Circular Letter of the Prior General
And they returned to Jerusalem
To all the Brothers and Co-workers, Members of the Hospitaller Family of Saint John of God
On the eve of Holy Week and Eastertide, I wish to offer my Easter greetings to all the Members of the Saint John of God Family and to your loved ones and the people in your care in the centres of the Order, praying that the Risen Lord will fill you all with hope and life. A Happy Easter to you all!
The experience of the encounter with the Risen Christ changes people’s lives, filling them with meaning, hope and strength. Beset by so many moments of despondency, weariness, futility, dejection and even depression, and after throwing in the towel because when all our efforts have come to nothing, the Risen Christ is offering us the possibility to overcome all these, and many other difficulties because, by his Resurrection, He has overcome everything, having been victorious even over sin, suffering and death.
On this occasion I would like to recall the experience of the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24, 13-35). These staunch and steadfast followers of Jesus had given way to utter despair at the death of the Master. Nothing could console them. It had all been a wonderful dream, but nothing more than that: a dream. And it was all over. They had resolved to make their way back home, to Emmaus, to where they had been before meeting Jesus.
The Gospel scene is superb. As they walked back “to their old humdrum life, to dejection” the Risen Lord went out to meet them. But they were so blinded and disenchanted by everything, that they even failed to recognise Him. But the Master, with His exceptional skill as a teacher, little by little helped them to rise above their despondency and connect with Him: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” But their eyes were only opened fully when they recognised Him as he blessed and broke bread with them. At that moment, everything changed: it was true, He was alive, He had risen, and they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. They returned to the place of the new life, hope and light. They were also taken aback to find the other members of the group of disciples who, in various ways and with different experiences, had also encountered the Risen Christ, and they shared their experience, and how they had recognised Him in the breaking of bread.
I would like to pick up one point from this account: when they reached Emmaus, evening had already fallen, and the disciples offered Him hospitality, by asking their travelling companion, whom they had still not identified, to stay with them, in their home, to have supper and sleep there, before taking to the road again on the following morning. And while they were at supper, this act of hospitality enabled them to see the whole picture, and discover the presence of the Risen Christ with them. Hospitality is a source of life. Despite feeling so crestfallen, that gesture of hospitality changed their lives. Joy had returned! The Lord had risen indeed!
In our world, and even in the Church and in our own Hospitaller Family of Saint John of God, we frequently meet many weary, disillusioned, disenchanted and depressed people, who have already thrown in the towel, or are on the verge of doing so. Certainly they have many good reasons to do so, considering the world in which we are living, a world of poverty, suffering, war and terrorism, corruption and unemployment, and so many other situations, reflected in the faces of real people. Seeing them, we may also be tempted to go back home to our own private Emmaus, to our haven of hopelessness, feeling that it is pointless to fight on, it was all a dream, and there is no future to it!
Yet the experience of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is a call to all of us to open the eyes of our hearts, to discover the Risen Lord, who alone can free us from all the temptations mentioned above, as He alone can give us lasting hope and confidence in life and in the future.
Hospitality is a high road to encounter the Risen Lord. Just as it enabled the disillusioned disciples to recognise him, it also enables us to do the same. In every act of hospitality we extend to others, particularly the sick and the needy, we can discover Him. This was also the experience of Saint John of God, and so many of his followers since then. I recently went to our Centres in Liberia and Sierra Leone which had been devastated by the 2014 Ebola epidemic. I was able to visit the graves of our Brothers and the members of our Family who had given their lives when the outbreak struck. There is no doubt that their act of self-giving and hospitality has been a source of life and hope for themselves, and also for all of us and many other people in these places who, little by little, are now seeing the Care Centres re-opening again, to serve the lives of those peoples.
At this Eastertide, I urge all of you to find the courage to return to Jerusalem, to the place to meet the other disciples, brothers and members of our Family, to recount and bear witness to our experience of the meeting with the Risen Christ, and joyfully sing the Easter Alleluia! He has risen indeed! Let us never more be cowed by despondency, and let us all opt hopefully and boldly to return to our own private Jerusalem, to continue practising the Hospitality of Saint John of God, the genuine experience of the life brought to us by the Risen Lord.
On behalf of the General Government and the members of the Hospitaller Family of St John of God of God at the General Curia, A HAPPY EASTER TO YOU ALL!
Brother Jesús Etayo