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When Second Place Matters


The Holy Spirit makes us lovers of God.” ~ Saint Thomas Aquinas

Rarely does anyone remember who comes in second place. That’s just a fact. Quick: Who lost the Word Series four years ago?

The Stanley Cup a year ago?

What’s the second most utilized search engine behind Google?

The second most popular ketchup behind Heinz?

After Scotch Tape, what is the brand that most people turn to when they want to....well, “scotch tape“ something? You know you have a stranglehold on a market segment when your brand name morphs into a verb which describes the very function of your product.

History fans: Who lost the Presidential Election to Dwight D. Eisenhower not once but twice, both in 1952 and 1956? And in a landslide on both occasions I might add.

Everybody loves a winner. A premium is placed on being number one, finishing first, being first, leading the pack. But with that in mind, I did use the world “rarely” when referencing the frequency with which those who place second are immortalized, not “never.” More on that in a moment.

In today’s Gospel (Luke 24:13-35) Jesus encounters two disciples on the road to Emmaus, mid-conversation I might add, as they attempt to sort through this remarkable string of events that happened to “Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.” Their words not mine.

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I point this out because these men would soon find out that their summary of Jesus ~ a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people ~ was akin to calling Tom Brady a pretty decent quarterback. This was the Son of God, he who would stare down his destiny on the cross with the ugliness of mankind’s sin, all of it, strapped across his back. . . Crucified. . . Risen. . But not before descending into Hades, which he would trample underfoot while binding the strongman (Mark 3:27). Only then would he emerge from the empty tomb. He would soon ascend to Heaven, where he would take his place at the right hand of the Father, presiding over a Heavenly Kingdom that will have no end.

Cleopas and his friend would soon find out that this was the man that they were talking with.

Having reflected upon this Gospel in the past and having heard it proclaimed during the celebration of the Holy Mass numerous times, it nonetheless spoke to me this morning in a unique way. This is the beauty of scripture. I once likened re-reading Scripture to watching an old Seinfeld rerun. Just as you’ll always find something new to laugh at; Kramer’s subtle ~ and at times not-so-subtle ~ knack for physical humor in an otherwise overlooked background scene, Newman’s masterful delivery of the sardonic barb, George’s generally neurotic response to a seemingly innocuous occurrence, so too can the attentive reader continually grow in wisdom and understanding the deeper one dives into the sacred mysteries.

In Luke’s account of this Gospel, he tells us that “Their eyes were prevented from recognizing him” as their encounter with Jesus begins to take shape. After inviting Him to stay with them, it was at the table when Jesus “Took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him.

They recognized Jesus in the Eucharist, where we too recognize and encounter Him in the most intimate of ways. In the telling of this story, Luke in essence immortalizes the second celebration of the Sacrament of Communion, which, going back to my original premise, proves that God’s ways are not like man’s ways. Second place has extreme value in his eyes. We must seek to receive this Sacrament as often as we can, even if, in light of the current circumstances, we do so by way of Spiritual Communion It is where miracles happen.

Although my focus leading up to Pentecost Sunday will continue to be fixed on the Holy Spirit within the context of Jesus’ Ascension into the Heavenly Kingdom, I’d like to shift gears and close with a quote on the power of the Holy Eucharist, authored by the man whose 93rd Birthday we celebrate today, the great Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. In fact I’ll leave you with three of his sage and timeless sentiments on the topic that he loved and revered with such passion and eloquence:

“The happiness you have a right to enjoy has a name and a face: it is Jesus of Nazareth, hidden in the Eucharist.”

Receiving the Eucharist means adoring Him whom we receive. Only in this way do we become one with Him, and are given, as it were, a foretaste of the beauty of the heavenly liturgy. The act of adoration outside Mass prolongs and intensifies all that takes place during the liturgical celebration itself.”

“With the Eucharist, therefore, heaven comes down to earth, the tomorrow of God descends into the present and it is as if time remains embraced by divine eternity.”

Do this..... in memory of Him.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.“

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