‘A Way Forward’

By Bishop Steven J. Raica | Public Domain Image | January 2022

‘A Way Forward’

Bishop Raica Celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany

My friends, Christmas Day is not the end, but the beginning of a beautiful season for us. It continues for 12 days - normally in most Christian / Catholic countries until Jan. 6. Here, we abbreviate it to the Sunday following New Year’s Day, which was yesterday. We are a few days short this year in the United States. But celebrate it we must. Today is the Feast of the Epiphany: a sort of little Christmas where gift-giving in Catholic countries continues again as a way to honor the Magi coming to bring their gifts to the Christ child.

The great Feast of the Epiphany (or manifestation) of Christ drives home the meaning of the Christmas season once again. The presence of the Christ child – a small baby born in Bethlehem – was a reality that each person had to reckon in life. Is He who He says He is or isn’t He? Do I believe or don’t I? Of course, last week we had the evocative celebration of Christmas – the moment that the Virgin Mary gave birth to the child Jesus in the most unlikely of times and places. Afterall, we are told there was “no room for them in the inn” or the “place where traveler’s lodged.” Those who awaited the coming the Messiah thought that God, with all His grandeur and majesty, would display His power once and for all. Instead, He snuck into our world known only to a few. The shepherds knew. The angels knew. They became the great evangelizers at that time.

Now coming on the scene are the Magi – sometimes described as the kings or the astrologers from the East because they consulted the movement of the stars. They were star gazers and used this rather primitive GPS, with the aid of Herod’s advisors, to guide them to what they were searching for. It wasn’t a place that we all recognize; it wasn’t written up in any travel magazines. Bethlehem was a rather non-descript place. Yet, they felt the need to embark on a journey to find it. What they discovered was as amazing as the journey itself. It was something that they were searching for. It required that they go on a journey to find it. It was an amazing journey in some way. It’s a journey that reminds us once again of the great search for the very meaning of life.

Especially at this time, as we are trying to find our way through this recent surge of the virus and how we must alter and adjust our plans. Sometimes, it becomes necessary to go right back to the “default” settings that are part of our DNA.

The Magi represent, in some unique way, the very journey that we are on. We have heard that the Christ child is born in Bethlehem. We heard of the great light. So, like the Magi – and perhaps those who may have told us about it - we come to worship and adore the child born in a stable that is so beautifully depicted in our Christmas creches at home and in our churches. We also freely come with our own gifts to give.

Now, in order to arrive at the stable, at the place where the Christ child was, they had to rely on other systems to help them. It was necessary to study the coordinates and find the right path. They asked; they looked for clues to help their discernment. The stars, especially at night, became a primitive celestial GPS; they read the writings of the prophets to look for hints.

What seems to be true, as it is true for us, that their heart’s desire could not be found on its own. They relied on others - experts and other knowledgeable folks to help them on a journey of a lifetime. It was something out of their own reach that guided them, illuminating the path for them.

Aren’t we, too, looking for something true, something so true that it will not or never deceive us, something that will not disappoint us, something that will not hurt us or take advantage of our lack of full knowledge, something that will tell us what we need to do to take full advantage of this life entrusted to us, so that we will have a life lived with no regrets?

Why do we, at times, experience the absolute thrill of life and at other times want to run away and hide? What makes us search for the right combination of food, medicine, exercise, or vitamins / minerals to maximize our life potential? And, at other times, why do we fall prey to vices and sins that entice us away from our goals?

Isn’t it true? Every day that we get out of bed, we are, in a sense, at a crossroads. What will we do today? Which road will we take? What journey do we want to be part of? Will we look for the guidance that will help us toward meeting that one thing that will be true about our life? Or are we going to be sidetracked into moments of disappointment?

The Magi, as true examples for us, must have struggled with these questions. They found a way forward and pressed onward to Bethlehem. What they discovered was beyond their imagination! It was not an idea, principle, a formula, or a theory. The place they were guided to was not a palace or a cathedral. They found the presence of a newborn baby - so adorable, so lovable, so attractive, so innocent, so fascinating and yet, at the same time, so vulnerable and so dependent. All they could do was kneel in wonder and awe at the ineffable mystery revealed to them. Hence, the term epiphany. It revealed the Messiah as it revealed something about themselves. It was something that they found or discovered when they let themselves be guided by the star, the comet, from the heavens. Here before them was the fullness of life in the powerlessness of an infant. It was this before whom they knelt and offered their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In return, they received a unique and special gift of a presence, incomparable in value. What does humanity bring to the stable? Is it the gold of love, the frankincense of yearning, the myrrh of suffering? These gifts we certainly have. These we offer to Him in our own life. In return, we find Him - the answer to our longing.

Lucky for us, the Magi are the first to show us a way forward. We also have a long line of saints and fellow disciples in our faith tradition – some known and many unknown, whose lives have been moved by a similar star, a similar journey. They recognized the light of Christ shining in their hearts and lives and followed it tenaciously.

We have a great opportunity before us today, moving through our Christmas season – from the Nativity of Christ; the Feast of the Holy Family; our New Year’s celebration of Mary, the Mother of God; and today. The journey of the Magi brings us, once again, to contemplate the mystery of God’s love for us. He sent us His Son! That is what we proclaim in our churches and what we proclaim here in Birmingham. Jesus Christ is the Lord and Redeemer. He came to save us and show us a concrete path to life.

To sum up, each of us is on a pilgrimage, a journey in life. Each has a unique and different path. The question remains: What star have you chosen to guide you? What do you hope to find at the end of your journey? Our Christian faith offers us the quintessential answer: it is Christ, the Messiah!

As we refine our New Year’s resolutions, as we try to find different strategies to improve our lives, may we not forget the One who gives meaning to it all: He is Christ the Lord! O Come, let us adore Him!