The Epiphany, in my mind, has become synonymous with the word “manifestation.” That is, a “showing forth,” in this case, of the divine in the world, in the person of Jesus Christ. Herein is God truly unveiled or revealed to man.

If you’ve read any of my previous material, I think you’d agree, I’m a bit of a logophile—a lover of words. The meanings of words and the wisdom implicated by the use of specific, efficient terms is fascinating to me. This was not the case, however, for the first year or two of my college education.

I recall having a conversation with one of the music faculty, Sr. Catherine Williams, OP. I was struggling to make a transition in my own thinking, since the school was theologically, and sadly, shall we say, unorthodox in its leanings. Therefore, my theology papers and writing for my music courses were not scoring well, based on my more traditional paradigm in doctrine.

Much of the education I was offered, while not fully heretical, resided in some of the grayer areas of theological and doctrinal understanding. So, as I labored to reconcile what my professors were after with my own beliefs and understanding of Catholic teaching, I sought counsel, having grown frustrated with the language and what I perceived as agenda-driven lingo.

I expressed my frustration to Sr. Catherine that so much of what I read was disquieting and had determined that the words used were less important, that they were “just words.”

All these years later, I don’t believe my faith has been changed by that struggle in college, save for the fact that I had to challenge my immature paradigms of what I thought about God. My thinking has matured on those topics, and my appreciation for the fact that, yes, words have specific meanings and that those meanings bear with them connotations that will form the way my own words are received, for better and for worse. Unless I’m willing to be as precise in my meaning as is necessary, I could even be accursed of ill intent.

In my limited graduate study, I was again challenged by St. Thomas Aquinas, whose writing can be somewhat notoriously confusing, at times. The reason for that difficulty is that for Aquinas, specific words referred to specific concepts. For example, “form,” “matter,” and “nature” all refer to very intentional distinctions about a person, place, or thing, and what those realities meant.

The same thing is true in ancient Church writings that were generated by ecclesial councils. Oftentimes, those conferences and the resulting documents were intended to correct some error in understanding or to clarify the true beliefs of the Church. The difference is that a greater degree of precision is required in the words we use to talk about divine and spiritual concepts in concrete and human terms.

Sr. Catherine and I do not likely see eye to eye on a multitude of issues, or even concepts in the Church, but she corrected me in my disregard for those valid and important distinctions we must make.

Since those days, I have cultivated a mildly active interest in words and their meanings and origins. I feel a greater understanding of a word, given even a shallow detail of the culture out of which it sprung.

This “Epiphany”—revelation, showing forth; or manifestation: clear embodiment of an idea or concept—is not so much about the wise men, kings, or magi, as we call them. It is rather about the wisdom that brought them there, the wisdom they gained in offering their gifts to the infant king. For us, it is of vastly greater importance how we respond to the revelation of God, than what we glean from the arrival of these strangers out of the east.

Epiphany is principally about the unveiling of the hoped-for Christ. It is less important to say “what offering can I make to Jesus, like the wise men,” (though that is a great thing upon which to meditate) than to wrestle with the greater reality that occurred. If the appearance of God-made-man doesn’t shake the foundations of our understanding of humanity, maybe we need to spend time with that concept, first.

Moreover, perhaps we should make time to dig into the words of Scripture and the Church’s sacred teaching and discover what is truly being said there about creation, the person of Jesus, the meaning of life, or just how one should live. There are certainly big questions, but the mystery of the Incarnation means that there are big answers, too.

David Dunst
Director of Music and Liturgy


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