Epiphany of the Lord - January 3, 2021
My friends in Christ, our Christmas celebration continues today with the Epiphany of Jesus Christ, the newborn King, to the Magi from the East…and my homily series also continues through the kerygma, the Greatest Story Ever Told; we were Created by God…we are Captured in sin…and we are Rescued by Christ. And now at last, we arrive at the fourth and final act, so to speak, of the great drama that is the kerygma…the last chapter, as it were, of the Greatest Story Ever Told.
Response…. And for this, we turn to the Epiphany.
First of all, what is an epiphany? Simply defined, we might say that an epiphany is a sudden revelation or insight given from God. And the Church’s celebration of the Epiphany actually is very ancient – possibly one of the most ancient liturgical celebrations in the history of the Church – and it commemorates not one but in fact three instances of epiphany that we see recorded in the Gospels: the Magi, of course…but also, the Baptism of the Lord (which, in recent years, has enjoyed its own stand-alone celebration, coming up next Sunday) and the Wedding Feast at Cana. These three great epiphanies of the Lord truly are, indeed, sudden revelations and heavenly insights given from up on high, and what they reveal is that Jesus Christ is Lord. The peculiar star, which the Magi recognized as a clear sign from Heaven of the birth of a great king, ultimately revealed to them that their king is Jesus Christ. The Lord’s Baptism revealed that Jesus Christ the King is the beloved Son of God, in Whom the Father is well pleased. And the Wedding Feast at Cana was the setting of the first great sign, or miracle, of Christ the King and the Son of God – which would officially launch His public ministry…ultimately leading Him to the Cross and, through the Cross, to Resurrection glory.
And a careful read of the Gospel shows us the response of the major witnesses and recipients of these epiphanies – that for them, after having witnessed and received the epiphany…there simply is no going back. The Magi “departed for their country by another way.” Their way had changed – not just because they had been warned about King Herod, but more profoundly because they had seen the great King to Whom the star led them; and having seen, they believed; and having believed, life is now changed for them – changed, in very truth, for the better…changed forever. And so, of course the Magi had to return “by another way” because there was no other way…no going back by the way they came. Now, their way was the Way: Jesus Christ.
As for the Baptism of the Lord, Saint John the Baptist was astonished at what the Lamb of God (Whom he proclaimed) was asking him to do: “I should be baptized by You, and yet You are coming to me?” And after the Baptism, though Jesus was the One Who was baptized, the Baptist is the one who was changed…and so for him, too, there would be no going back, for soon thereafter, he would be arrested, and he would be killed – beheaded – in giving witness to the Truth.
And as for Cana, the Wedding Feast, when Jesus changed the water into wine, He “revealed His glory, and His disciples began to believe in Him,” so that not long after, when many people left Jesus because His teaching about the Eucharist in the Bread of Life Discourse was just too hard for them to accept, it is Saint Peter (speaking on behalf of the Twelve) who says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. [And] we have come to believe and are convinced that You are the Holy One of God.”
And so…an epiphany is, as I say, a sudden revelation or insight given from God…and it is something that, by its very nature, actually commands substantial and permanent change in the one who witnesses it and receives it…. For myself, I sure do a heck of a lot of talking about how utterly important it is that each of us responds to the call of Christ to be His disciples, that we be active and intentional in our faithful, joyful discipleship, bearing much fruit for the Kingdom for the salvation of souls and for the glorious majesty of God – but you know what? Fat lot of good it does for me to say all of that until I am blue in the face, ready to pass out for want of taking a breath! But until you actually experience what I am trying to say…until you actually perceive that sudden revelation and heavenly insight that God always is trying to give to you…until you actually encounter Him…? Until then… all of these words of mine mean nothing…and I am a resounding gong, a clashing cymbal.
Some of you might wonder sometimes why I devote much of my time here at Saint Mary to extra Mass times, extra confession times, extra opportunities for Eucharistic Adoration, introducing prayers and devotions…when maybe it would be a more effective and efficient use of my time to put on more programs and the like. The reason why is because even though programs and so forth, me teaching things and all that – that is great and all and it all sure does a good job of giving us some of that head-knowledge of what Christ and His Church are all about…but we cannot settle with merely
knowing it (in the head) – we have to know it! In the heart, in the soul! We have to know Him! And it is in prayer where we communicate with Him (talking to Him, yes – and also listening to Him), and it is in Sacrament where we encounter Him…where we receive Him (receive His grace; receive His very Self).
My priority number-one as priest of the Catholic Church, as pastor of Saint Mary, is to help you get to Heaven. That-is-it. I help you get to Heaven – but of course, it is Jesus Who, ultimately, gets you there – and your reception of His grace, His very Self…which, again, He always is trying to give to you. Therefore, it is right and just that I focus my main efforts on trying to create a culture, an environment, that is conducive for each of us here to experience that epiphany moment, and so to witness and receive that sudden revelation and heavenly insight from God…. And then…we will know it! We will know Him!
Now, I can tell you that I myself have been profoundly blessed by God to have experienced three definite epiphanies in my life – three moments when I knew (I surely and undeniably knew!) that God definitely exists…that God loves me and wants me to be happy. And after each of these three moments, my life was changed for the better, changed forever, such that not only is there no turning back for me to any former way of life…but even more than that, I never even want to turn back and revert to a former way of life. All I want anymore – and forever more…is Jesus…. One of these three epiphanies is yet too personal for me to share, but I shall tell you briefly about the other two. And I think you may enjoy these two stories; anyway, they show me at my worst, and that frequently is very entertaining for others – ha!
The first happened back when I was in seminary. I was in my third year in theology – at the end of which, I would be ordained to the transitional diaconate. Now, because the seminary is very careful about who moves forward to the priesthood (for obvious reasons), there are many things that need to take place in terms of screenings and procedures. Before the diaconate, candidates need to petition their respective bishops requesting the call to Holy Orders; concurrently, the faculty of the seminary needs to recommend these same candidates to their respective bishops for Holy Orders.
Now, I did the former…but the seminary did not do the latter. They were rather hesitant to recommend me for Holy Orders! Their reasons why turned out to be completely bogus, hence why I
stand here before you today as a priest of Jesus Christ; I suppose it was just some stunt to really heat up that last-gasp formation, putting the fire to my feet to get me to shape up or ship out! Ha! Well, that sure worked, am I right? And I can laugh about it now…but at the time, it was just utter torture, spiritually and emotionally. It was like a young man proposing to his girlfriend, but she does not tell him “yes” right away but instead tells him that she just needs a bit of time to think about it. Hm!
So apparently, the Church was thinking about it…and I felt that I had done all that I can do to help matters…and the rest of it was out of my hands – in God’s hands, now…and so, there was a day when I just went to the seminary chapel, alone, to cry…and then, to pray…. And here it comes, the epiphany! In prayer, I actually said to God, out loud, “Why did you entrust my vocation [to the priesthood] to these incompetent men?” Meaning, the priests of the seminary faculty. Hm! Seems quite a bit prideful, eh? Well, God sure saw it that way, and immediately in response to my question, I veritably, almost literally could hear the voice of God saying to me, “I entrusted My Church to twelve incompetent men!” Woah! Yes, sir – said I! And my prayer was done. And the very next day, the seminary faculty recommended me for Holy Orders….
The second epiphany came to me when I was pastor in north country. I threw out my back, as I had done probably on an annual basis since age twenty. But this…was the worst. I can only just barely begin to describe the pain as this, a thousand knives of fire stabbing me right in the spine! So to my doctor, I went, but I could not even get out of my car because of the pain, so he directed me to go to the hospital in Chewelah (just down the road from his office – and so thankfully it was not very far), where nurses would meet me and get me out. And I have a whole new respect for nurses now, by the way, because two or three of them knew right where to grab hold of me, and in a fluid, synchronized maneuver, they hauled me out of the car and into a wheelchair. They rolled me in, all the while driving me delirious like I was on a Mister Toad’s Wild Ride – and they skewered me with needles and the what-not and began pumping me full of painkillers and muscle-relaxers. Nice! Oh, it was glorious! Then they threw me into an MRI – lots of “throwing” in this story, by the way! And normally, an MRI is the closest imitation to hell itself that we have here on Earth, but loaded with a drug-fiend’s paradise of painkillers and muscle-relaxers, I did not care; in fact, I fell asleep! But in a
cruel twist of fate, they woke me up when it was over and threw me out again, and right back into a wheelchair. Then my doctor sent his wife, and she drove me home to the rectory.
Now, I would later find out from the MRI that my problem was a “slightly bulging disc,” but there was nothing slight about it, I tell you what! Go back and get a real medical degree, you quack!
Anyway, the doctor’s wife helped me to my bed, and I thanked her, and she assured me of her prayers and then left. I was alone…. And here it comes, the epiphany! In my pride (there it is again, that darn, pesky pride!)…in my pride, I was ashamed and embarrassed that all of these folks for whom I was supposed to be the care-giver…were now having to care for me. And I had never felt so helpless, so ashamed, so embarrassed in all my life! And I just screamed…at God…in shame and in despair: “Why is this happening to me?”
And what did God say? Nothing. Not a word…. But even so…I was answered. Because there in that moment of my most profound weakness…I knew…I knew…that the Lord was there, suffering with me….
You see, the thing with epiphanies is this: you know it – you just know it – when you have experienced it. There is no question whatsoever, and there is no doubt whether it was genuine or fake – you just know…. And they are pure gift…pure gift from God…. And finally, they present us with an immediate cross-roads, and there is no turning back. And having experienced it…and we know it…we now have a choice to make, and it is this: do we now go deeper in our faith and in our friendship with the Lord…or do we try to ignore the fact that He has just thundered into our lives with His holy battering ram of great epiphany – try to ignore it and so go on with life as if nothing happened…as if we could even possibly go on with life as normal?
Because an epiphany basically commands a response from us – and so: when, please God, we are blessed with great epiphany…when we hear the call of Christ…how will we respond?
on Monday, January 4 at 8:54AM