The Emmaus Story: Where Are You?

Quest has been engaged this weekend with it’s annual conference, taking as its theme this year, “Preparing for a Great Sea – Change”, a theme decided on in the wake of the encouraging changes in Church tone and style under Pope Francis. A secondary focus has been on the story usually known as “The Journey to Emmaus”.

Emmaus by Janet Brooks-Gerloff, 1992 -  Benedictine Kornelimünster Abbey, Aachen

Emmaus by Janet Brooks-Gerloff, 1992 – Benedictine Kornelimünster Abbey, Aachen

This focus was prompted by a meeting last year between our chair and deputy chair, Ruby Almeida and Michael Bennet, with Archbishop (now Cardinal) Vincent Nichols. During the course of the discussion, Cardinal Nichols suggested that a useful source of reflection for Quest would be Pope Francis’ words on the story, in an address he gave to the bishops of Brazil. Accordingly, preparations for the conference included providing the delegates with a range of written reflections on the story, by Pope  and also others. Our two keynote speakers also each included some thoughts on some less familiar, specific details of the mostly familiar story.

One of those additional written sources, however, from a specifically gay perspective, was a summary of the interpretation by Michael B Kelly, who turns the usual story on its head, putting the emphasis not on the journey to Emmaus, but on the disciples’ enthusiastic return to Jerusalem. Whereas the usual telling of the story focuses on just two phases, the journey to Emmaus followed by the meal where they finally recognises their companion as the risen Christ, Kelly outlines four. He adds, as preamble, the reasons they were on the road in the first place: this is immediately after the passion and crucifixion, the Jesus community are despondent and disillusioned. Some women claim to have seen the Lord, risen from the tomb. but the others don’t believe them. Sharing the disillusionment, the two disciples have parted from the main Jesus community. In leaving Jerusalem, they are in effect, moving away from the recognized religious leaders of their community. Later, after the journey and meal with the stranger who turns out to be Christ, Kelly adds the important sequel: they are filled with joy, and rush back to Jerusalem, carrying with them the truth of the resurrection.

The point Kelly is making, is that gay Catholics have much in common with the two disciples in the story. We too, may feel the need to walk away from the recognized public church, as represented by the Vatican (which he notes as the modern equivalent of those left  behind in Jerusalem). We too, in our despondency, may not recognize that unseen, Christ continues to walk beside us. We too, may reach a point where we do indeed meet the risen Christ, outside the established Church (for example, in a supportive faith community like Quest, or perhaps in our personal prayer lives). When we do, says Kelly, we have an obligation, like the two disciples of the story, to return to the Church, carrying with us the story of we we have indeed met the risen Christ, outside the constricting confines of the rules – based standard teaching that excludes us. (In his keynote address, our Peter Verry SJ had drawn a clear distinction between the image of God as law – giver, familiar from both the Old Testament and the modern Vatican, and as God of compassion and mercy, familiar from the Gospel stories – and the direction in which Francis appears to nudging the Church).

As part of conference proceedings, an entire morning session was devoted to a workshop on the Emmaus story, with participants asked to reflect and share on a series of questions, one of which was “Where, in the story, do you see yourself?”

For those who are able to see themselves, or would like to see themselves, as on that road back from Emmaus to Jerusalem / Rome, there will be “Next Steps Ministry” workshop in London on September 20th.  This will lead participants through a process combining input, personal prayer, small group sharing and large group discussion, to a point where they are able to identify some ways in which they can make firm commitments, taking full allowance of their own circumstances, limitations and skills, to help to extend ministry to LGBT Catholics (or other Christians), within their own faith communities, however those may be defined.