Catholic Women Preach is proud to have collaborated with the Catholic Mobilizing Network for this week’s preaching.
An Update from Mary Novak: What follows was recorded the week before the global pandemic was declared and quite literally the day before I more fully began to absorb the gravity of this time.
This time is a collective harm we are all experiencing and invites us to see more deeply how the post-Resurrection stories are about a wounded community transformed because they moved into the hurt together. This participatory community work is the work of Resurrecting.
Restorative Justice is the lens I invited you to use to consider the Road to Emmaus scripture and in particular, to look at how Jesus models the way for us to hold each other’s grief and harm. Underlying restorative justice work is a deep understanding and honoring of trauma at both the individual and collective levels.
The trauma healing Jesus models with the disciples on the Road to Emmaus is so important for us today.
Let us pray that we accept the invitation provided by this shared experience of trauma to do the deep work of individual and community healing so we can come together as one, one in our shared Resurrection.
Can you imagine what it must have been like for these two disciples on the road to Emmaus?  Their friend had just been tortured and executed. Maybe they had even witnessed it from afar. And not just any friend; this was the man they thought was their Anointed One, the one for whom their religious community had been preparing for generations.
Not only has Jesus -- their friend and leader -- died, their community has scattered. Every aspect of what they believed has been called into question. What do they do? They are getting out of town. These desolate disciples are journeying from Jerusalem, the home of their faith dream, to Emmaus, a place of less chaos, more human consolation. What an understandable response.
In this state of spiritual desolation, the disciples turn in on themselves and their perspective narrows. This is also a real human response to crisis. They do not even recognize Jesus when he joins them. And they certainly have no idea how to make sense of the reported sightings of the Risen Lord.
So what does Jesus do as he joins them? He focuses on their harm. He enters into their pain in a way that invites them to share deeply on this long, seven-mile trek. This is so important because what is not named cannot be healed. Jesus listens to their specific pain, pain that is different from the pain of his mother, of Mary Magdalene or of Peter. He lets them share their experiences, their understanding of what happened, their dashed conventional messianic hopes.
Only then does Jesus begin the delicate process of putting the disciples’ story within the context of the wider story told in Scripture. This is brought more fully into their conscious imagination when they come together in the breaking of the bread, finally seeing Jesus and healing enough to find their way back to community.
In our journey of discipleship, our vision of faith and hope, our understanding of God, Christ and community will be crucified and humiliated, probably more than a few times. We may even walk away. But somewhere on that road, as we walk away from our pain, Christ will appear, in a new guise, and we will be unable initially to recognize him.
Eventually, that encounter restructures our imagination and our faith so we recognize Christ in a new and much deeper way. That recognition turns us around and sends us back. What we can find on our own road to Emmaus is a deeper vision and meaning of God, Christ, and our faith community.
Through restorative justice practices, healing circles in particular, Catholic communities and organizations like Catholic Mobilizing Network are creating the conditions for just this kind of transformation. In my years as founding Chair of the Catholic Mobilizing Network board, I have witnessed our Church communities choosing to change lenses away from punishment, retribution and isolation, to a focus on the harm, meaningful accountability and those who are in need of healing.
Restorative practices such as healing circles are transforming schools and even congregations in the midst of our clergy abuse crisis. These words are from a parishioner in a diocese rocked by that crisis. Listen as she describes the anxiety and fear so many of us experience before engaging each other, and watch God meeting her vulnerability with grace. She says this:
I initially approached the whole idea of Restorative Justice and Healing Circles with a sense of hesitation. It felt a bit like seeing a terrible accident on the side of the road and being compelled to slow down, stop and look... and then slip away feeling sad and a little guilty for looking.
Listening to the survivor testimonies has both infuriated me and overwhelmed me with grief. It was hard to hear the Church chastised and sullied and yet fully agree that the blame and accountability was being placed where it belongs. It was, initially for me, a personal crossroad to try and stand in solidarity with survivors and yet keep grounded firmly in the Church l love.
I have come to understand that God, in His great wisdom, placed me in this uncomfortable position because He didn't want me to simply slow down and look, but to stay and listen. I now more fully understand that when a wound is opened and drained, healing can begin. It is no longer a crossroad or making a choice of one over the other - it is choosing both.
It is humbling, heartbreaking and hard ... It is also hope-filled, healthy and holy.
This paradigmatic shift to focus on the harm and those harmed is transforming even the criminal legal system in some geographic areas. These words are from someone still incarcerated who experienced a restorative justice healing circle:
It [is] important for me to take the idea of RJ into my heart. Although I can offer no evidence besides my word and how I live my life, I strive to be held accountable for both my past and present actions. . . I try to look my actions in the eye and explain what cannot be explained. I try to face my selfishness and lack of empathy which drove me to cause so much pain. . . I don't know if it's possible to forgive myself. What's important is that I hold it in my mind and in my heart so that the possibility to change exists . . .. If forgiveness is not possible for me, what becomes important is to know how sorry I am and to live out my remorse.
Feeling guilty, infuriated, overwhelmed with grief: we all experience the spiritual desolation that can accompany these feelings in our world and Church today. What can we do besides turn away and run? We can walk alongside one another and listen deeply, restoratively. As we listen in circle, when we feel the healing love of Christ in our midst, slowly, the desolation can turn, widening our perspective. We may even experience spiritual consolation, a sense that our hearts are burning as we listen to each other. From this encounter, we might even begin to trust that a way forward will emerge as it did for the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Jesus’ initiative to heal and restore is absolutely central to his ministry in the Gospels. Jesus invites us to be recipients and agents of this same healing in the world. 
 Art: © Monastère des Bénédictines du Mont des Oliviers and with the permission of The Printery House, U.S. Agent.
Mary J. Novak
Mary J. Novak
Mary J. Novak, J.D., M.A.P.S
Catholic Mobilizing Network, Chair, Board of Directors
Mary J. Novak serves in Washington, D.C. as the Associate Director for Ignatian Formation at Georgetown University’s Law Center and School of Continuing Studies where she also serves as Catholic Chaplain and Adjunct Professor of Law. Mary studied and trained in theology, spirituality, and spiritual direction at Santa Clara University and the Washington Theological Union from which she earned a Masters of Arts in Pastoral Studies. Prior to coming to Georgetown University, Mary served as a spiritual director at the St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland.
A graduate of Santa Clara University Law School, Mary practiced for over a decade in the areas of California water, energy, environmental, and natural resources law, first at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and then at Ellison & Schneider. While at Orrick, she served on a team pursuing a capital appeal for a man on the largest death row in the United States. She was a member of the Clinical Law Faculty at Santa Clara University Law School and later served as the Director for Faculty Development in what is now the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education at Santa Clara University.
Another area of Mary’s study and practice is peacebuilding, having studied at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. She focused her final project at the Washington Theological Union on Catholic Peacebuilding in the context of Kenya’s post-conflict reconciliation. She returned to the U.S. to serve the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in their conflict with the Vatican.
Mary is an Associate Member of the Congregation of St. Joseph. The Catholic Mobilizing Network is a founding member of the Congregation of St. Joseph Network.
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