Saturday, January 2, 2010
Become an epiphany
In the stories of Jesus’ birth, we see two special groups of people came to visit the new-born baby: the shepherds and the Magi. Now, the church has no special feast to commemorate the visit of the shepherds but we do have today’s special feast of Epiphany to celebrate the visit of the Magi. Why is that? It is because the visit of the Magi is a real eye-opener; it is a true epiphany. The word “epiphany” means to manifest or to show; it is a recognition or a revelation. When you have an epiphany, you recognize something or something is revealed to you. You truly see it for the first time. That's Epiphany.
The shepherds did not have to discover the presence of the Baby Jesus; instead they were told directly. They received a direct revelation of Christ’s birth from God through the message of the angels. The Magi on the other hand, were not even looking for the Messiah, they were not even Jewish. Instead they had a truly eye-opening experience discovering the presence of this God in their world. Such is the nature of epiphanies. A manifestation in the midst of the unexpected.
The Magi followed a star that appeared in the sky and that star lead them to the child Jesus. This image of the star is so important to our Christmas celebrations. Christmas is after all a great celebration of the triumph of the Light of the World over the darkness. Jesus is that Light. And the image of light plays such a prominent role in so many of these Christmas stories. And so it makes sense that the Magi follow a light in the sky to find the Light of the World. We are a lot like these Magi. We too follow the Bright Light that is Jesus. And our following of this Light should lead us to an epiphany as well.
Early Church fathers said of the Eucharist that “we become what we receive.” We receive the Body of Christ so we can become the Presence of Christ in our world. So too can be said of the Epiphany. We are recipients of Epiphany, of the manifestation of God in our lives, and the hope is that we will become an Epiphany to the world. We are meant to be manifestations of God’s presence in the world.
There is a story of the Catholic writer Flannery O'Connor. She lived in the South at a time when there was great prejudice against Catholics. An excellent writer, she had been repeatedly denied the National Book Award. As a matter of fact, she never received the award until after her death. One year she went to a convention of Southern Gothic writers. There were some great American writers there like Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and Eudora Welty. Of course, she was the only Catholic in the bunch. During the meeting, one of the writers, said to Flannery, “You know you might be the best writer in the room. But, Flannery Honey, you're Roman Catholic, right?” Flannery responded, “Yes.” The writer continued, “Well, Honey, I went to the little Catholic Church right by the hotel. I went to one of your morning masses. And, Honey, I saw the priest come out and do his Mass, and I don't think he was terribly intellectual. And he held up the little white wafer of bread and you Catholics, you think it's Jesus. Well, Flannery Honey, with your brains, you must know it's not Jesus. It's a little symbol of Jesus. It's a reminder of Jesus.”
Flannery looked at him and everyone else in the room and said with tremendous conviction, “If it were just a symbol, the heck with it! But, it is not just a symbol. It is in fact the Real and True Presence of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said it was. The Church says it is. Now, I can't explain it. It's a mystery of Faith. And I'm not ashamed to say that it is a fact. This is no symbol. It is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ.” A few weeks after this interchange, Tennessee Williams knocked on the door of a church in New York City and said, “I want to become a Catholic.” And he did! Flannery took an epiphany in her own life – the manifestation of God’s presence in the Eucharist – and turned it into an epiphany in the life of others, notably Tennessee Williams.
This is exactly what today’s feast calls us to. We become what we receive. God has been made manifest to us; and now we must become an Epiphany in our world. We must radiate God’s true and abiding presence to everyone we meet. God showers us with His presence each and every day in so many ways – here at our Mass, God manifests Himself in each one of us gathered in His name, and in His word proclaimed, and we’ll share the same experience that Flannery O’Connor did – God will be manifested in that little white wafer of bread that becomes the Body of His Son. What will we do with the experience of Epiphany that God gives us today? Will we leave the church and just go on, business as usual? Or will we allow ourselves to be touched and transformed by it? Will we be moved like the Magi were to the point where we must do something? Will we be people of our faith convictions proclaiming what we believe? Will we become Epiphany for the world?
O come, let us adore Him!
May God give you peace.