Cross to the other side

The Good Samaritan: a story we all grew up with, someone we were taught to aspire to be. How far up is this on my ladder of priorities today? We grew up with a different concept of “who is my neighbour?” Then our front doors were always open, food was generously shared and children freely ran into and played in the neighbours’ homes. Today our doors are more often shut. We mind our own business.

We must be mindful what happens behind closed doors. We close the door today in the name of security. Behind the closed door there lies a danger. We can become pre-occupied only with affairs concerning self and family. In so becoming, we will be like the lawyer in today’s Gospel wondering “and who is my neighbour?” Self-preservation can be trying to isolate all good for ourselves but it runs the danger of self-destruction when we stop crossing to the other side because our spiritual self feeds on doing good to others.

We must be mindful that deep in our heart we are enabled with the capacity to be good to others. All of us has the “Good Samaritan” in us. We are capable of being “moved with compassion”, enough to make us cross to the other side to help people in need and fulfil the Law of our existence to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Be mindful this is in you.

“For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out”. (Today’s first reading)

Carry it out by crossing to the other side. We are surely aware of people in our life who are in some need, “injured”. They may be struggling materially or are in poorer health. They could be in trauma emotionally or are lost spiritually. People in our life are people placed in our sight. They are not narrowed only to those behind the same closed door of our immediate family and friends. God place them in our sight so that God can help them through us.

We have many opportunities to bring out the “Good Samaritan” in us. Today’s message tells us we cannot be idle when we see some person in some need. When we stop what we are doing for ourselves and do what is needed for the person in need, we are like the Good Samaritan who paused his own journey to help the man in need. When we give up our time, share our resources or use our little talent for a person in need, we consciously cross to the other side.

The homilist today shared another view, from the man lying injured. Perhaps it is from this lowly prone, helpless perspective that we better understand this call to cross to the other side. In the twists of life, we too have found ourselves “injured” and relied on others to help us. There were good Samaritans coming into our life when we most needed them. It is through them that we experience God; how He intervened in our personal life to do all He has done for us.

Sometimes God seem a bit too slow. Maybe it is because no one would cross the road for us? Life has to be lived with open doors, and minding the business of one another out of love is the answer to the lawyer’s question, “Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

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15th Ordinary Sunday

A lamb in this digital world

This digital revolution is having a huge impact on the way we live, work and communicate. It is rapidly transforming us, maybe in many unanticipated ways. Exciting it certainly is, but at what price to who we will become? Change will always happen. Man’s history is one of progress. It is never a debate of good or bad, better or worse. Change is inevitable; but how can our spiritual life keep pace with it?

We are now in an over-informed age. Facts, opinions, biased or prejudiced views are available at a click. Paradoxically being over-informed has narrowed our views and knowledge because we can easily select with that same click what we choose to believe or want to know. Our spiritual life cannot and will not stand still in this momentum. Our spiritual way of life and beliefs will be swayed.

If I may quirkily say that it presents a slant to today’s quote from the Gospel in this digitalised time. “I am sending you out like lambs among wolves”. It is like being a candle in the wind. So we must continue to change and adapt to be this light to the world.

Throughout the history of time, since the Lord appointed and sent out the seventy-two, we are to go into our world carrying the message “the Kingdom of God is very near to you”. This is the one constant that has withstood all changes throughout time. As disciples we know that this candle flame will never be extinguished even in howling winds. But we appreciate that spiritual life can be disconnected. We are sent out to heal this relationship.

“The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.”

The harvest is rich, here and now. There are many people who have lost connection with the Church and God, for whatever their reasons. This is the harvest but the labourers are few. The labourers are us who continue to be this candle in the wind. But we must appreciate that more than ever before the tool to harvest must be to bring about encounters with God in personal lives. We are the ones sent to make this kingdom real in peoples’ lives.

We used to grow and progress in an age where we craved knowledge. That age has now been over-taken. Religious education is no longer enough on its own. In everything we do these days, the ‘self’ is galvanised by experiences. We look to pleasure our senses. And so it is with our spiritual life. It must keep pace with who we are becoming.

Our spiritual sense can only be excited when we have encounters with God in our daily life. We are these lambs sent into the world to make God real and tangible to people around us with the life we live through love, mercy and compassion. Only through these can the Kingdom of God be brought near. This is the one constant that will always withstand changes.

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14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

This way out

Every person is a unique individual. Each of us created, and will make a way through the journey of life to return home to our Creator. Each will take a uniquely personal path. Each is guided by a need for peace, and peace is the compass that will lead the way. But the journey through life is all but peaceful. For most of us it is tough.

Our journey is fraught with challenges. We try to find the best way for ourselves. Not knowingly we become self-indulgent. Along the way we encounter wealth, status and power, among other worldly things, that we think are steps toward peace. They will lead us a long way but eventually we will discover that it is the wrong way. We are lost and reset our compass to seek and search for peace.

“Follow me” says Christ in today’s Gospel; the Son of our Creator sent to guide us home. He did not come with a transaction in hand. He did not say “be a Christian” or “do this mission for me” and in exchange he will give us happiness and peace. He is not enslaving us. He came because of his unconditional love for each of us, believers and people of other faith, to generously guide us through this journey of life. He says to follow him because we are lost and he knows the way to freedom.

“When Christ freed us, he meant us to remain free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. My brothers, you were called, as you know to liberty; but be careful, or this liberty will provide an opening for self-indulgence. Serve one another, rather, in works of love, since the whole of the Law is summarized in a single command: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Today’s second reading)

The way out of our challenges in this worldly life is to love one another. It is opposite to self-indulgence. Love is unconditionally and unceasingly poured into us. If we keep it only for ourselves it will die. Love must flow out of us; after all love is “to will the good of the other”. When love flows, it becomes a visible tangible experience, and so, illuminate the way for us to follow him to peace.

Along his way some of us are called to be his disciples. Disciples are just like route marshals, people steeped in navigating using love as a fuel. It is not true that only disciples will find the way home; that idea is self-indulgent in itself. Disciples are called to go into the life of others so that others can taste this love that will illuminate their way out of worldly challenges. Disciples allow love to flow through them by loving the other.

Letting love flow is a dynamic action. It does not cease. Disciples are constantly on the move to be where love is needed. There is no rest. “Foxes have holes and the birds in the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”.

The way home is narrow, hemmed in by endless distractions that will lead us astray. We need to remain focus like a kick-scooterist who cannot afford to take his hands of the handle or to look back. Stay focus to remain on this path to love one another as yourself. This way out is the way in into the home of eternal life.

“Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God”

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13th Ordinary Sunday

We are One

Today I write from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, from the Killing Fields. It was not so long ago that this happened. “Why did they do this to them?” Since then there had been many other killing fields, acts of terror incited by ideology or religion. And sadly, these atrocities seem to be the trend. Perhaps we should ask, “Why are we doing this to one another?” Will we never realise and acknowledge that all humanity are one?

After Sri Lanka, a panelist on a news station suggested that religion should be moderated to curb this growth of religious extremism. Some would no doubt advocate banning religion altogether. I am more familiar with Christianity but I believe that all religions preach a set of good moral values. None advocate killing.

How can we argue with Christianity when the main message it preaches is to love one another? What is so off-putting about a God who has done nothing to demand that we believe in him but yet love us all unconditionally? Why not advocate religion and promote loving one another to the extreme? Why are we shunning the God-Love option? Perhaps it is because we have started believing in the gospel for self instead of the gospel for the other. In so, we have refused to be humble.

To counter religious extremism, maybe every ‘moderate person’ should return to their faith instead of abandoning it. Too many of us ‘moderate people’ have walked away from the practice of our religion. For the glory of the world or for the glory of self? We can negate religious extremism only when every person embrace a religion and begin to practice all its good values.

“Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me. I have given them the glory you gave to me, that they may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be so completely one. I have made your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and so that I may be in them.” (Today’s Gospel)

Humility is the seed for extreme love. There is a choice within us to concede space in both our opinions and acts to the other person. It is a choice to climb down from our claim of “my personal rights”. Humility is a concession of self. Only then can true love flow out of us. Humility allow for this nature of our created self to surface which is to do only good, to love. Only then we can effectually acknowledge that all humanity are one.

Humility is also the nature of God. His supreme desire is for the good of each of us. His humility dictates it is more important first to follow this love. This comes above a need to proclaim a belief in him. He created us with this nature to love. Love dwells in us “so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and so that I may be in them.”

We cannot continue to go into trade wars; this is mine and nothing is yours. We must trade taking with giving, mine is yours, pride with humility. The only way for our self-preservation is to journey through life as one. When we are one, the world will not have any more space for any killing fields.

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7th Sunday of Easter

 

Finding Peace

How high do we value having peace within ourselves? Come to think of it, not high at all. When we start out in adult life, few would pursue inner peace as their ultimate goal. When we are young, full of adrenalin and passionate, we chase our individual dreams. We can afford battle bruises; heartbreaks are part of the price in pursuit of a materially comfortable lifestyle. The irony for many of us is we begin only to look for peace in the cycle of achievements when each victory was met with an increasing hollowness within self.

This is a wisdom of life, the wisdom from life.

We are created beings given a human nature. It is natural to compete in our worldly environment. In truth, Love accompanies us into each pursuit, cheering us on in victory and offering consolation in every crushed dream. We are never left alone on our journey through life. Because we are beings created out of love, by Love, it is also in our nature to wander through life in search of the path that will lead us home to our Creator. On this path of life inseparable spiritual nature supports human nature.

St. Augustine in Confessions offered this wisdom, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

Peace is not the ultimate prize we fight for when we are young. Our human nature deviates far from its spiritual nature. Like a pigeon the Creator allows us to fly as far as our dreams will carry us. Until restlessness sets into our worldly life. Like a homing pigeon we begin to search for our way back to our Creator. Peace is what we first try to find.

“Follow me”, the Risen Christ says this to us all the time. The material world will never fulfil us. Wisdom through battle bruises and aging tell us that. Yet each one of us is gifted the freedom to pursue. He generously accompanies us on our pursuits even if he is most times ignored. When we are ready to fly home, we find him faithfully waiting. This is the nature of our God of Love.

Finding peace. “Follow me” does not fly us onto a path of earthly riches. It leads us onto a path of love where we will experience life in a way to tell us worldly riches are less significant than they actually are. The path begins with loving our self a little less and the other person a little more. “Follow me” is not sacrifice, it is a way, the only way to find peace.

If peace is inner calm despite external turmoil, then it must follow that to find peace we cannot battle conflict with conflict. In every life situation we are never in total control. We must surrender to this humility and trust in the Risen Christ. We must be in earnest gratitude and appreciate what we already have. If we want to win the next argument, it is better to lose it. Only then can we find rest, and find peace.

“Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you,
a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you” (Today’s Gospel)

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Padi fields are peaceful but peace is not found in them. Peace is found in our inner self when we follow his ways. 

 

6th Sunday of Easter

Let Love Flow

Many of us will feel we are doing alright when it comes to loving one another. We are in a close-knit circle of family and friends. Loving them is not a problem; in fact it comes very naturally. Until a conflict occurs and we find ourselves in different circles. Today’s message pushes the boundary of our circles because in true love all humanity belong to the one same perfect circle.

“Love one another; just as I have loved you, you must also love one another” (Today’s Gospel)

So what is this true love? St Thomas Aquinas defined love as “willing the good of the other”. It means that confronted with a choice we must consistently choose what will be better for the other, sometimes at the expense of our own self. John Lennon invited us to imagine a brotherhood of humanity where all the people shared all the world and dream of everyone joining in this perfect circle so that the world will live as one. It will only happen if this begins with ‘me’.

“Just as I have loved you”. God is the source of unceasing and unconditional love. For some of us our relationship with God is in a conflict simply because God does not make the world the way ‘I’ want it to be. And ‘I’ want it instantaneously too. No matter how much we reject and blame him, God remains faithful to us. How did we end up in conflict with God who unceasingly will what is good for us?

In our human, self-defense mechanism we tend to blame the other. Sometimes we blame God. Many daily conflicts arise in our family and jobs because of choices we made. They become more complex and long-drawn over time because we keep rejecting love; this willing of the good for the other. When we do not want to live in the same circle as the other, there is a cause and effect of our choices. It is not God’s fault. This was never his way when he said, “Follow me”.

‘I’ am a blameless victim in a conflict. This ‘blameless victim’ does not exist. As long as we do not love one another, we tumble into the vicious cycle of causes and effects. These can only stop when we take it upon ourselves to love the other. The unconditional love God has for us must flow through the life we live into the life of the other. To be able to truly love, we must assume our part in any conflict and in any breakdown in relationships.

‘I’ must first confess humility and trust in the love of God; to admit yes, reluctantly maybe and feel embarrassed or ashamed. ‘I’ must concede my prideful opinions and not pass the blame. ‘I’ must search the broken relationship and surely I will find moments to be grateful for. Use gratitude to power up love. ‘I’ must completely surrender as judgement is not for me, only willing good for the other. In ‘my’ lowliness I respect and obey the authority over me and trust in the consoling love of my ever faithful God. Taking is easy and giving is tough but when both hands clap, we come back to live in the same perfect circle.

Every week in Easter we get the same message, “Follow me”, follow my way. At our next point of conflict let us all do just this. Follow this Love and let it flow.

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Let Love Flow: unceasingly, unconditionally.

5th Sunday of Easter

Listen to that voice

I had it all then, a happy family and a good job. Nothing at all excessively as I am just an average man living an ordinary life. Which was why I was surprised by an emptiness that plagued me then. I could not understand it then but something inside me was bugging me, almost begging, questioning me about the meaning of my life. I searched everywhere, venturing into new experiences only to slip into a mild depression as I failed to fill that emotional void.

I stood at the back of the church like I have always been doing for the last 15 years appearing only to fulfil my obligation. I wasn’t interested to volunteer my time to the church. I had moved on from being a deeply religious person as I found my feet in the corporate world. It never even occurred to me to search the church to fill my emptiness.
Then a call to serve in a particular ministry began to echo like a little voice in that emptiness. Over the weeks it recurred more frequently, growing louder each time, same time exerting a pull over me. Unexplainably I went on to answer that call.

Now it is 20 years since. My life has completely transformed. I have found the meaning and purpose of my life in that answer. I did not know it then but now looking back on these last 20 years I know that it was the voice of my shepherd calling out to me. I acknowledge now that I was a lost sheep then. I didn’t even know and it was perhaps the grace of my spiritual instinct that made me follow that voice.

“Jesus said, ‘The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me’” (Today’s Gospel)

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. It is also Vocation Sunday. Today is a call to each of us to ministry and Christian service. It is a day to search through the din of our life and listen to that inner voice. It might just change your life as it did mine. Because following this voice will lead us to the meaning and purpose of our life.

Our lives are interlinked. We are of the one same flock. We cannot escape the consequences of each other actions or inaction. When we act only for our own self the other will inevitably get hurt. When others do only for themselves we get hurt. The Good Shepherd knows the path out of these complexities of our human life. He tells all sheep the code to stay on this path, “Love one another”. Just imagine. If we listen and fulfil that voice would not our lives be filled with lasting happiness and joy?

The Good Shepherd knows the rich pasture. Grazing in it feed us with meaning in life. He calls us into a vocation; the purpose of life is to pass on the unconditional love he has for us to each other. When we do good to someone do we not feel an inner glow of fulfilment? That is being human too. This fulfilment is where our human and spiritual lives are in union, where the stray sheep meets the good shepherd.

Listen to that voice. It is not about Himself. He cares unconditionally for each of us. He will lead us out of our emptiness to find meaning and fulfilment in our life. “Follow me”.

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Flocking into the Church of the Good Shepherd in Jericho. Listen to that voice will transform our life.

4th Sunday in Easter: Good Shepherd or Vocation Sunday

Restored and Empowered

In recent weeks we stood helpless and sad. There was the fire in Notre Dame and then those terror attacks in Sri Lanka. If we knew no one personally, then we were at an emotional distance. We wondered, “Why God?” After all this was his own church, his own people. But we, those from the distance, did not get angry or blame God. It was a “stray flame” and “an act of terror”. We accept that these events were consequences of some people’s actions. We sought God in the aftermath.

However when events become personal our human self cannot stay at that emotional distance. Many things do happen to us as a consequence of both other people’s actions and our own. When there is a storm in my life I have a tendency to blame God, “If you are God why do you allow this to happen (to me)?” Maybe I am not fully aware that I feel a self-entitlement in life. In my desperation I cry out, “Where are you God?”

Storms do pass. When they do they leave us tired, hollow and empty. Our sky is clearing up after a heavy storm but it is still dark. But we live. Inside us we tell ourselves it is going to be a new day. Hope fills up part of that nothingness. Hope is like a light in the darkness. At the dawn of a new day, it is like a charcoal fire in the distant on the beach.

“Jesus called out, ‘Have you caught anything, friends?’ And when they answered, ‘No’, he said, ‘Throw the net out to starboard and you’ll find something.’ So they dropped the net, and there were so many fish that they could not haul it in. As soon as they came ashore they saw that there was some bread there, and a charcoal fire with fish cooking on it.”

We will see God in the aftermath of a storm. We find him in the consolation after the disaster, we feel him in the unity of the people coming together. When storms become personal we must sought for him in the people around us. God act and answer us through the people he has placed in our life. It is in each other that the fire of hope glows. We are inter-linked by the consequences of our action, good or bad. But our God is a God to everyone and for everyone. In a way only He knows, He will always restore each of us individually.

In Him there is always forgiveness for our actions that led to bad consequences. There is no judgement, only unconditional love. He gave everyone a freedom to choose our ways, and that freedom includes believing in Him. God will always be there to pick up the pieces and restore them. On that beach he picked up the three denials of Peter to not only restore but empower each of those, “Feed my lamb, look after my sheep, feed my sheep”.

God shows us the way to live, the way to true freedom. It is not a transaction of good behavior and reward. His unconditional love is offered to restore every person. His way is the only safe passage through our storms in life. With that safe passage comes the reward of true joy, fulfilment and peace which we so desperately seek for in life. His way is open to everyone regardless of the times we choose to deny him. We only have to “Follow me”.

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At the site of the Primacy of St Peter where today’s gospel occurred. “Feed my lambs, look after my sheep, feed my sheep” goes beyond restoration. It empowers us to go on a journey to true joy.

3rd Sunday of Easter

Of things unseen

I am learning Thai. It is a tonal language. Some of its sounds are very unfamiliar, unnatural for me. Some I never knew I was capable of making. But I realize the ability is there in me, and in anyone of us. It does require focus, training and nurturing to bring out our raw abilities and put them together into a useful language. It is just not about a language, but all of us are capable of a lot more in life when we explore deep into ourselves for things unseen.

We are into the Easter season. It gives life, and help us to live life. The Easter message is that the Risen Christ walks with us on our earthly journey. This is a peaceful reassurance, a consolation available to draw from when our journey go into stormy times. He is unseen but he is there, for everyone even if we “refuse to believe”. But how can we see the unseen Risen Christ?

Where do we look? We must explore deep into ourselves for things unseen. Often divine guidance and protection are in the things that never happened to us. When we embrace this, we inspire our disposition of gratitude that is already present in us to surface as a refreshing attitude to life. With gratitude follows humility. We cannot be grateful for our life if there is no higher Being for us to acknowledge. Humility reduces self-importance to concede that the Divine is in control.

It is in ordinary, day-to-day life where the Risen Christ is seen. We say that God is in the details. The little innocent things that happened for us, the major events that crossed our path, the trials and tribulations and the happy fruits of our life, all are both dots and milestones that make our journey in life thus far. They all join to make a picture of a blessed life, our personal salvation history. It is in these chapters of our life story where we find the hidden, unseen Risen Christ.

The events or things that have happened in our life are all very personal. No one shares the same life path. We are all unique in this sense. The Risen Christ uses things that have happened, or are happening, to us to dialogue with us. It becomes a spiritual language, its tone varying in the love, consolation, reassurance and peace that we need to move on day to day in life.

In recent weeks we witnessed the events at Notre Dame and in Sri Lanka. Both events a consequence of human actions. One may be the result of a careless stray flame while the other was from the choice to hate. God allows us to choose but he is there and seen in the aftermath. We can see him in the love among the people, in the consolation to the victims, in the courage and determination to rebuild and in the unity where the world stood together. We shall not be moved. The unseen is seen.

And so it is in our personal life. We must first know where to find him. Then we focus, train and nurture until the unseen is seen. Storms will come for us in life. Look in its aftermath, in the healing. When we find the Risen Christ in the personal details of our life, we establish a personal relationship with him speaking a spiritual language. “Peace be with you”.

“Doubt no longer but believe.”

Unseen

2nd Sunday of Easter

Easter.

“He saw and he believed”. John saw an empty tomb. It was in nothingness that he saw something. We too will do well to search in the emptiness of our life, in our losses and our brokenness. In these nothingness he is present. This has been the experience of our faith. “Why look among the dead for someone who is alive?” Why do we continue to look for him in “the things that are on earth”? We have been told countless times that He is not there.

The Easter liturgy is very rich. And there are many readings to ponder that can map the journey ahead for us. New life, new life. It remains only a promise until we embrace it by getting rid “of all the old yeast” and make ourselves “into a completely new batch of bread”.

We are also called to have yeast-like effects on the people we meet on our path in life. A common thread runs through the many readings. There is excitement causing the people to run and share what they have witnessed. Searching deep into ourselves we too will find many accounts of our encounters when “our hearts burn within us”. We are “all the prophets to bear this witness”. It is my privilege today to be vulnerable and humble to share an account from a personal chapter in my life about the woman who handed me my faith and taught me how to love.

It took her 5 days to journey through the passage of death to get on to the other side of life. She had suffered 25 years of crippling pain from rheumatoid arthritis, each new day decreasing her mobility and increasing her pain. She sits still unable even to scratch an itch away, patient with time as her only help to take it away. Yet she wore a brave smile, never once complaining, “Everything is in God’s hands”. She was my model of faith, my own ‘Mary’, her life a living lesson of “Christ must increase, I must decrease”.

It was on the fourth day that she said to me that it was difficult to die. Around her was her family grieving not ready to let her go. I asked if she wanted each to say a personal goodbye but she said not. She wanted the family to gather around to pray with her. At the end of the prayers she raised her crippled hand and waved. She only said two words, “Alleluia, Alleluia”. Not good bye, not thank you.

You see she had never uttered these words before. She never went to school, cannot write and was never conversant in Western languages. We wanted to be by her side, to pray more but she waved us away. She entered a physical state, groaning unintelligible sounds. She fell asleep and when we woke up at dawn she was gone. One of our wristwatches had unexplainably stopped while we slept. Did she leave us the time of her departure?

It took me awhile to comprehend, to see the something in the nothingness. At that final prayer she came face to face with her Creator which was when she proclaimed, “Alleluia! Alleluia!” following then no prayer was needed anymore. That moment her soul reached the afterlife of eternal life, leaving her physical body to pass away according to its earthly time-table. That day I experienced the truth of faith; the resurrection became convincingly real for me. I saw and I believed.

Happy Easter! May each of us experience the Risen Christ on the paths we travel in life. May our eyes be opened to recognize Him!

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Our journey to Emmaus. May each of us experience the Risen Christ on the paths we travel in life. May our eyes be opened to recognize Him! 

Easter Sunday