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The Beauty Remains

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Several years ago I visited the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. I really enjoyed gazing at some of the luminous paintings of the great artist Renoir. They are so aglow with life and light and color. Renoir seemed to put a light inside the people he painted. 

What is truly remarkable is that for the last 20 years of his life, his most productive years as a painter, Renoir was terribly crippled with rheumatoid arthritis. His hands were twisted and gnarled. His wrists, his arms and his spine were ravaged by the disease. 

He could not even stand as he painted. He had to sit and he was shifted about in his chair by assistants as he painted. Sometimes the pain was so great that perspiration would pour from his face. 

One day, one of his students, the great artist Matisse, asked Renoir: “Why do you go on and torture yourself like this?” Renoir looked at the canvas on which he was working and he replied: “The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”

Ask any mother who has gone through the terrible pains of labor in order to give birth and she will say, “The pain passes, but the beauty remains.” We could have asked St. John Paul II how he could keep the schedule he did, wracked with Parkinson’s and the ravages of old age. His response would be: “The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”

We can ask the Risen Jesus why he had to suffer so much agony, shedding every drop of his blood, Jesus would say: “The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”

Today’s Gospel (Luke 24:13-35) tells the story of the two men on the road to Emmaus. It is the story you and I live every day. It is about ordinary, everyday concerns and worries. It is about bumping into a stranger on the way to work or school. It is about sitting down at the table and sharing a meal and going through the motions of our day, wondering whether God is in all of this. 

The two disciples are not just on the road to Emmaus, they are on the road of life. They have just had one more hurt, one more letdown. They are wondering where God is in all of this. When they meet the stranger, they recite their woes. Their conversation is a lot like ours – the kids, the parents, the economy, the job, the boss – the stress of everyday life. And now the pandemic!

Then they say: “We were hoping….We were hoping…” Hoping for what? They were hoping for the same thing we all hope for – Hoping to find God! Does my life count? Why should I have to go through this sickness, this betrayal, this accident, this coronavirus, this death? Why can’t I have some sign that God is near? I could put up with anything If I knew that God was near, if I could feel God’s presence. 

Every one of us is on that road…the beginning, the middle or the end of the road. And all of a sudden, in our wandering and wondering, comes God. Often we don’t recognize God. He’s usually a stranger who shares food, who shares Eucharist, who shares himself. 

That’s what happened on the road to Emmaus and to wherever you and I are going this week. God penetrates our everyday lives, but we don’t always know it. That was what was so special about Mother Teresa or Pope John Paul II. God used them to penetrate the everyday lives of millions of ordinary people. God uses others and God wants to use you and me to do the same. 

There was a young medical student who had to be separated from his fiancé for several months to take his comprehensive exams. This was an agony for him. One day he was sitting all alone at a table in a coffee shop at an airport stop. An elderly woman at the next table looked at him and said, “Honey, you look so depressed!”

“I am,” he replied with honesty as his eyes filled with tears. “What’s wrong?” she asked. He told her about his fiancé and how much he loved her and how much he missed her. 

She told him she had been married to a traveling salesman who had passed away. She shared how they often cried when he had to go on the road and how happy they were when he returned. “You’re going to have a wonderful marriage,” she said. “Everything is going to be just fine.”

She then ordered a donut, broke it and gave half to him. As she did this, an announcement came over the loudspeaker. “Oh my, the people are on board and my flight will be taking off,”  she said. She smiled at him as she got up and hurried off to the gate. Only then were his eyes opened and he recognized Jesus in the breaking of the donut.

Think of and share with someone how you were able to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread or the donut. 

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