By Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens
I am always amazed that on the Road to Emmaus, as the two disciples journeyed from Jerusalem, they did not recognize Jesus when he started to walk with them. I theorize that they didn’t recognize his presence because they believed he was still dead. Strikingly, it is when they invite Jesus into their home and “he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them” that their eyes were opened (Lk 24:30-31).
In the Eucharist they encountered Jesus Christ, alive. Changed by this encounter, they immediately ran back to Jerusalem to inform the other disciples.
We see that this encounter with the living Jesus makes all the difference in their lives and in ours. Pope Francis made this point in his Apostolic Letter on the Eucharist. He said, “Christian faith is either an encounter with Him alive, or it does not exist” (Desiderio desideravi, 10). He is making the point which he already made in his first exhortation on evangelization, quoting Pope Benedict XVI: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Evangelii gaudium, 7).
Christianity begins when we encounter the living God in the person of Jesus Christ — when we realize that he is the one who made us, who knows us, and who loves us even though we are not worthy of his love. When we experience that recognition that “Jesus died for me, to save me from my sins,” then as St. Paul said, “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).
Every Christian needs some form of this encounter. Paul had it on the road to Damascus. St. Peter had it on the Sea of Galilee (Lk 5:8) when, realizing who Jesus was in the miraculous catch, he cried out, “Leave me Lord, I’m a sinful man!”
Jesus doesn’t leave him. In fact, he invites Peter to follow him, and to lead his Church.
We could list many other examples of this encounter, including the woman at the well, the sinful woman who washes Jesus’ feet, the woman caught in adultery and Zacchaeus. The list grows with all the saints through history who encountered Jesus alive and followed him in his church.
In each case, someone “meets” Jesus and realizes they are in the presence of God, incarnate. They recognize their profound unworthiness — their need for conversion — and at the same time, they understand that they are infinitely loved by the one who knows everything about them. They know they cannot live without him, and must follow him, in his church.
Each of us should ask ourselves: Have I had this kind of encounter with Jesus Christ?
Do I believe he is alive and that he sees me and knows me right now?
When I stand in the light of his gaze, do I realize my profound need, that I am a sinner, but that also I am infinitely loved by him?
Pope Francis points out we need to continually seek this encounter: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day” (Evangelii gaudium, 3).
This is one of the main reasons why Jesus leaves us the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Again, Pope Francis writes, “In the Eucharist and in all the sacraments we are guaranteed the possibility of encountering the Lord Jesus and of having the power of his Paschal Mystery reach us” (Desiderio desideravi, 11).
Jesus is alive. He is living in the Eucharist and wants to encounter you. If you open your heart to him, he will change you. If you let him, he will turn you into himself. Let us pray that we and many others might encounter Jesus alive in the Eucharist during the Eucharistic Revival.
Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens is chair of the National Eucharistic Revival and the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota.