While speaking about the eschatological value of our consecrated life our Constitutions tell us, “the evangelical counsels, fashioning his heart entirely for the Kingdom, help him to discern and welcome God’s action in history; in the simplicity and hard work of daily life they transform him into an educator who proclaims to the young “new heavens and a new earth” awakening in them hope and the dedication and joy to which it gives rise to” (Art. 63). The word hope can have its Biblical meaning to desire something with the confident expectation of its fulfillment (Heb 11:1). It is also an invitation to live a life filled with hope both in moments of joy and affliction (Rom. 12:12).
In January 2014, the Holy Father spoke to the leaders of male religious orders in the following words, “the whole world awaits us: men and women (and young people) who have lost all hope, families in difficulty, abandoned children, young people without future, the elderly sick and abandoned, those who are rich in the world but impoverished within, men and women (and young people) looking for a purpose in life, searching for the divine.”
It is possible that we too go through the experience of the disciples on the way to Emmaus; “we were hoping that he was the Saviour” (Lk 24:21). There could be reasons for this disappointed hope as they were disillusioned since the happenings fell short of their expectations. They wanted him to be part of their own plans and hopes as to be involved in the search for economic prosperity and material wellbeing.
Similarly, we too have desires, plans, hopes, to which we cling with great passion, at times neglecting to consider the possibility that there is a plan of God greater than our thoughts, but for this very reason, more beautiful, more useful for us, more exciting, more capable of giving fresh hope. Don Bosco wanted to instill this very same hope into the lives of the youth who stayed with him as quite many of them were also orphans. No wonder this great and saintly pedagogue painted the resurrection scene in the sanctuary of the first chapel that he constructed for his boys to pray.
At the final part of the journey to Emmaus the disciples feel that internal urge to invite the Lord, ‘‘stay with us Lord for it is evening and the day is about to end” (Lk 24:29). There is the lived experience of Henry Francis Lyte who wrote the famous hymn ‘Abide with me’. After his committed and involved pastoral activities on a busy Sunday evening he walked into his room with a heart that was sad and burdened. This has been another Sunday like any other Sundays in the long years that he had served as a priest. A half- empty Church, some involved, some not involved who came to fulfill an obligation, some listening with keen interest and others listening but not hearing, minds far away. He had felt that he achieved very little in his long life. He had to bring the people together, bring them closer to God, had tried to teach them the meaning of love and faith, of tolerance and kindness. But he felt that he had failed. The flock was not very united; they did not have a spirit of communion among themselves. There was greed, petty jealousies and even open fights.
Being an old man having served in so many communities he was at the end of his journey. He was tired and ill. The doctor had told him that he had only few more months to live. He just opened his well-used and worn out Bible on his table and came upon one of his favourite passages, “Abide with us, for it is evening and the day is far spent” (Lk 24:29). In the quiet of his room he read and reread those familiar and comforting words. At once he felt no longer tired and old. All at once he was no longer sad and burdened, no longer discouraged. Those famous words sang through his mind. He put them down on a paper and in less than an hour he had written one of the most beautiful and inspiring hymns of all time:
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide; The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide;
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee, help of the helpless, Oh abide with me……
I need thy presence every passing hour; What but they grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like thyself my guide and stay can be? Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me…..
Hold then Thy cross before my closing eyes; Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies;
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee; in life, in death, Oh Lord, abide with me…..
This hymn written more than hundred years ago is written in the spirit of being a witness to the Risen One. A hymn that has given or can give comfort, courage and a sense of direction to many who have for one reason or the other lost the sense and purpose of life and also for those who want to replenish themselves from the abundance of the ‘Presence of God’ in their lives. The hymn was written at the end of a day in a moment of sadness and discouragement which was converted into moments of shining faith and inspiration; words that would carry enduring power and influence.
Being witnesses to the Risen Lord
The disciples of Emmaus ran back to Jerusalem to tell the others about their encounter with the Risen Jesus. If we have truly understood that Jesus is not just any man but the one who knows the full truth about the human person, we cannot remain indifferent to the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters live, work, suffer and die without knowing and meeting Jesus. We feel driven to be witnesses of the Risen One. In the Gospels Jesus invites his disciples to be missionaries and witnesses – witnesses of him who is risen and alive, and who attracts to himself today, every man and woman in this world. In effect we offer our hands, our voice, and our heart to Jesus so that he can meet every person.
May the Risen Lord help us to become joyful announcers of the joy of the Gospel especially to the young.