Thursday, January 7, 2016

Epiphany's Challenge

Notwithstanding the American anticipation of the Epiphany last Sunday, the real Epiphany was celebrated in the Universal Church yesterday in the usual way - including a challenging homily by the Holy Father at  Mass in the Vatican Basilica. (Meanwhile for those Eastern Christian Churches that still follow the Julian Calendar, the season is just starting. In the Julian Calendar, today is December 25, Christmas Day. The Julian Calendar's January 6 will fall on our Gregorian January 19. so by the time those Eastern Churches observe Epiphany, Christmas will already be just a faint memory for most of us in the West!)

In his epiphany homily yesterday, Pope Francis returned to one of his common themes, challenging us us "to rise an go forth, to leave behind all that leaves us self-enclosed, to go out from ourselves and to recognize the splendor of the light which illumines our lives." On this great festival of divine light penetrating the darkness of our world, the Pope recalled that"for the Church to be missionary means to give expression to her very nature, which is to receive God's light and then to reflect it."

Epiphany is a good corrective to Christmas, that is, to our annual December orgy of commerce wrapped in sentimentality. Epiphany reminds us what the incarnation is all about.  And there is certainly much that is "self-enclosed" about our contemporary Christmas, which itself reflects the character of our contemporary culture. That there is also, sadly, so much that is "self-enclosed" about contemporary Church life here in the United States simply highlights the depth to which so much of our American Church life has become a reflection of our contemporary secular individualist culture.

That is why we should be highlighting Epiphany's message more than we currently do. Epiphany is more than just a convenient target date to dismantle Christmas decorations. On the contrary, it is when Christmas grows up, so to speak, and becomes part of our no longer so ordinary life. (In the Eastern Churches' emphasis on Epiphany as the celebration of the Lord's baptism, we literally encounter the grown up Christ for the first time and recognize in him what the whole Advent-Christmas cycle has been leading up to.)

In his homily, the Pope highlighted the magi as spiritual seekers - "a living witness to the fact that the seeds of truth are present everywhere, for they are the gift of the Creator, who calls all people to acknowledge him as good and faithful Father." The magi highlight "the desire for God which is present in the heart of every man and woman" and the consequent mission of the Church, which reflects the light of Christ that has come into our dark world, it mission "to draw out the desire for God present in every heart." 

Reflecting the light of Christ rather than our contemporary secular individualist culture! How appropriate a challenge for our time and place! 

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