road to emmausTwo years ago when Pope Francis was in Brazil for World Youth Day he spoke about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were leaving Jerusalem, the centre of the horrific last days of the one who they thought would be the messiah. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” they said. So they wandered in search of something new. Little did they realise that the supposed messiah who had been executed three days ago had risen and was standing right before them! Pope Francis sees the two disciples as a metaphor for those who leave the church because they no longer see it as meaningful. They feel abandoned by all that it represented. Their expectations of the messiah did not come to fruition. And so they journey on the long road looking for a place of belonging.

Indeed, there are many, even those who choose to remain within the church, who feel as if they do not belong. Francis says,

We need a Church unafraid of going forth into their night. We need a Church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a Church capable of entering into their conversation. We need a Church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning.

Belonging in Community
We yearn for meaning. We yearn for belonging. Yet the community of faith we turn to often fails to create a place of belonging: a community that offers a space to ask new questions, a community that accompanies us, that, in the pope’s words, “warms hearts”. How often do we greet one another at church, beyond the ever-so-brief sign of peace? How often do we love without condition rather than abandon those who lack our faith or conviction? As the song says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Belonging to God
Jesus sought out the disciples on the road and accompanied them in their darkness. Still, many feel abandoned by God and unheard. But God still calls out and says, “I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1c). How are we being the face of God for those around us? Do we teach one another how prayer is an invitation to come to know God more deeply? How do we, like Jesus did with the disciples on the road, open the scriptures to those we’re journeying with?

Belonging to Self
Pope Francis talks about the pain some feel from a “great sense of abandonment and solitude, of not even belonging to oneself.” Not loving ourselves is a great crisis of our time. Our search for meaning is frequently a search for self-belonging, and there is no one to help us make sense of our pain, so we try to numb it. How do we help people know they are loved and that they belong? How do we help those in darkness “hear the voice of their pain” and its call rather than trying to anaesthetise it?

How do we create a place of belonging for those around us searching for it? We turn our hearts outward. And we show by our love that all are welcome and all belong to God.

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand,
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand,
And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land.

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Music by Kevin MacLeod