Celebrating Epiphany

My dear friends,

This time of year we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany, a Greek word that means “manifestation.”  In and through the whole mystery of the Incarnation, by taking on our humanity, God is “manifesting” Himself to the world, making Himself visible in Jesus Christ, and thereby revealing His will.  All the events and teaching we find recorded in the four Gospels show us how this divine “manifestation” evolves in the life of Jesus.  Of special note, and highlighted throughout the four Gospels, are several “key moments” when certain individuals or groups understand the meaning of this divine “manifestation,” and by faith, recognize Jesus as their Messiah and Lord, as the Son of the living God and Savior of the World.  Many people heard Jesus speak and witnessed His actions, but only a few came to believe in His divinity and opened their hearts to the presence and power of God within Him.

 To better understand the feast of Epiphany we have only to look closely at our own experience.  Each of us has an “inner life,” a secret, hidden world within our hearts.  It is there that we ponder and think, where we desire and dream, where we feel.  Though God’s loving gaze is able to know our deepest thoughts and desires at every moment, the only way other people can know them is if we “manifest” them in some way: either by words, or by our facial expressions, or by a gesture or some kind of action.  I can vocalize my inner thoughts and concerns about the economy with a friend over coffee; I can show my love for a stranger with a smile and a kind “hello;” I may manifest my desire to comfort someone with an embrace or a hand on their shoulder; I can share my hopeful dream for the future of our parish by writing it in the bulletin.

God too has an inner life that would be hidden from us unless He revealed it. And by the fact that we are created in God’s own image and likeness, it is important that our interior life be shaped and informed by the thoughts and desires of God.  What is God’s hope and desire for us and for the world?  What does God want us to know about Him and ourselves?  Why do I exist? Is there such a thing as ‘truth’ that I can fully trust?  What is love, really?  What is the meaning of life?  Why is there evil, suffering, and death?  Is there anything after death?  The Feast of Epiphany celebrates the “revealing” of God’s inner life within the Trinity and the “manifestation” of His own mind and heart, His wisdom and will regarding ourselves and His plan to save us.  What the law and prophets foreshadowed in part is now fully revealed in Christ.

The Magi were among the first to witness this “manifestation” of God in Christ. Though their journey ended when they found the new infant-king, Pope Benedict once remarked that at this moment “a new journey began for them which changed their whole lives.   Having seen the power and majesty of God come with such humility–in the poverty of the manger and littleness of an infant, how could they stay the same?  How could they go back to “life as normal?”  Benedict rightly says that they had to change their ideas about power, about God, and about what it means to be human.  In short, they had to change their hearts and their lives.

 Though the 33 years of Jesus Christ on earth holds the greatest importance for the faith and life of the Church, God continues to “manifest” Himself to us in many ways.  Comforting are the last words of Jesus recorded in Matthew: “I will be with you always, even to the end of time.”  Each sacrament is a kind of “epiphany,” a “manifestation,” a true encounter with God–Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  God is invisible, we cannot see Him, so He makes use of visible things such as bread and wine, oil and flame, word and gesture to manifest His invisible presence and action.  We bring to the sacraments the gift of faith so that we can receive the invisible grace that God communicates through visible signs.  The important thing, like the Magi, is that we allow these personal encounters with the Lord to change us, to convert us.  When I encounter the gentle, tender mercy of Jesus in Reconciliation, do I allow my own hard, critical heart to melt and become more patient and merciful toward others?  When I am privileged to encounter Jesus’ overwhelming love for me in Holy Communion, do I turn around and love as He loves, giving and laying down my life for others?  When I encounter Jesus each day in prayer, will I let Him gently correct the dishonesty toward myself and others, my rationalizations and excuses for putting off certain changes I need to make?  When Jesus manifests His will through the teaching of the Church, will I acquiesce and follow it, or will I cling to my own opinions and try to plow my own path?  When Jesus manifests His thirst for love in the poor and needy in my life, will I hear His voice and recognize His presence, or will I ignore Him, or throw Him only ‘a crumb’ of what I am capable of?

Draw us ever closer to you O’ Lord, and help us to live a deeply personal relationship with you.  May all the ways You so generously manifest Yourself to us heal and change us, so that we may become “manifestations” of Your Kingdom in the world.

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