Fr. Charles Irvin
The Feast of the Epiphany was celebrated in Eastern Churches before being observed in Rome. It seems originally to have been a feast of the nativity of our Lord. January 6th. For those Churches it was the equivalent of December 25th in the Roman Church.
The Epiphany, as you know, celebrates the manifestation of our Lord to the whole world… the shining forth of the Light of the World… the manifestation of the Incarnation to the entire world beyond the Jewish world. The three kings symbolize the coming of God to the Gentiles… the entrance of God into all of the world in all of its history. Today’s Liturgy is surrounded with other epiphanies… the manifestation of God’s marriage to us, symbolized in the wedding feast at Cana, the manifestation of Christ’s Sonship in His baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan… and finally His Presentation in the Temple, otherwise known as Candlemas Day – February 2nd. This latter celebration marks the closing of the various manifestations of God’s incarnation for us in our world, beginning with Christmas and ending with His presentation in the Temple.
The essential reality of the Christian religion is that God reveals Himself to us. God comes to us; He makes Himself known to us at our own level, in our humanity. It is fundamental to Christian belief that God entered our human condition in order to enter into communion and close communication with us. From Adam and Eve until now it is God who comes to search us out; it is not we who search God out.
Materiality carries within it spirituality. The meaning of having a body is to allow for communion of spirits. This fact flies in the face of any sort of “other world” spirituality. It undercuts the spiritualities that tell us flesh is evil, that the world is totally corrupt, that materiality is a bad thing because it imprisons the human spirit. Catholicism celebrates the holiness of material things in order to show the sacredness of things created by God. The Catholic vision is to see what is inside, to manifest the Spirit Who moves within them because God has entered into our material world. Hence bread, wine, fire, incense, water, oil, candles, and all of the other things we find in Catholic churches, are seen to be conveyors of God’s Holy Spirit. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh are therefore apt symbols to be presented to the God Incarnate now manifesting Himself to us in His creations, particularly His crowning creation, the humanity of men and women.
The Star over Bethlehem is a light that recalls the lights, the fire, and the warmth of God’s love. The star points backward through history to the God who revealed Himself to Moses in a buirning bush, the God who manifested Himself in the fire and lightning that surrounded Mt. Sinai, the pillar of fire that lead the Jews through the desert to the Promised Land, and the Star of David, their greatest king. That same Bethlehem star points ahead to the tongues of fire that will come on Pentecost which the Jews observed on the fiftieth day after Passover and which alsom commemorated the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai.
Epiphany tells us that God has decided to come to us where we are. In amazement St. John writes his Gospel: “That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands was made manifest. And we saw it.” This is the permanent amazement, the awe, the wonder, and the mystery the Church celebrates continually in the epiphanies of her Sacraments.
What we are therefore concerned with today is our vision. What the Church wants us to do is to see the Light of the World, to see things in God’s Light as He presents Himself to us in our lives. That Light has come into our world and the darkness will not overcome it. Christ’s cure of the man born blind is our own cure. It is the call of God to us. It is His urging to see things as He sees them.
God continues to reveal Himself to us. God’s Light comes to us in the beautiful insights of people we meet who give us a way of seeing things in truly striking ways. You and I have all met such people. They move us to feel that God is near. Those are grace filled moments in our lives. God continues to give us epiphanies in those moments.
Or perhaps God’s Light comes to us in moments of silence and reflection when we are trying to pray. Perhaps we feel dry… that the words just do not come. Yet there are moments when God will come to us in our attempts at prayer… when He is very near… when He is trying to manifest Himself to us… when His Spirit is moving within us.
Or it may come in a particularly beautiful or moving celebration of the Mass… or in a reading from an Epistle or Gospel account. These, too, are epiphanies of God. These, too, are moments when we can bring our own personal gifts to Him, the gold that is the richness of our lives… the frankincense of our love for Him… the myrrh of the bitterness and suffering we carry within us. These are moments when God looks upon us as kings and queens… not as cringing and bootlicking slaves… but as beloved friends. Didn’t He tell us that when He declared: “I no longer call you slaves, but I call you friends”? That was truly an amazing statement by God. He calls you and me His friends! Truly we are kings and queens.
And so let me here resolve with you once again to renew my vision. May you and I try harder to push the darkness of our vision aside. Are we bitter and resentful like Herod was? Do we feel upset with the Catholic Church? With having to go to Mass? Are we upset with priests… with the bishop… with the pope? Do we carry animosities in our hearts toward those with whom we live? Toward our associates or our neighbors? Let us therefore cast aside the darkness that keeps us from seeing each other as God sees us. Let us try once more during this coming year to see the epiphanies of God in our lives, especially those manifestations of Him that come to us through other persons. Let us turn our hearts to renewed prayer… to thought-filled contemplation of our lives…to meditation on the meanings that we find in our selves. Let us become the Kings who followed Bethlehem’ star to the birthplace of the Son of David. Let us renew once again our commitment to see God’s Light in our lives. For He comes… He comes to tell you and me that He loves us… that He loves us as a lover loves his beloved… that He wants to share His very self with us… that He wants to have a total communion… a whole communion… a Holy Communion with you and with me… together in His beloved Son born as one of us to become one with us.