Archbishop's Message

My dear brothers & sisters,

THEIR EYES WERE OPENED

The encounter of the two disciples with the Risen Lord on their way to Emmaus as narrated in the Gospel of Luke (Lk 24: 13-36) is a template of the discipleship journey in the Christian way of life.
The Risen Lord accosts us exactly as we trudge along on the road of depression, gloom, pain and dejection to bring hope and meaning into our lives. He opens to us the Scriptures explaining the mystery of his suffering, death and resurrection by which we are saved and which becomes the mystery of our own lives through our communion with him in Baptism and the Sacraments. It is significant that he is recognized by the two disciples in the ‘breaking of the bread’, but just at that moment he vanishes from their sight. Nevertheless they don’t experience his absence, on the contrary his powerful PRESENCE. Does this strike a chord in our hearts – of the Eucharist where we always experience the living presence of the Risen Lord who is our ‘bread of life’? He first opens the Scriptures to us and leads us from the Scriptures to the ‘breaking of the bread’. The Scriptures and the Eucharist are inseparable. The Apostolic Tradition of the Church has always maintained this unity. The table of the Word leads to the table of the Sacrament.
“And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (Lk 24:31) are the words which encapsulate the encounter of these two crestfallen disciples with the Risen Lord. Jesus came into this world to lead us from darkness to light, from blindness to sight, from death to life – so striking are these themes in the Gospel of John! The Scriptures and the Eucharist – do they open our eyes or we remain the same? As we listen to the Lord he gives us the gift of the inner sight and we begin to see the truth of the Gospel. We may choose to keep our eyes closed and remain in our blindness, but he will not cease to invite us to listen to him. If we still stubbornly persist in our blindness, we are the cause of our own perdition.
Until the Risen Lord met them on the road the two disciples were still blinded by their earlier defeatist arguments stemming from a sense of failure that gave rise to fear, discouragement, demoralization and even cynicism. They were slaves to an older mindset until they encountered the Lord himself who revealed his identity in the ‘breaking of the bread’ and vanished from their sight but not before giving them the gift of enlightenment and new perspective. The disappearance of the Lord from their sight did not cause any shock or fright to them, on the contrary they realized their hearts were burning within them “while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures”
(Lk 24: 32). The encounter with the Risen Lord enkindles the divine fire of love in their hearts and the ‘breaking of the bread’ sends them out with immense joy and courage to proclaim to the eleven and to the world: “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” (Lk 24: 34). This is an exclamation of joyful faith that breaks inner barriers, exudes love, proclaims hope, reveals new life of grace and freedom in the Holy Spirit. Nobody can ever say, “The Lord is risen indeed” and remain the same ‘old person’. The Risen Lord makes us ‘new persons’. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come” (2Cor. 5: 17). The Gospel of Our Lord is the ‘new wine’ and the ‘new patch’ which requires ‘new wineskins’ and ‘new cloth’. The question we need to ask ourselves always is: Am I still the ‘old wineskin’ or the ‘old garment’ (cf. Mt 9: 16-17) in the way I live my life in its attitudes and behaviour patterns? If so the Gospel will not make any impact on me; the Scriptures and the ‘breaking of the bread’ will be just routine acts without meaning; I will not ‘recognize the Lord’; I will continue in my blindness. But the Lord will keep knocking on my door until I open…
Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the Risen Lord is proverbial. From mistaking him to be the gardener to recognizing him as her ‘Rabboni’, this valiantly faithful disciple of Christ moves from disbelief to faith; she wants to cling to him in joy but instead the Lord sends her out on a mission to proclaim the Good News of the Resurrection to the other disciples, which she does with such exultation, “I have seen the Lord” (Jn. 20:18). She is no more bound to the past; she is a new person now.
That same evening the Risen Lord appears to the frightened disciples huddled in a room for fear of being arrested. When they saw the Lord “the disciples were glad” (Jn. 20:20). He gives them the gift of peace, breathes into them the Holy Spirit and emboldens them to embark on his mission to proclaim to the whole world repentance and forgiveness of sins, i.e., salvation in his name. From that moment on they are people with a new vision, fearless and full of zeal to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom in Christ and no more arguing about “who is the greatest” (cf. Mk 9:33-37). Their eyes were opened. Henceforth they would exclaim, “We have seen the Lord”.
Eight days later, appearing to the disciples again and particularly to Thomas who had doubted, the Lord draws from him this confession of faith, “My Lord and my God” (Jn 20: 28). He is no longer a doubter but a believer who is ready to lay down his life for Christ.
We know the story of the conversion of Saul from a persecutor of the Christians to a passionate follower of Christ and God’s chosen instrument to proclaim the Good News of salvation to the gentiles and to suffer for Christ. From his earlier ‘blindness’ he regained his sight when “something like scales fell from his eyes” (Acts 9: 18) and he was baptized. It was not only physical sight that he regained after his encounter with the Risen Lord but, above all, the inner spiritual sight whereby he understood the truth of the Gospel and could never ever separate himself from it as he testifies: “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Tim. 1: 12). Having regained his sight, the Risen Lord sends him to the gentiles “to open their eyes , so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18). Sanctified in the truth the Church has the mission to proclaim the truth until the Lord comes again in his power and glory.
The appearance of the Risen Lord to Peter and the other disciples by the Sea of Tiberias (cf. Jn 21) is also very significant. The Lord does not rake up at all the issue of Peter’s denial, instead he only asks for a three-time affirmation of love and entrusts to Peter the mission of shepherding the flock in his name to the point of shedding his blood for the Gospel.
At the Ascension of Jesus and his final parting from their sight the disciples are not sad but they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Lk 24:52) because of the Lord’s promise to us: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). This is the basis of our Christian identity and mission.
After the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost the nascent Church becomes the witness of God’s Kingdom in this world. How? By devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the ‘breaking of the bread’, to prayers, and to holding everything in common – and there “was not a needy person among them” (Acts 4:34). We are told: “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all “(Acts 4: 33). In the face of bitter persecution it was the Spirit of the Risen Lord who enabled the Church to boldly state: “for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4: 20) and “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). We need to come back to these origins of ours in order to be authentic Christians in the context of today.
The Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the foundation of our Christian faith and the raison d’être of our discipleship. “The Christian faith stands or falls with the truth of the testimony that Christ is risen from the dead”, says Pope Benedict XVI in his magnum opus Jesus of Nazareth. Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (California: Ignatius Press & Bangalore: ATC), p. 241. It is not a fact to be scientifically proved but a faith experience that defies science. The word of God testifies to the experiences of the Risen Lord that became the turning point in the life of the disciples and enemies like Saul and laid the foundation for the birth and growth of the Church. The Saints and Martyrs of the Church drew their courage from the Spirit of the Risen Lord and his promise of eternal life and it continues into our day.
Christus Vivit (Christ is Alive)! Is what Pope Francis tells the youth today: “Alive, he can be present in your life at every moment, to fill it with light and to take away all sorrow and solitude… He fills your life with his unseen presence; wherever you go, he will be waiting there for you. Because he did not only come in the past, but he comes to you today and every day, inviting you to set out towards ever new horizons” (Christus Vivit, No. 125).


Yours sincerely in the Lord,
+ Anil J. T. Couto
  Archbishop of Delhi