4 January 2009. The Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus
Isaiah 60, 1-6; Psalm 72; Eph 3, 2-6; Matthew 2, 1-12
As the Church continues to discern its life in the present age, she also modifies and changes certain things, hoping that the change will deepen and correct certain practices of the faith. Today is an example. The Epiphany of Our Lord is now a movable feast, celebrated on the first Sunday after January 1st. We are used to remember today as the “Three Kings” set on January the 6th. The change is reasonable: the Church wants us to focus on the real meaning of the feast — to keep our gaze on the child Jesus. Like the shepherds, the three Magi from the East sought Jesus with the aid of the star. They found Him with Mary and Joseph. Epiphany means “manifestation of the Divine” and thus the change of “title” straightforwardly focuses on two things. By identifying with the shepherds and the Magi, we reflect on our search for God in our lives; and reflecting on the ‘discovery’ of Jesus, we see God’s initiative. We realize that God wants Himself to be found and thus makes Himself reachable and discoverable to us. This reason is worthy to be remembered on a Sunday, with the community palpably experiencing God’s manifestation of Himself in our daily, practical lives.
Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ wrote that the world is charged with the grandeur of God. And the Roman poet, Seneca, said that every single thing that we see, everything in the world has the scintilla, a spark of God. St. Benedict discovered God away from the cities; St. Ignatius found God in it. If the world is a palpable manifestation of God, why do we seldom encounter God? What do we need to see God?
First, the beatitudes say that those who are single-hearted will see God. The shepherds were not educated, nor do they belong to the who’s who of society. Their primary concern were the flock they tended. They were not burdened by the concern of business or their minds were not confused by conflicting ideas, theories and principles. They had less distractions and they could see clearly.
The great mystics advise many who embark on a prayer journey to clear their minds and their hearts. Often, our lives have become complicated by many inconsequential things; and we forget what is valuable. This is my own general experience: In my personal friendships with the poor and university students, there is a great difference in how fast they believe. It takes few explanations for the poor to be convinced, while a university student would process longer, consulting philosophical and scientific ideas, before they finally concede. The Gospel said that a bigger star could convince shepherds and the Magi that something great was happening while Herod’s advisers and the Jewish religious leaders — the educated — failed to notice the star, undermined the obscure town of Bethlehem, and therefore, missed out Jesus. To them, the Messiah should come from the who’s who of society. Our pre-conceived ideas, biases and prejudices can therefore obscure our vision.
We are therefore challenged today to think clearly and discern properly. To distinguish the inconsequential from the important; the sieve through the distractions to find the valuable. The realization that the things or people we need are right in front of our eyes is common. Because we are looking for them somewhere else. The same thing with God. We think that we find God only in the most familiar and expected places and events: in churches and sacred places, in recollections and liturgies. However, we can also find God in the unfamiliar and the most uncommon of places. We just have to open our eyes.
Second, the Magi were searchers; they continually thirsted for the Truth and in the discovery of a lead, they pursued it relentlessly. They read about the star and the King, so they followed their intuition by traveling great distances with the hope of finding the veracity of what they read. The child whom they found will later confirm what they had done: Jesus said, “Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door shall be opened.”
We find God when we sincerely seek Him out. He is discoverable. He also wants to be found like a flower who blooms splendidly for everyone to notice. The busiest one with a million thoughts in his head will never notice. But busy or not, we all experience a lead. Musicians acquire an instrument and find their heart there. Basketball players fall in love with the game the first time they played it. Some find science interesting and pursue them single-heartedly. Later on these initial discoveries will eventually lead them to where they are meant to be.
Vocations are discovered this way. They said that vocation is the crossroad between our deepest desires and the need of the world. It is when we discover our innermost desires, and find our niche in the greater scheme of things. I am enjoying my Jesuit priesthood because my gifts and my desires that come from God find their home and their use in the needs of the young. The same thing with my friends who are very happy with their families. They discover that their lives find meaning when they are able to find themselves needed by their partners and their children. The same thing with my friends who are unmarried. Their single life finds meaning because they can be available to many.
When we reflect about these desires and passions that initiates any life searches, we discover that the impetus cannot be attributed to ourselves, not even to our genes or the chemical processes that work in our bodies. It is like inspirations. They come from an external source. They come at any place, at any moment. They can come while we take a shower or as we listen to a lecture or while walking to the grocery store. Try to repeat all factors again in that one moment of inspiration — take a shower again, listen to that lecture, walk on the same spot — we discover that it does not return. It is not an accident that the word inspiration comes from “in Spirit”, meaning that our desires find its source from the Spirit of God, the breath that gives us life. The beginning of our search comes from God; the end of our search is God Himself. The Epiphany therefore is not about the three Magi who found God; but for us to see that God is the One who wanted us to find Him.