Homilies,  Year A

Third Sunday of Easter – 23 April 2023

Though we live our life on them today and take them completely as granted as if they have always existed, I will never forget the first time I accessed a computer and went online – which, amazingly was only some thirty years ago –such a short time ago, on the scale of things.  I remember the sense of awe as my laptop hooked into the computers of institutions around the world for the first time.  Suddenly, I was part of the communication revolution and with it the information revolution.

In my more recent years, social media has come to the fore of many people’s lives, and communication between people takes place on such a platform.  I have never felt comfortable with social media which all too often becomes a sophisticated form of broadcasting and a substitute to genuine communication.  This is the curious paradox in the current communication revolution in which we are.  Despite the extraordinary degree of communication, we do not seem to be growing in our relational capacity.  It is not uncommon to hear of people working in an office or factory who claim that work relationships were far better prior to the computerisation of their labour.  Now people are so used to speaking to a machine and getting the answers on their own terms they can find it difficult indeed to give the time necessary to accommodate the vagaries and natural idiosyncrasies of other people, and our capacity for relationship suffers accordingly. 

This loss of relationship is exacerbated by the loss of genuine conversation in human interaction.  Ironically, though we have never had as much access to each other as before, I wonder whether we are in fact in danger of losing the art of conversation.  Yet, to lose the art of conversation is to face the steady privatisation of life and even of relationship itself.  It is to see the horizons of our life become more and more narrow, more and more truncated. 

Conversation is a process of two people understanding each other. In a good conversation, each opens themselves to the other, truly accepts the other’s point of view as worthy of consideration and gets inside the other in order to understand them better.  Good conversations are events which happen; they take on their own turns, reaching their own conclusions. In good conversation there is an openness, a readiness to explore, to ask questions, the qualities of clear thinking, humility, trust, confidence and friendship, prudence.[1]  The partners in the conversation are then far less its leaders than those being led.  A good conversation has its own spirit and it reveals meaning within itself. 

As I mentioned, conversation ultimately works toward the widening of horizons. This is precisely how the Canadian Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan described conversion.  We should not be surprised at the similarity of the two words.  Conversation leads to conversion.  How is this so?  Conversation is an un-nerving place.  In conversation I risk my present self-understanding by facing the claims to attention of the other with whom I am conversing.  And change is inevitable – either radically, or at least in the acknowledgment that the once merely different is now genuinely a possibility for me.[2]  Good conversation always leads me to conversion at some level or other.  How interesting that the great spiritual writer of the 20th century, Thomas Merton entitled his last journal, “A vow of conversation” ‑ a pun on the monastic vow of ‘conversion of manners’ which is one of the three Benedictine vows.  He was someone, especially, who enjoyed such a wide circle of conversation in his life and in his spiritual quest. 

Our own journey in life, our own journey of discipleship, however, is likewise supported, nurtured and sustained by a conversation which is always open to the discovery of something new. 

This power of conversation is brought through in the gospel for this Sunday – one of the primary Resurrection accounts.  The disciples meet a stranger in the context of their confusion, their struggle to understand, their questions about what their encounter with Jesus had been all about, in other words in their readiness to enter a conversation.  As they allow the questions of their heart to rise to the surface, as they are prepared to actively question who Jesus might be, what his life might mean, Jesus meets them. He walks with them in their searching, in their struggle to understand, in their willingness to proceed on an uncertain journey, in their readiness to engage in a conversation about all that troubles them. They are not given an answer that obviates their questions. It is their questioning, and their willingness to enter a sustained conversation, animated by the full force of their questions, that enables them with understanding.  It is precisely in the conversation open to the Stranger, by which their fear is transformed into possibility, their doubt into courage and their self-enclosure into a generous openness of spirit.  The disciples undergo a conversion through their conversation.

It is the same with us.  We know that Christ is risen, that Christ lives with us, now, here.  But to truly encounter him we, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, need to be prepared to go on a journey full of questioning, to be prepared to be confused, whilst maintaining faithfulness to the search to understand in this remarkable spirit of conversation.  We stumble along, we grope for the answers, in the half-light, not quite knowing, but gradually, over time, we begin to perceive the great gift that we have been given in the proclamation that Christ is risen.

The story we have heard not only brings home to us to the power of conversation. It also highlights how genuine conversation always develops into hospitality. The two are integrally linked.  Conversation is born out of the hospitable heart and conversation leads further into hospitality.  To be people of conversation, to be people of hospitality, to be open to what is closed, to enlarge what is tight and narrow, to establish communication between persons in such a manner that the life of Christ can flow and circulate. It is in the breaking of bread together with the stranger with whom they have been conversing that the disciples finally recognise Jesus for who is he is.  This is such a beautiful depiction of the Eucharistic mystery. 

The one who becomes most blessed is not the stranger who arrives but the one who receives them.  And in particular, like the disciples at Emmaus, we are especially blessed when we open our hearts in discovery in that conversation into which Jesus invites us.

Happy then the person who has learnt to enter the hospitality of such a conversation for the future will be theirs.  Their hearts will burn with fire.

[1] These are the qualities identified by Pope Paul VI in Ecclesia Suam (1963).  He speaks in this of spiritual communication, dialogues as a form of realising the apostolic mission.

[2] I am taking this idea from David Tracy’s, Plurality and Ambiguity

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