As the Christmas season is coming to an end in a week, so will our Annual Christmas Appeal for Newman Catholic. I'm immensely grateful for so many people's generous support. If you'd like more information on the appeal and would like to make a donation, please go to our website at www.MSUNEWMAN.com The generosity of alumni, family members of our students and friends of Newman makes a tremendous difference. Many thanks for your kindness and consideration.
A couple of weeks ago I was rushing around the Newman Center trying to cram more things into an hour then I should – run to the bank, swing by the Pharmacy, fill up the gas tank, maybe grab a cup of coffee - be back here for an appointment... Ok, sounds like a plan. I grab my phone, my wallet - my keys... wait, where are my keys? I patted my pants pocket - they weren’t there. Looked on the desk. Nope. Bathroom near the sink - another strike... And so on... Now mind you I have this stupid long lanyard attached to them precisely to make them hard to lose which is now infuriating me even more as I tear each room apart. I’m retracing every possible step, I’m emptying garbage cans... getting more and more frazzled by the moment as my jam packed hour of chores is now shortened by 25 minutes. As I looked at the mess as "Hurricane Father Jim" blew through each room and space, I put my hands in my jacket pocket - and suprise, surprise... yeah they were right there - all along. Go ahead - make an old age joke; an ADHD joke; or even quote my father’s words of exasperation when I was a teenager "you’d lose your head if it wasn’t screwed on to you"- all of them I accepted for myself in that moment of ridiculousness. How could I have missed something that while not right in front of my face wasn’t too far from it?
I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s ever had such an experience...searching for something that we know has got to be here somewhere. And feeling somewhat foolish when we find it in a somewhat ordinary, routine space.
In a sense, that’s what this feast of the Epiphany that we celebrate today is all about.
Here at the start of this new calendar year - there’s a general sense of looking for something outside of ourselves, outside of our experiences that will transform our very lives into something new and different and great... The latest shaman promising "inner peace" – The newest relationship site promising happiness – Some different spiritual guides or leaders offering us a path to connecting with a higher power that will reshape our modes of thinking and living. Even some of us who come here every Sunday might find ourselves tempted to join the many who don’t as they turn to someplace new or different to connect to God, to find Him in some new way, new place.
Hearing this Gospel, we might even be jealous of these Magi, these mysterious men from afar who are drawn by this spectacular light in the desert sky. Yet before we get lost in the Hollywood cinematic version we have in our head -- where does that star lead them to? Not some miraculous supernatural sight like the parting of the red sea or a burning bush or something... we hear it leads them to the same poor, simple couple - Mary and Joseph - these humble holy people who were open to the Lord and said yes to Him. God chooses to enter into humanity here - in as ordinary and routine a place as we can imagine. He becomes one of us, one with us.
That is the epiphany we are called to experience, to renew ourselves in, to proclaim to the world: God walks with us, among us. That He can be found in the ordinary, the routine - right here, among us. We don’t have to go relentlessly searching for him in some distant place. And to those who continue to walk in darkness - who do not know him, it is up to us to make Him known and make Him appear.
How do we do that? He is made manifest in every act of selflessness. He is made real in every act of sacrificial love. When we do those things, then He continues to be that light that has come - that shines even as "darkness covers the art and thick clouds cover the peoples..." for as Isaiah had prophesized "no longer shall your sun go down or your moon withdraw, for the Lord will be your light forver..." (Isaiah chapter 60)
Pope Francis a few months ago reflected on the words of Isaiah the prophet when he celebrated Mass in New York City. He beautifully expressed:
These wise men in the Gospel needed to "traverse afar" (as the Christmas Carol "We Three Kings" put it) following a supernatural light from a star to find Jesus. For us, today, the epiphany is that Jesus it the Emmanuel: God with us – we are to share this Christmas Joy. The Epiphany is that Jesus is the one who conquered Sin and death - He is the Risen one – we are to share this Easter Joy. The Epiphany is that Jesus remains with us...And what does He do?
He frees us from anonymity, from a life of emptiness, and brings us to the school of encounter. He removes us from the fray of competition and self-absorption, and he opens before us the path of peace. That peace which is born of accepting others, that peace which fills our hearts whenever we look upon those in need as our brothers and sisters.
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light". And we, as Christians, are witnesses to this.