Witnessing in Words and Action

by Jeff Brumley

It was on the road to Emmaus that the resurrected Christ revealed himself to two disciples and, in so doing, inspired them to begin sharing their joy and faith with the world.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta at the Florida Eucharistic Congress 2016 | Photo by Brandon Duncan

Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta at the Florida Eucharistic Congress 2016 | Photo by Brandon Duncan

But that account in the Gospel of Luke was neither an isolated moment in time nor simply an historical lesson from Scripture, Archbishop Wilton Gregory said in his March 11 keynote address during the 2016 Eucharistic Congress in Jacksonville.

Rather, Emmaus is a symbol of the continuing witness of Christ in the lives of his people today, the Atlanta archbishop said.

That witness comes in the form of the Eucharist and with its ever-present revelation comes the same imperative the original disciples received in the passage in Luke: to witness in words and action.

“Emmaus is more than a place,” Archbishop Gregory said. “It is a wondrous encounter with Jesus Christ and we are destined to follow him into eternity.”

Archbishop Gregory’s Friday night address kicked off the Diocese of St. Augustine’s Eucharistic Congress, which was held at the Prime F. Osborne III Convention Center and was themed “Renew Your Heart.”

Archbishop Gregory was introduced with remarks by Bishop Felipe Estévez, who shared that he and Archbishop Gregory have been close friends since the two were young priests and doctoral students in Rome nearly four decades ago. Bishop Estévez added that his colleague is a dedicated servant of the Church and oversaw the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People during his 2001-2004 presidency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Archbishop Gregory used his address to remind Catholics they were participating in an event that was key to serving others and to nurturing their own spiritual growth in the process.

“This Congress is an Emmaus moment for all of you,” he said.

Just as the two disciples on that road experienced their hearts bursting into flames when Jesus revealed himself to them, so the Christ was revealing himself to those followers at the two-day Congress in Jacksonville.

“The Eucharist can set our hearts afire again,” the archbishop said.

But the experience mustn’t end there, he said.

“The Emmaus moment must catapult us into action,” the archbishop said.  Encountering Christ “must lead us to those who are on the periphery of our world.”

Archbishop Gregory with Bishop Estévez (L) and Bishop Emeritus John Snyder (R) during Mass at the Eucharistic Congress 2016. | Photo by Don Burk

Archbishop Gregory with Bishop Estévez (L) and Bishop Emeritus John Snyder (R) during Mass at the Eucharistic Congress 2016. | Photo by Don Burk

The church is also reminded of Emmaus through the ongoing Jubilee Year of Mercy decreed by Pope Francis, he said. It is to be a time of compassionate action toward the poor and the marginalized. It means trading indifference for mercy for all of those encountered who are living spiritual or material poverty.

The Holy Father “has summoned the church to consider how we can respond to the Eucharist” and reminds us “mercy is the enduring legacy of the Eucharistic encounter,” Archbishop Gregory said.

For Catholics, this is a clear imperative to embrace, with renewed passion, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, he said.

Christ made clear in the Gospel of Matthew the importance of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving shelter to those in need and visiting the sick and imprisoned.

“Remember we serve not just the poor, but Christ himself” through the corporal works, said Archbishop Gregory.

This must include visiting prisoners – even if it may take visitors out of their comfort zones.

“Remember that our Lord Jesus Christ was a prisoner the night he died for us,” the archbishop said. “Wouldn’t we have visited him?”

Instructing others in the faith and comforting the afflicted are among the spiritual works of mercy.

“People have both physical and spiritual needs,” he said. “We must seek to satisfy both.”

Christ’s disciples also are called to address the underlying causes of poverty and other challenges that face their neighbors, the archbishop said.

Caring for the environment and earth’s resources – as called for by Pope Francis – is one way to help alleviate the conditions that lead to hunger, he said.

“The Eucharist nourishes the human heart and compels us to fix the immediate needs and long-term needs” of others, Archbishop Gregory said.

Altogether, the Emmaus experience requires each Christian to seek to be Christ to others, he said.

“We too must take the message to those crushed by doubt, fear and poverty, and to those who thirst for justice.”

The two-day Eucharistic Congress also featured Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigala in Honduras as the keynote speaker on Saturday. Also speaking on Saturday were Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa, Sister Ann Shields, Father Richard Ho Lung of the Missionaries of the Poor, Dale Recinella, a Catholic Correctional Chaplain for Death Row in Florida, Chris Stefanick and Leah Darrow.

To read the full text of Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s keynote presentation, click here.

To watch Archbishop Gregory’s keynote address from our recorded livestream footage, click here.