long before we recognize.

Redirecting Eastward

As I sulked that Sunday morning along the “YouTube Road to Watching Mass,” the priest was the vessel whose divinely inspired words were precisely what I needed to hear. They served like a pinch I often give to my kids when I want them to sit up, pay attention, and recognize the beauty happening all around.

Now sitting straight and attentive, I recognize my heart longs to be surrounded with the good, true, and beautiful. More than ever, my senses crave the incarnational – a physical leather-bound book (perhaps a new Bible!) for marking up and journaling; long walks and bike rides with my family along the trails and hikes down to the creek where my children can explore, throw rocks, and watch the water ripple; card games with extended family over glasses of good cheer while laughing so hard our stomachs hurt; visits with my 94-year-old grandma while looking her in the eye and holding her hand instead of chatting via FaceTime; date night with my husband while enjoying delicious food at a swanky restaurant in the East Village; and most important, sacred time with Jesus encountering Him in the Eucharist while in community with my St. Pius X family.

The real lasting impact of this thing depends entirely on us and whether we allow this time to be a long road to Emmaus.

Where are you headed right now? North, west? How might Jesus be walking with you, gently turning you around to head east? Look and you’ll find Him where you least expect, maybe even through a screen while watching Mass. Allow our Lord Jesus to encounter you along this long road to Emmaus.

(As glitchy as it may be, hear Fr. PJ McManus’ full homily here.)

Copyright 2020 Lisa A. Schmidt

Lisa Schmidt is a proud lifelong Iowan and an equally proud alumna of Iowa State University. #GoCyclones! Her roots serve as an inspiration to continually seek opportunities to help make Iowa a great place to live, work, pray, and play. In 2016, Lisa blended her skills for building community with her love for Jesus and founded The Well women’s ministry. Along with her husband Deacon Joel and their four children, the Schmidts are parishioners at St. Pius X in Urbandale, Iowa.