Sunday, April 30, 2006

Walking with Cleopas: Emmaus and the Theological Life

As evening sunlight streamed in through the windows of the Notre Dame Stadium Pressbox, students, faculty and staff at this Spring’s Breaking Bread event—our semi-annual dinner and evening of spiritual discussion—were enlightened by Rev. Michael Heintz. Father Heintz, the rector and pastor of St. Matthew Cathedral Parish in South Bend, offered a reflection entitled, “Walking with Cleopas: Emmaus and the Theological Life.” Father Heintz began his reflection by reading the passage from the Gospel of St. Luke in which Cleopas and an unnamed companion encountered Christ on the road to Emmaus. As they walked, and at first did not recognize Jesus’ true identity, He “interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures,” thereby revealing to them how He fulfilled the prophesies of the Old Testament. Upon their arrival in Emmaus, Cleopas and his friend persuaded Christ to stay with them. “And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.”

Father Heintz’s selection was apt, as this particular account of the two companions who recognize Christ in the breaking of the bread provided the original inspiration for the Breaking Bread dinner series. This passage, suggested Father Heintz, provides an excellent model for the theological life – a life of faith seeking understanding. Father Heintz examined five aspects of the Emmaus story, in particular “its provisional, communal, conversational, Christocentric and ultimately Eucharistic dimensions.” First, Father Heintz noted that the account involves two disciples traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus – they were on a journey. “There is something profoundly provisional, deeply incomplete, about our life in the here and now . . . ultimate meaning, complete satisfaction, and enduring happiness are yet to be experienced.” Therefore, the theological life is always a “work in progress.” Second, pointing out the passage’s communal aspects, Father Heintz pointed out that Cleopas was not traveling alone, and that it is “precisely in community that Christ reveals himself, as He did to the two on the road to Emmaus.” Third, he observed that during their walk to Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion were engaged in conversation when Christ joined them. Likewise, the theological life must be “essentially one of conversations” both with one another and with our “forbearers in the Tradition of theological reflection, the saints and doctors of old: a kind of conversation and engagement with their ideas and their thoughts, about our shared experience.”

Next, he examined the inherently Christocentric aspect of the Emmaus experience, pointing out that Christ did not merely walk with Cleopas and his companion, but also revealed Himself and the fullness of his salvific role to them. “For those of us committed to the theological life, Christ must be at its center as a living companion, the pivotal companion on our journey.” Father Heintz concluded his reflection by emphasizing the Eucharistic dimensions of the Emmaus passage – Christ revealed Himself to them in the breaking of the bread. Although Jesus then vanishes from their sight, “the mode of His presence becomes what is later termed sacramental: it is in the Eucharist that Christ abides with them – and with us. Now even those Christians not of the Catholic communion and who may have very different notions of what exactly the Eucharist is or signifies nonetheless have a deep regard for table or meal fellowship.”

The students at Breaking Bread greatly appreciated the opportunity to enjoy their own meal fellowship and to consider Father Heintz’s thoughtful spiritual reflection. In addition to his pastoral responsibilities, Father Heintz teaches in the Theology Department at Notre Dame. He is completing his doctorate in Theology at Notre Dame under John Cavadini and Rev. Brian Daley. He enjoys reading, sports, and is a licensed baseball umpire.

Breaking Bread is chiefly administered by the Center’s current undergraduate assistants, Kate Wilson, Stephen Freddoso and Greer Hannan. It has become the Center’s most popular undergraduate event, and a beloved Notre Dame tradition. The Center once again thanks Mr. Fran McGowen, of Malvern, Pennsylvania, for his generosity in sponsoring this event.

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