Encountering Hope in the Story of Emmaus

Sr. Jane Aseltyne

Today’s post is from guest contributor Sr. Jane Aseltyne. Sr. Jane is in first vows with the IHM Sisters of Monroe, MI. Before entering, she served as the communications manager at A Nun’s Life Ministry, an online organization focused on connecting discerners with Catholic Sisters, as well as providing resources for spiritual growth and exploration. In prior ministries, Sr. Jane’s work focused on disenfranchised populations, including teenagers and the elderly. Currently, she is a graduate student at Catholic Theological Union.

Today’s liturgical readings for 3rd Sunday of Easter can be found here.

As I read and prayed over today’s gospel reading, the Road to Emmaus story, thinking about the church’s relationship with the LGBTQ+ community, the word that came to me was “encounter.”

The Emmaus story is familiar to us. Two disciples are walking along the road to a village outside Jerusalem called Emmaus after Jesus’ crucifixion. They are “conversing and debating” about the events surrounding his death. They are confused and hurt, trying to put the pieces together about what they have just been through. While walking, Jesus draws near to them, but they do not recognize him. Jesus asks, “What are you discussing?” I imagine their jaws drop, eyes widen, and they speak with a bit of an edge in their voice, replying: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place in these days?” I imagine the disciples take a deep breath, feeling all the sensations as they recount the last few days: the insecurity, the frustration, and the sense of hopelessness because they have lost the One whom they thought would redeem Israel.

But Jesus pushes them further, as he begins to interpret the scriptures. When they are at table together, Jesus says the blessing, breaks the bread, and gives it to them, and they recognize Jesus for who he was.

Perhaps at times, we’ve felt like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, weary and overwhelmed with the events happening around us. The 24-hour news cycle constantly reminds us that we are no strangers to political struggle and unrest, and the LGBTQ+ community continues to be at the center of some of the most violent backlash in our country.

Bills continue to be passed that ban access to healthcare for transgender persons, and a recent survey conducted by the Trevor Project showed that nearly half of LGBTQ+ youth contemplated suicide in the last year. It is difficult to reconcile this reality in our country, and even more difficult to read about the church hierarchy’s support for healthcare bans and anti-LGBTQ legislation. It leaves us wondering how long we will have to fight for inclusion and acceptance—how long must we wait for queer persons to be celebrated in church and society?

I believe some of the hate is fueled by the lack of encounter, a lack of storytelling, and sharing the truth of who we are with one another. Pope Francis is keenly aware that the world needs more understanding, more listening, and more tolerance. He calls us to create a culture of encounter, a space where we can hear one another’s stories and see one another as beloved children of God. But Francis notes that building this type of culture is not merely standing back and looking at a distance. We must get up close, walk with, learn from, and listen with our hearts so that we may offer one another “a drop of life.”

The encounter with Jesus on the road and at table changes the disciples’ perception of what has happened in their lives. While Jesus spoke to them, their hearts were burning within them, but at first, they could not quite figure out the connection between their experience and this stranger on the road. They only recognized Jesus when they offered hospitality and shared a meal together. This personal encounter with Jesus allowed them to see him for who he really was.

What would it look like if the people of God sought out genuine encounter with the LGBTQ+ community? Are we willing to let people reveal themselves to us instead of telling them who they should be?

The Emmaus story is an example of true encounter, and it does not end with the two disciples on the road. After recognizing Jesus, they immediately head back to Jerusalem to share their experience of the risen Christ with the community. They recall their experience that went from confusion to elation, from anonymity to recognition, from stranger to friend. I imagine that when the community heard of their experience, it was balm for their aching hearts after the violence they had witnessed. It was hope injected into their weary souls.

As we seek out encounters with people in the LGBTQ+ community, we bring stories back to the people in our other communities. These stories are messengers of hope. In sharing, we build community, we understand one another on a deeper level, and we live out the call to welcome one another in. It’s in these moments that we remember we are not alone. We are called to community and to bear one another’s burdens. We are not alone in our weariness.

Sr. Jane Aseltyne, April 23, 2023

1 reply
  1. FR. Gerard Chaisson
    FR. Gerard Chaisson says:

    Dear Sr. Jane,
    Thank you for your heartwarming sharing on today’s gospel! It warmed my heart when you spoke about the importance of encounter. To share ourselves with others is so important. Again thank you for a hope filled reflection.
    Fr Gerard


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