April 27, 2011

Were not our hearts burning

Several years ago I had gone into the City (what we in the metropolitian NY area call Manhattan) to see the Byzantine art exhibit at the Metropolitian Museum. Since I don't get to the Met that often, I usually make a day of it, and after viewing the exhibit I wandered around the galleries. I had done a semester internship at the Met in college, and I knew my way around quite well. Surprisingly, I came upon another temporary exhibit entitled "Painters of Reality: The Legacy of Leonardo and Carravaggio in Lombardy." The moment I turned the corner into the exhibit I came face to face with Carravaggio's "Supper at Emmaus." I stood staring at it, and since I had no companions accompanying me, I was able to gaze at its magnificence for quite some time.

Since Luke's story of Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35) competes with Matthew 6:25-34 as my favorite Gospel story, I knew I had to ponder the artist's interpretation of the passage. From an artistic point of view, Carravagio, is a master of chiaroscuro, the use of darks and lights. He is also known for the realistic way his subjects are portrayed, and for his dramatic use of foreshortening. I was also drawn to the somewhat odd array of food on the table. It was noting like I had pictured the original "supper" with Jesus would be. I found the image of this painting stayed with me long after I left the museum.

A few weeks later, I attended my first summer at the University of Notre Dame. One of the courses I took was Art and Theology given by Fr. Michael Joncas. The course looked at theology through the lense of music, the graphic arts, and literature. When he started the section on graphic art, the "Supper at Emmaus" was one of the pieces we studied. Fr. Mike beautifully explained the symbolic meaning of not only the food on the table, but the use of light, foreshortening, clothing, facial expressions and postures. He had a passion for the piece that helped me to enter ever so deeply into the painting and the story.

The Road to Emmaus is a story that I can never end pondering and meditating upon. It is a story of all Christians who seek the Lord on the road of life. It is the story of Eucharistic faith and spirituality. It is the story of the celebration of the Eucharistic Banquet. It is also a story of how this Eucharistic faith compells us to go forth and share the Good News.

The one line that stays with me is, "Were not our hearts burning within us..." This line is so profound that the United States bishops used it as the title of their document on adult faith formation, "Our Hearts were Burning Within Us: A Pastoral Plan for Adult Faith Formation in the United States." That "burning" in our hearts is something I think we all experience at some time or another. I have found that the closer I get to the Lord, the greater that burning becomes. It is like St. Augustine wrote, "You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." As someone who is immersed in adult faith formation as part of my ministry, this phrase helps me to realise that we who teach must reach our students, especially adults, in that "burning" place, that place where they seek God. That burning in our heart will never and should never be quenched until we dwell with Christ in the Heavenly Banquet at the end of the road of life.

Happy Easter


  1. You must have been around 8 or 9 when we sang that song at children's mass in the church basement. I can't believe you remember it.