Want to see the church grow? Be a ‘witness of Christ’

Father Timothy Hepner

By Father Timothy Hepner

Third Sunday of Easter/April 15

Acts 3:13-15,17-19; Psalm 4:2,4,7-8,9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:35-48

Throughout the Easter season in the readings from the Acts of the Apostles we get to see the early church grow explosively in a culture that is hostile to it by means of disciples who were not particularly well educated or popular. Wouldn’t you love to see our Church grow explosively in the same way? Then it’s up to us to be “witnesses” of the resurrected Christ to others. These events of chapter 24 of Luke’s Gospel lay out a perfect road map for experiencing and facilitating encounters with the resurrected Christ.

Today’s Gospel follows immediately after his other disciples were walking out of Jerusalem to Emmaus, dejected and confused by the events of the past three days. A man came alongside them who seemingly had no idea of these events. Flabbergasted, the disciples explained that the man they thought was the Messiah was tortured and killed, and now they hear strange rumors of him appearing to their friends.

The man sheds light on these events by walking them through Scripture, explaining that the Messiah had to suffer and die. As he unravels the mysteries of their life and of salvation history, their confusion is dispersed and their hearts burn within them. Approaching their home, they invite him in: “Stay with us.” He takes bread, blesses it, and breaks it, and disappears. At that moment they recognize Jesus, who satisfies their longing by remaining with them in the Eucharist.

Running back to Jerusalem in the dark, they burst into the upper room and explain these events to the apostles. Just then, Jesus appears, and the events of today’s Gospel occur.

Adamant about proving his physical resurrection he says, “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see,” and even eats fish in front of them to prove that his is a real body. Then he recaps the Bible study that he gave the disciples on the road to Emmaus and says that “repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

ENCOUNTERING JESUS

If we want to see parishes, schools, Newman Centers, and ministries in the diocese grow and thrive, we have to become witnesses of the same risen Christ, and allow others to experience him like the first disciples. Jesus appears in the middle of his disciples’ lives: Walking alongside them, passing through the walls of the inner room, or finding them by the shore of the lake. Even when they don’t recognize him, he is able to explain their lives to them using Scripture. This leads to a deeper desire for and recognition of his presence, realizing that it is unlike anything else.

He speaks to a deeper place in their hearts, explains seemingly random life events, and gives them a deeper peace. Inevitably, they desire to remain with him and this leads them to his greatest presence: the Eucharist. This is the basic path of encounter. The presence of Jesus grows in our lives little by little through personal experience, Scripture, and the Eucharist, and each dimension sheds light on the other. The same pattern drives the spread of the Church today, one disciple at a time.

It’s up to us to listen to the experiences of those around us, walk with them like Christ, and respectfully shed light on their lives by sharing Scripture and our own encounters with Jesus. Programs like Cursillo and Alpha are excellent means to do this, as are one-on-one encounters through friendship.

It’s also essential for us to read Scripture, especially the upcoming Sunday’s Mass readings, in order to prepare ourselves for Jesus in the Eucharist. It’s as easy as going to usccb.org, downloading an app like Laudate or iBreviary, or subscribing to Magnificat and taking five minutes to read and reflect on the Sunday readings. And inviting fallen away Catholics to Mass and telling of our own love for the Eucharist will lead people to say, like the disciples, “Stay with us Lord.”

FATHER TIMOTHY Hepner is vocation director of recruitment for the Diocese of Peoria. To learn more about vocations, go to comeandfollowme.org or follow the Office of Priestly Formation at facebook.com/followmepeoria.

 

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