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Changing direction: Homily for April 30, 2017, 3rd Sunday of Easter

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Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 04/30/17

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Last year, a teenager by the name of Michal Kozlowski, a student at Regis High School, had the chance to attend World Youth Day in Poland. It was a remarkable experience, and one of the things that impressed him was a group of young people he got to know from Syria.

One night, one of these new friends told him how sad he was that his younger brother wasn’t able to be there.. His brother was trapped in Syria and couldn’t get out.

Michal was shocked and asked what could be done.

His friend from Syria said a lot depended on pressure from the outside world.

But then he asked him a pointed question: “What have you done for Syria?”

The question haunted Michal, and after he went home, he decided he needed to answer that question. He needed to do something.

This past Friday night, he did.

With the support of dozens of teenagers from Catholic high schools around New York, he put on a fundraiser in Westchester—a concert to help refugees from Syria. All the funds raised went to CNEWA, the papal agency where I work. By the end of the night, these kids had collected over $15,000.

It was an incredible event. During breaks, the kids gave testimony about the urgency of the crisis and the need help our suffering brothers and sisters of Syria. At one point Michal quoted something Pope Francis said in Poland. It made a huge impression. This, he said, was the great inspiration for the fundraiser:

“The times we live in do not call for young ‘couch potatoes,’” Francis said, “but for young people with their boots laced.  The times we live in require only active players on the field, and there is no room for those who sit on the bench.”

Those words are meant not just for young people. They are meant for each of us. And whether we realize it or not, that message conveys something we find in the Gospel we just heard.

It is this idea: our faith is not lived in isolation.

That means being people of action, spreading the word to others—as the disciples on the road to Emmaus did—and living it out in the world.

A familiar hymn, “The Servant Song,” says

“We are pilgrims on the journey. We are travelers on the road…We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.”

This means supporting one another, praying for one another, praying with one another. We have to be agents of evangelization—with our words and our actions.

From the first days after the resurrection, this message was clear:

Christianity cannot be contained.

It has to be shared and spread.

Put another way: it is rooted in communion—and community.

The source and summit of our faith is communion, the Eucharist, the breaking of the bread—literally receiving Christ.

But then it is up to us to take him into the community, to bring him to others. Christianity is a communal experience.

Look at the scriptures we’ve heard since Easter.  The encounters with the resurrected Christ happened in groups: the two women at the tomb; the many disciples gathered in the upper room; and today we hear about the two disciples traveling on the road to Emmaus—two “pilgrims on the journey, travelers on the road.”

When they encountered Christ, what followed was not only communion – the breaking of the bread – but also community, a deepening desire, a need, to spread the news.

“The two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.”

They had to go back and tell others.

When we leave here this morning, we can’t just walk out the door and continue on our journey. We have a commission, to live the Gospel in the world, as I say at the end of Mass, “to glorify the Lord with our lives.”

This is—literally—at what all of this means.

The other night, I gave a talk about the Mass to the people who are about to receive confirmation at Pentecost. And I asked them if they knew what the word “Mass” means. Most people today don’t realize: it comes from the Latin “missa,” which has the same root as “commission” and “dismissal.” It means being sent out.

Everything that happens here, at this altar, in this church, in our worship of the Lord, leads us to be sent, to be commissioned to proclaim the Gospel somehow to the rest of the world.

Sometimes, it may send us where we never expected to go.

Look at what happened in this Gospel: the disciples were headed to Emmaus—but they ended up someplace else. They turned around and went back to Jerusalem.

They literally changed direction, because they met Christ.

If it sounds familiar, it should. It reminds me of another group of travelers, the Magi—who also ended up changing their plans, “returning by another way.”

An encounter with Christ changes everything—and fundamentally changes the direction of our lives.

That is every Christian’s story.

And it’s not a story we should keep to ourselves.

Those kids up in Westchester get it: Christ’s great command—to love one another—demands engagement in the life of another. It calls us to sacrifice and compassion and action.

As Pope Francis put it: It calls us, all of us, to get off the couch, lace up our boots, and act.

“We are pilgrims on the journey. We are travelers on the road… We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.”

Once we have met Christ, encountered him, received him in the Eucharist, nothing can be the same.

How will we recount to others how Christ has been made known to us in the breaking of the bread?

We will leave this place changed by what we have received—and who we have received.

The question before us: What are we going to do about it?

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