Burning Hearts

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Sometimes, when working one-on-one with a prisoner or an immigrant or an unlettered, needy person, one gets a sense of… what is it…? Beneficence, charity, giving of oneself, which comes pretty close to a feeling of superiority. “I have something you need, so I will now give it to you.”

At certain moments, however, such a relationship can change radically. One senses a spark of genuine connection, almost a breakthrough to a different level of vision, a recognition of real rapport. The other person is no longer a beneficiary of my charity but has become someone on the same plane, maybe even now a friend to be cherished.

Such thoughts are provoked by one of the Easter gospels (Luke 24), the one about the appearance of the Risen Jesus to the dejected disciples on their way back to Emmaus. There they are moseying along, sharing their disappointment about dashed hopes and dreams, when this stranger shows up and gives them a fresh take on the very Bible passages they had cherished.

He accepts their invitation to share a meal. They “break bread” and at that very moment their relationship with the stranger changes: They recognize who he is… but he vanishes. Then they race back to Jerusalem with the news only to discover that their peers there already know that Jesus lives and they have themselves recognized him, felt his company again.

But it is that electric moment of the breaking of the bread, that spark of recognition, which lies at the heart of our Eucharist. Indeed, this Emmaus event was an early Eucharist laid bare. We have since elaborated on it with so many accoutrements that it is sometimes hardly recognizable: candles, vestments, incense, music, and all those things we use to enhance it.

Those two disciples (how I envy them!) had that face-to-face “eureka!” moment when they realized who their guest was. They were never the same again. If we could find our way to such a person-to-person recognition of Jesus at our Eucharist, if we could pierce through all those accumulated enhancements to a personal rapport with Him, what an Easter that would be for us.

It might almost be like connecting with a prisoner or an immigrant or an unlettered, needy person… a breakthrough to a new vision, to real personal rapport. Who knows? Our hearts might even burn within us….


Simon (Si) E. Smith, S.J is a New England Jesuit with a broad background and varied international experience.  He taught at different levels in Baghdad College, Iraq, Boston College, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley and Nativity schools in Boston and Worcester. His major and preferred areas of instruction are Scripture and liturgy.  He is known as an organizer and administrator, having spent a dozen years based in Washington, as Executive of Jesuit Missions for the U.S. and Canada. Si has published widely, is a popular lecturer, is fluent in French, Spanish and German and has traveled & worked extensively in the third world. And we are grateful that he also serves IVC as a Spiritual Reflector.

5 Responses to “Burning Hearts”

  1. Diane Ericksen

    Thank you Father Si for depicting the excitement of the Emmaus disciples in the dialogue with Jesus, and especially in the breaking of the Bread”.
    I hope to see Him in the meeting with each person, and really do see Him in the shared lunches with the Residents of the hearth at Olmstead Green.
    Looking forward to seeing you again at our monthly meetings of IVC.

  2. Jim Haggerty

    thanks Si – for tying your experience to the gospel story of the road to Emmaus. Service with IVC ideally is tied closely to such “break of bread” experiences Thanks for the reminder and hope you are well. Jim

  3. Bill Waters

    Thanks Si for this insightful reflection, and thanks to for your spiritual leadership within the Ignatian Volunteer Corps of New England! We value highly your companionship on the road!

  4. Sharon Mussomeli

    Thank you for this moving reflection that so clearly articulates the unacknowledged (that is, too often unacknowledged by me) feeling of strength, even power, in giving to someone in need. You recall to me those (rare) luminous moments when I recognize that I am not the giver, but the recipient, of a priceless gift. In this “spark of recognition,” I cannot- hide from myself, and do not wish to hide from the “guest” who lovingly shows me myself –and who, in his beauty, loves my ugliness. And I promise once again, knowing I will nevertheless fail again, to be open every moment to the source of my real strength

  5. Eduardo Sagarnaga

    So many times Jesus is by our side and we are not able to recognize Him!. But He taught us that He is even in the most unexpected places and especially in the most unexpected of our brothers. Thanks Si for remind me about finding Jesus everywhere and EVERYONE!


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