Fr. Charles Irvin
We’ve all used expressions such as “Oh, now I see”, “I’ve seen the light”, “Well, seen in that light…” and so forth. Historians speak of the Age of Enlightenment; indeed our own university’s crest displays the lamp of knowledge in it.
What I want to suggest to you today deals not with whether we see, but rather how we see.
Years ago we had among us a Professor of Chemical Engineering, Giuseppe Parravano and his wife Ernestina. One of their four boys, Paul, suffered cancer of the eyes when he was a baby. He grew up sightless, graduated from Harvard Law School and is practicing law now in Boston, MA. He is sightless but has tremendous vision.
Our Catholic Faith calls us to have vision, inner vision, sight with understanding, seeing things in God’s perspective. All of which is both inviting and threatening to us at the same time. A change in perspective is always a bit of a threat to any one of us.
Today’s readings from sacred scripture have a number of things to offer us. The first is that God has come to us. We haven’t discovered God. No, it’s the other way around. God offers, we respond. Our religious and spiritual lives are not of our own making.
Another major point is that God has come to all of us, not simply as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah but as a Light to the Nations. St. Luke reports the events occurring when Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the Temple. Simeon, a mystic, takes Jesus into his arms and cries out “Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised; because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel.” God presents himself to all, not just a chosen few.
In today’s gospel account, written by St. Matthew, we find the pagans, represented by their kings, following God’s light and ending in finding the Light of the World. Finding it they began to see with an inner vision. It altered their course; they returned home by a different route, Matthew reports. They didn’t just see… they acted.
At a deeper level, the one on which I wish to base my thoughts with you today, the question is how we see, not whether we see. This raises a number of issues, such ones as:
How do we know that we know?
Is truth relative to the way we see it or is truth something external to us that we must acquire and accept? Post-modern relativism claims that anyone’s perception of the truth is just as good as anyone else’s. Religious truths, they claim, are merely matters of private, personal opinion.
In what light, from what perspective do we see events? In what light, from what perspective, do we see others… and how they relate to us and we to them?
This last question is the one that is important to us as followers of Christ Jesus. The fundamental religious perspective that Jesus challenges us to stand in requires us to see our selves, see others, and see Reality, in the meaning and for the purposes which God has given us. The huge problem is that this perspective requires humility of us, the humility to admit that we may need to change the way we see things and others, the humility to receive what God wants to give us, the humility and willingness to respond to the challenges God gives us and then to act accordingly. Psychoanalysis is one thing, psychotherapy is quite another… it’s one thing to see, it’s quite another to act differently
The greatest problem of all lies deep within us and is grounded in our own self-identity, our own vision and perspective of who and what we are. For the controlling truth is that we treat others the way we treat ourselves; we understand others through the filter of our own self-understanding. Having a healthy self-understanding is necessary in order to have a healthy understanding of, and regard for, others.
Jesus never told us to love our neighbor. No. He told us to love our neighbor as our selves. For it’s how we see our selves that controls the way we treat others. If we’re perfectionists we will demand perfection of others. If we’re self-punishing we’ll be punishing toward others. If we cut ourselves some slack and are able to forgive our selves then we’ll be able to be understanding and forgiving toward others. If we see and love our selves in God’ s light, as God sees us, then we’ll see and love others in God’s light also.
This is certainly one of life’s greatest challenges. We have such a strong propensity to be self-centered and self-deluding that we have a terribly difficult time breaking out of the prison of our own self. This is why we need a Higher Power; this is why we need God’s grace, love and help; this is why we need a Savior. Alone, we simply can’t make it; with God we can – we can break out into the greater world around us and get in touch with that Reality that exists outside of our selves. This allows us to be receptive rather than controlling; this is the humility that allows us the wisdom to understand that sometimes it is more blessed to receive than to give. When we’re the givers we’re in control; when we’re the receivers we humbly relinquish control.
Epiphany is that wonder-full time of the year in which we can allow ourselves to experience the joy of wonder. For God has come to us all, no matter to what race, nation, ethnic group or social category we may belong. He has come to us all for only one reason: because He loves us and wants us to love Him back in return. Furthermore he wants to show us the wonderful universe he has made and all within it that reflects his glorious Presence to us. He wants us to love with our minds and understand with our hearts.
And so on this day when we hear the story about mystic kings bringing their gifts to God’s only-begotten Son, let’s pay attention to the deeper reality, namely the wonderful truth that God has come to us to give us his gifts – the gift of seeing, the gift of vision, the gift of inner-vision (insight), the gift of knowing and loving our selves and others in his light and in his love, and the powers to act accordingly.