Homily – Sunday of the 3rd Week of Easter – 26 April 2020 (Fr Kees Thönissen)

I share a true story with you. I know a priest -maybe a Capuchin- who for Sunday lunch, was heating-up a closed tin of baked beans in a pot of boiling water. He fell asleep. He came back much later to see the pot on the stove all screwed up by the high heat. He rubbed his eyes, there was the open, empty tin, but no baked beans to be seen! He was nonplussed. He looked around everywhere but couldn’t find the beans. Eventually he looked up and saw a clump of baked beans plastered to the kitchen ceiling. He was left with a burst-open bean tin, and beans bust-out over the kitchen.

You are cooped up in your homes during lockdown. When people are jammed upon each other pressures can build. A little disagreement or an irritation can explode into bad temper. It’s like our tin – a kind of pressure-cooker on too much heat where the huge pressure needs to find a way to release itself. Something just ‘has to blow’.

Pressure felt within has to find ‘a way out’, a way to discharge its pent-up energy, or life gets unhealthy.  Carl Jung showed how suppressing unconscious movements leads to mental ill-health. Unseen feelings build-up. Whatever it is, you need to get it out … whether it’s a bad argument at work or with a friend, or an unpleasant conversation with a family member or friend… that upset needs ‘to get out’ by sharing your story with your husband or wife, father or mother, or another friend. It’s true for you, isn’t it, that once ‘it’s out’, you will feel much better? Jung was right – suppress your unconscious and you will suffer inner imbalance. So, in your case it’s good to ‘get it off your chest’!

But you have to help other persons that you care for – to help open the lid of their over-heated tin to release whatever’s ‘cooking’ inside. That’s what councillors or psychologists are paid to do. They listen and help one open up so as to let the pressure of the stuff brewing inside break out. Once the pain is out it can be faced and handled together.

I’ve counselled, you may have counselled – you may be called to “counsel” each other. The thing not to do is to rip-off the lid of the over-heated can so that the contents explode in an emotionally uncontrollable way. The ‘other’ must be allowed to open themselves up at their own pace – bit by bit. They need to bring the hidden unconscious feelings to the surface – you help them. Worse, never abruptly give them your solution to their problem. They will resent this. Rather, gently encourage them along to slowly find the solution themselves. Any ‘counsellor’ invites the other to ‘tell their story’. The key means is to draw close to them and just listen.

This is what Jesus the perfect psychologist does for the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus. Jesus doesn’t say “Hey, what’s the problem guys!?” Instead the Gospel says that he drew near to them…and just walked with them. So the two men stay relaxed. Jesus offers them an easy opening, “So may I ask what your animated conversation was about friends?” They are now ‘hooked-in’, “You don’t know the trauma that happened in Jerusalem?!” Jesus doesn’t put them off by saying “Of course I do!” that will shut-down any more sharing.Instead he plays dumb. In this way he encourages them to open up even more, “No I don’t! What things? Tell me!”

So the two let their whole saga pour out. They can’t stop themselves: “It’s about this our Jesus… a mighty prophet in word and deed… and how the leaders put him to death. You know that our whole future hope was all pinned on Jesus! Our women went to look and said his body just disappeared… some angel told them that he was alive. Some of our disciples went to look and found that all they said was true… but Jesus was missing!” They don’t have to say that they are rattled, confused and upset – it’s obvious!

Jesus lets them ‘get it all out’. Once they’ve spilled all of it out, the two are now receptive to what Jesus’ response might be. Jesus now seizes on this ‘gap’ and hits them with a dramatic blow to shake them up, ‘You’re so slow to understand your sad story!’ Their brains spin, “WHAT are you saying!” They’re very focused! Jesus is now able to unravel their story with them. “So you’re with me now? Don’t you see that it was all meant to be like this in your life? Look how it was predicted that the Christ would suffer by Moses and the prophets, Joel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Hosea. See how they all point to God’s big STORY. Your story fits into his story. Do you see how the exquisite weaving together of the whole of God’s plan makes sense?” It all makes such glowing sense that they realise that ‘their hearts are burning within them’. 

Now ‘they’re totally into’ this stranger that has walked and talked with him. But Jesus pretends to go on, just to make them feel that his leaving would be a ‘sad loss’ for them – Jesus wants them to want him to stay with them a while longer. They fall for it, “No, Don’t go on, stay with us tonight!” Jesus knows that their hearts desire to absorb more of God’s wonderful plan – they can’t get enough of it. Jesus has now inwardly sensitised them for what was going to happen to them at their supper meal.

As they were having this special supper together, just as Jesus broke the bread, something very deep was released out of their inner spirit. They recall the apostle’s talk about Jesus at the Last Supper and his breaking of the bread with them, and their making a connection of this to the breaking of his body on the cross, and now … they see this breaking of the bread …! In a flash everything clicked – they immediately see a most marvellous picture emerging. They see who Jesus was, who Jesus is now, and what Jesus will be in the future. Jesus vanishes, but he is imprinted on their hearts. They rush off immediately in the dark of night to tell the apostles.

Dear friends, today you’re unable to experience fist-hand the breaking of bread at Mass. But deep down you also know the full story of Jesus. ‘Walking with’ your Church, you’ve been witnesses to this all – death and the resurrection events. You also saw and heard the Spirit being poured out on you in many ways over the last years as in today’s reading of Acts (2:33).

Listen to your inner self, to your unconscious, to your deeper spirit. ‘Let your faith out’ as it tries to rise to the surface. Don’t stop this eruption, this flow. Listen to the voice of Jesus as he draws near, walks with you, and talks to you in this time of quiet. Stop talking and telling your story, and listen. The Spirit more and more explains everything in your heart. Listen to the Lamb without blemish and grasp the big picture he has put you in.

Have you let out those pent-up negative pressures? Not fully? Well, tell Jesus. Pour it all out, including your frustration, your pent-up disappointments, and even underlying anger. Let it ‘blow up’ and hit the ceiling under heaven. You are allowed to moan and groan at God. Yes as
Pope Francis says, tell God directly of the pressure of your sins. [There is also the offer of phoning in. As shared in our WhatsApp group you can phone a priest to share ‘your hard-story’ and to receive a consoling response].

Try not to let your ego ‘blow-up’ – teach yourself to talk, to dialogue with your partner, your children, your parents, or friend. When you do share, ask the Spirit to be with you both. Share your story, but listen to the other’s story. Why not, as in Marriage Encounter, write (10min) your spouse a ‘love-letter’ laying out for them how you feel in life. Find an intimate time to exchange, and quietly read the other’s letter twice. Dialogue on the letter with the strongest feelings for 10min. Help each other do this*. See how you’ll grow together!

More deeply… once you have ‘talked it all out’ with Jesus, then listen in the silence of this ‘free-time’. You will begin to recognise Jesus as he draws near to you on your road. There will be moments when you see him, in acts of kindness, in ‘coincidences’ that befall you, in new opportunities that open up, and in the little gifts he pours you in your daily life. Above all see him in the faith that he slowly increases in you all the time.

Be freed up to share your faith-stories with other believers. Hurry out with the same eagerness as those two disciples. Share what he reveals to you- open up to others as befitting.Don’t just  drift back into the parish, dance back into it – full of confidence and faith. As 1 Peter says …‘Your faith and hope are in God!’ (Second reading 1 Pt 1:17-21).

* APPENDIX: Marriage Encounter. How to write a love letter. [https://stl-wwme.org/guidelines.php]
EXAMPLE QUESTION: “How do I feel about you and my family at this lockdown time?”
WRITE: Write your love letter to an already chosen question for 10 minutes. As you write, keep in mind the person to whom you are writing – your spouse. Write for the full 10 minutes. First, answer the question in two or three sentences sharing your thoughts. Then, reflecting on your answer, get in touch with your feelings. Write your feelings honestly, openly, and sincerely. Describe your feelings in a way that your spouse can relate.
EXCHANGE: Silently and lovingly, exchange your love letter when you get together as a gift of yourselves to one another. Silently read each other’s love letter twice – once for the head and once for the heart.
DIALOGUE: Dialogue after you have read the letters twice. Decide which of you expressed the strongest feeling. Dialogue on that feeling for 10 minutes. Sit close to each other and give each other your full attention. Once you have exhausted all the ways to describe the feeling or 10 minutes is up, the dialogue should be brought to closure.
SELECT: Select a question for the next day’s dialogue now. Do not wait or it may not happen. Choose a question about things that are pertinent to your relationship. Take turns choosing questions.