The first Mass: Lesson in charity and spirituality

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[Mr. Saludo wrote this piece together with Fr. Luis David, S.J.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
— The Gospel of Luke, 24:30-32

When was the first Mass? Jesuit theologian Fr. Catalino Arevalo noted in a recent homily that the two core elements of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass were first set out by Jesus Christ Himself in His encounter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.

In the Gospel of Luke (24:13-35), Jesus heralded the Liturgy of the Word in explaining the scriptures to the disciples: “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”


Then the Liturgy of the Eucharist: Jesus again presaged priests in breaking, blessing and giving bread to the faithful. And like the two disciples, we recognize Jesus in the bread, saying “Amen” when the priest offers the host and says “The Body of Christ”. Afterward, we go forth and share the good news, as the two disciples did.

Nice Mass trivia, one might say. But there’s more to Emmaus than just the beginnings of the pinnacle of Christian worship. In one of the longest accounts of the Risen Christ, we find no less than the core of spirituality and charity.

Ateneo philosophy professor Fr. Luis David’s recent take on Emmaus contrasted today’s wariness toward strangers with the two disciples’ hospitality toward the unrecognized Jesus even as they rushed to the protected privacy of home after the harrowing events of their beloved Master’s passion and crucifixion:

“The two men who are reported in it to be putting a lot of distance between themselves and the confusion of recent events. They’re on a beeline course for their private fortresses, but the amazing thing is that before they disappear behind them, they extend hospitality to a stranger—just like that.”

Life-saving charity
That kindness isn’t just a friendly gesture, but quite possibly a matter of life and death:

“In the biblical world, the general material environment consisted of thin slivers of barely habitable land traversing vast stretches of desert with few watered oases to break its crushing monotony. Living under those conditions carried few advantages over living on the surface of the moon.

“Hospitality meant providing basic, if temporary, support to human survival upon a harsh and desperate terrain that on account of the scarcity of water was not only was physically challenging, but also faced the traveler with certain danger, as it teemed with brigands and other violent, scary desperados.”

Opening up to others instead of shutting them out is, of course, central to Christian charity. And as our Lord promised and the Emmaus disciples discovered in the literal sense, welcome another and you welcome Christ.

“What if, on the bus home, the boat deck, the train, the airplane, you permitted what the person in the seat next to yours had said, to overcome your pretense at deadma, at nonchalance—what if you had quit the pretense of remaining two unrelated individuals, two separate lives, and said instead that what he had just said was funny, at which point your eyes locked, and you each broke out into a smile, said things to each other that never would have been casually said.

“The two disciples returning to their home in Emmaus seemed to have no problem at all doing just that, recounting to their traveling companion (who had rather casually joined them as they went their way) about what their Master, Jesus, had done, about how he had suffered for it, about how splintered their hopes had become in light of his recent obliteration through crucifixion.”

Thus, the disciples took a total stranger into their confidence, sharing their innermost pain and despair, not to mention the incredulous claim of Jesus’s resurrection told by women, hardly the most credible source in biblical Israel. And in this bold hello, no less than our Lord turns up. Now that’s charity.

“Every so often, let us move beyond our lifestyle ghettos, vary our routines, suspend the habit of mingling only with those we deem congenial since they remind us of ourselves. Let us make the rounds of our city’s sidewalks and find sprawled upon them the exhausted bodies of people who live on the streets and depend on the charity of passersby because they have no homes, no ‘citadels of privacy’ to disappear into.

“Let us begin to understand the advocacies of a bona fide NGO, maybe volunteer our time and resources to a feeding program. Someone else, at the next transport strike, might drive an hour or so to pick up stranded commuters he does not know at all. And meeting strangers, too—enthused potential clients, yet unable to afford the usual fees—the doctor or lawyer figures out how to serve them pro bono.”

Spirituality in strangers And spirituality?
“God uses the stranger to shake us from our conventional points of view, to slice away the scales of worldly assumptions from our eyes. It is at the risk of missing God’s truth that we domesticate God and reduce God to the size of our own minds.

“The same is true of our faith. Faith suggests the movement away from the safe, the secure, the comfortable, a venture into the distant, the unsettling, strange. When we decide not to stray far from the security of familiar surroundings, we begin to believe we have no need of faith, which is a form of idolatry. We begin to think of our security as depending on social position and place rather than God.

“It is the stranger who offers us our very best hope of meeting the Risen Christ. We may not recognize his presence at first. But if we take the risk, if we welcome another in, if we open our door and our table to him or her, as the two disciples did on the way to Emmaus, we may yet end up with our eyes opened wide and our hearts burning.”

With Jesus no less. Amen.

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