The disciples encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Gustave Dore.

From Nowhere to Somewhere

The Lord uses priests to do his work and be his presence

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Father David BonnarMy hometown, because of its vast array of bridges spanning three rivers, is often called “The City of Bridges.” One of those bridges was constructed in the early 1960s and became known as “The Bridge to Nowhere,” because right-of-ways had not yet been secured and the bridge did not connect to the north side of the Allegheny River. Eventually, this bridge did lead somewhere.

During the Easter season, we hear about the first encounters with the risen Lord. One of my favorites is the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They are walking away from what they just painfully witnessed — the suffering and death of Jesus. Even though with each step they move further from that event, it nonetheless weighs heavy on their hearts and minds. To walk away from this heart-wrenching ordeal is easier said than done.

Imagine the grief, loss and disillusionment of these disciples. How quickly their lives had changed. While they were traveling the road to Emmaus, there was probably a sense in their minds that they were on a road to nowhere. Perhaps they found themselves resonating with the author of the Book of Lamentations, who said, “My life is deprived of peace, / I have forgotten what happiness is; / My enduring hope, I said, / has perished before the Lord” (3:17-18).

Have you ever found yourself on a road to nowhere? Perhaps a parent’s death, the loss of a close friend, a sudden transfer or a stark medical diagnosis overwhelmed you with grief and sadness to the point that you lacked peace and forgot what happiness is. Perhaps the persistent and pervasive stories of clergy sexual abuse have made some of us wonder where we are going.

For the two grieving disciples on the road to Emmaus, something miraculous happens. As they walk together, they encounter a stranger who walks with them and opens up the Scriptures to them. They are so enamored by what they have been told that they invite this stranger to stay with them. The stranger sits down with them and breaks bread. In the breaking of the bread “their eyes are opened.” They come to see that this stranger is none other than Jesus himself, the risen Lord.

What Jesus did for those two grieving disciples is something we as priests are called to do every day by opening the sacred Scriptures and breaking the bread. Through the grace of our ordination and the proclamation of the Word and the celebrating of the Eucharist, we open eyes and lead people on the road from nowhere to somewhere. How humbling it is that the Lord uses us in our brokenness to do his work and be his presence. And yet we do it so often we can easily take it for granted.

As priests of Jesus Christ, it is incumbent upon us to not only minister to God’s people in this regard, but also to our own brother priests, especially those who find themselves on a road to nowhere.

I learned this lesson many years ago as a young priest. Easter was approaching and I was struggling as I was transitioning to a new assignment. I was overwhelmed by it all, so much so that I had forgotten what happiness was. Thankfully, good friends saw right through all of this and had a way of coming to the rescue. Days before Easter, a priest friend who was 20 years my senior took me to breakfast and gave me a framed painting of the road to Emmaus. Like Jesus, this priest friend wanted me to open my eyes to see that beyond suffering and death there is the joy of the Resurrection. That one simple gesture saved me from despair and gave me new hope.

Sometimes we don’t necessarily appreciate the impact we can have on one another as brothers. While our ministry is by and large for the faithful, we must never forget our responsibility to one another and the fact that we are our brother’s keeper. Thank God for brother priests who help us get from nowhere to somewhere. In other words, they bridge the gap from suffering and death to the Resurrection. Happy Easter! 

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 15 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. To share your thoughts on this column or any others, email us at thepriest@osv.com. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.

 
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