Emmitsburg Council of Churches


Documenting Divinity: Epiphany

Father John J. Lombardi

There's a poem I've been meaning to write for some time, which I called, years ago, "Documenting Divinity.' The longer I've been a priest the more convinced I am that that's my job and task--"tracing God" --as far as He is traceable in this world--so as to help others have hope from this "sacred record"; to therefore learn from this record (soon in DVD?--Documented Verses of Divinity?), and how to "detect Him' in other ways, places and times; to pass on this documentation to others. (Not in a time capsule-- that's too much a fad; but within a Timeless Capsule: For- "He has put the timeless in our hearts" Proverbs). Also, as our Sacred Religion emphasizes, to learn about Him in this World we prepare for fuller enjoyment of Him in the next; and, also, to know Him is to love Him--we can only love what we know. That's sorta' true about God: like created persons, the Creator is more loveable the more known; but: He is not totally knowable; otherwise He would not be God--infinite. Remember: "God rules in the realms to which He is admitted." (Mary Welch). "The Kingdom is within you" (Lk. 17: )-are you allowing the King within?

Diverse kinds of people come to Catholic priests--and certainly to this Grotto. Why? :to find God, seek Him more deeply, to reveal their hearts and souls to some other earthling (hopefully having "connections"), in this pursuit, to find healing and embrace peace. All this forms a "Document of Divinity". Thus: the priest, alter Christus-"another Christ"-- is like one big Confessor-Healer (celibacy, here, is important: for the solo-celibate-sacred man has no other rival confidants, except the "Totally Other" --God), and his confession room, and this Grotto is a Big Confessional minus the privacy screen. The priest hears about the Presence and the seeming absence of God in the world and, subtly or not, hopefully helps the seeker toward a Sacred Solution, like the Magi in today's Epiphany Reading: "They were overjoyed at seeing the Star…They prostrated themselves and did Him (Jesus) homage" (Mt. 2:10-11). Documenting Divinity is therefore a holy and necessary pursuit-not just for priests, but for all: "There are stars aplenty today, but have you seen His star and what are you doing about it?" (Frederick Faber). All are called to holiness, and to be instruments of His Epiphany. A few days ago a pilgrim-seeker came to this preacher-priest and asked, point blank: "What does God look like?" I was amazed at this direct desire for the Divine, the eloquent desperation of this soul. I gave some answer from a partial record of Documenting Divinity. Here are some fragments…

The Prophet (a speaker of and for God) Isaiah writes: "Rise up in splendor, your light has come…You shall be radiant at what you see…" (I60: 1-6). Isaiah was teaching the Jews returning from exile to trust in God's Epiphany and Covenant: St Phillip Neri, a priest who revitalized Rome in a time of decadence and challenge (by the protestant reformation), found and manifested God's love thru the Mass-- devoutly said (he often went into ecstasy); thru inspiring people back to Confession, thru his casual explanations of the catechism and reasonableness of Catholic faith, and also thru humor (he is known as "the joyful saint"). By his holiness and love of God's Epiphanies, he attracted others to Jesus. At his death, his heart was found to be swollen extraordinarily large, burst out of his rib cage and chest-perhaps because of his great love of Jesus' Sacred Heart, and a concrete example of Isaiah's prophecy: "Your heart shall throb and overflow." The Catholic Faith and the Bible are a collection of stories and books of God's Revelation to you and me-to find, embrace and bring God to others. The Feast Day of Epiphany (in the East its like a "Little Christmas," wherein presents are exchanged) is the Revelation of God's Present/Presence to the World: Jesus Christ, the God Man. Isaiah says: "Raise your eyes and look about"-at Jesus Christ, and at His ongoing Epiphanies in the world today.

Epiphany comes from the Greek root words, epi, meaning "upon," and phanein, meaning "to show". God is "making a show upon" the world, to the Three Magi and to us . The Bible (from biblos, meaning library) is a record (the Longest Playing one) of "God's Showing". It's The Document of Divinity par excellance. It's the most sold book-ever, making any other book or novel a mere "Gone with the Wind". "All scripture is inspired, for teaching and inspiration" (II Tim 3:16). Are you being inspired and reading The Document of Divinity? St Jerome, who loved, translated and breathed in the Bible for us, said: "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ."

Epiphany is about God Making No Mistake: He is showing Himself to the world, to all, to pagans (pagnus, originally meant in the country, away from the urbs-cities). St Paul, a convert to the Faith and Epiphany of God, says: "Ever since the creation of the world His invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived" (Rm 1:20). The Book of Wisdom says: For He gave me sound knowledge of existing things that I might know the organization of the universe and the force of its elements" (7:17)

The Christmas preface at Mass says (referring to Jesus and the Trinity, respectively): "In seeing God made visible we are caught up in the Love of the God we cannot see" From rocket scientists seeking the grand Unified Theory of Everything to death row inmate-born-againers, just imagine: A Baby leads us to God.

"First comes the natural man and then the supernatural man" (I Cor Christmas is about a Present and Divine Presence: Jesus Christ. Epiphany is simply Christmas Cont'd: The Presenting of the Presence. The words presence, present and so forth, derive from the Old French and Latin root word, prasens, which mean, literally enough, "present, beside." These words originate in the Latin present participle of praeesse, "to be before a thing," "to rule over" > prae- "before" + essee - "to be." Thus: presence attracts, allures and, in religious matters, spiritually seduces and overpowers. Earth-and Heaven-wise, it is one thing to be in the presence of a king (at his throne); it is another to be in the Presence of the Divine King, to be before Him. Analogous and disproportionate to an earthly king, His Presence rules over us. We are seized: Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I once read a book entitled, seductively: "The Dangerous Illusion of Downsizing Divinity." It was about small-minded thinking in Infinite-God matters; or: the failure to fear God (which is a holy, reverential respect), to bow and worship like the Three Magi (even with their earthy smarts they were spiritually smart). Earthly kings worship the Heavenly Child King. King Louis of France attended daily Mass (before multi-tasking, I guess). He would kneel on the bare, stone floor. His attendants brought in a soft prae dieu kneeler. He was a religious refusnik: "The King of Kings humbles Himself and comes down to earth, so this king can humble himself and kneel before Him." Epiphanies entice worship at the experience of Divine Evidence.

Contra today's theological libertarians, Jesus is unique (non-repeatable), sole (only) Savior of the World, the Divine Epiphany. Once again, God left no room for confusion or relativism: Jesus said, clearly, compassionately: "I am the Way, truth and life…" (Jn 14:6) and "No one comes to the Father except thru Me" ( ). As Vatican II teaches (Notra Aetate, #2 ff-- contra many people's perception of it) other religions and teachings may have truths, holy teachers and preachers, they may have seeds of truth, but not Truth totally. We Catholics are bound in sacred duty to proclaim Jesus as Savior, in Whom all men "find the fullness of their religious life".

Jesus Christ is God among us-Emmanuel-the Divine Presence sustaining His people. Just how is God present among us today? There are different kinds of godly presence. Ontological presence means that God sustains all living things with His being-present to things. Conversely, if He "turned his (metaphorical) Face from us, things would dis-appear, extinguish. Real Presence means Jesus really in the Eucharist: Christ utters the words of consecration in and thru the priest-the alter Christus-- at Mass, thus making Himself literally Present. Therefore Catholics go to Church, get married and baptized there and, like St Francis, prostrate themselves in them. Within the tabernacle (holy holder of the "Prisoner of the tabernacle," as one saint described Jesus in the Sacrament and His Humility: "I am the Bread come down from Heaven" (Jn. 6:). How can you desire and receive the Eucharistic Epiphany more, even daily, if possible? "Sir, give us this Bread always" (Jn.)

Indwelling Trinity means God within us when we are in a state of Grace (see Jn 17:21ff). However: people perpetually, unrepentantly choosing ugliness and mortal sin (see I Jn .) do not have the indwelling presence: evil excludes even an infinite God. "the evil person out of an evil treasure produces evil" (Lk 6:45). An extended, eternal state of this is precisely Hell--which may be termed a "Negative Epiphany": the essence of this place and torrid state is loss or deprivation of God. Heaven, oppositely, is interminable bliss--union with God-in-Himself, unmediated Trinitarian Love and Presence). The Lord says: "Heaven is my throne and the Earth is my footstool" (Act7:49). Are you climbing up to Heaven by seeking His Epiphanies on this footstool-Earth? A prayer of the Mass says: teach us to love the things of Heaven." Do it!

God is present in the past, yes, but also today. We should avoid the dangerous and divisive duality of total transcendentalism (God as always/only above, beyond, in the past), and, oppositely, God as always/only here-and-now, only-within (pantheism implies God is in all). Catholics celebrate and document a balance of Divine Epiphany: God has revealed himself and continues to reveal himself. Catholicism is inclusive, orthodox and vibrant in Documenting Divinity. Thru seeing God in the "sacrmentalization of the world" and thru celebrations of the Sacraments as special, unique moments of grace and revelation, Catholics find God everywhere. St Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, coined the motto: "Finding God in all things". .Do you? The Church and the CrPche go together -sacraments and everyday mysticism (Chesterton's term) reveal God. Visiting my godson recently, Martin, his Dad told me he got a "blast" when he asked Martin (aged 2.2), on Dec 25, "Whose birthday is it today?" The babe replied about the Baby, "Jesus'!" An Epiphany in itself.

God is present, we are told thru the Bible, in virtuous deeds: The story of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:29ff) is an inspiration to practice the Corporal works of Mercy-Epiphanies of Engendering Love. You heard people before Christmas telling kids about Santa checking a list twice. You should check this list twice: feed the hungry, refresh the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, tend the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead.) Did Catholics make this up? No-they got them from Jesus and the Bible (cf. Mt. 25: 31-46)-another Epiphany. How are you finding Jesus in Everyday Epiphanies?

In Matthew 25 Jesus says He will appear in the disguises of the poor, sick and dying: "I was sick and you visited ME, I was thirsty and you gave ME to drink; in jail and you visited ME"…No wonder that great saints followed Him there, everywhere--Damien to the Lepers in Hawaii, Mother Teresa to the Calcutta slums, Dorothy Day to New York soup kitchens. They all loved Jesus in His disguises--his Everyday Epiphanies. . Deacon Lawrence in third century Rome was chief treasurer of the church. The emperor requested to see the famous treasury. Deacon Lawrence opened up his robes and "showed upon" the treasures--little poor urchins, orphans and poor persons he was taking care of: "Here is the Church's treasure."

The following prayer of St Teresa of Avila reminds us of the "Mystical Body Principle"-Christ is still among us, wants to use us to both manifest Himself and help us find Him thru our charity. Without charity and true seeing we die….Christ has no body now but yours, No hands, no feet, on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which He looks with Compassion on this world Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good."

On Jan first I went to Mother Teresa's Washington, D.C., Gift of Love. In the chapel praying the rosary were a collection of myriad men-homeless, guys with AIDs, castaway-ruffians, refugees from Europe and Mexico. Funny thing: fifteen men, gathered together from a seeming nowhere, some praying loud and some soft, one man from Yugoslavia staring out the window; some praying in English and others in varied languages, all together, in a mystical myriad communion-like-voice, in a cacophony of cries and sacred desires, before Jesus in the tabernacle. An Epiphany: God is present. I thought of Jesus' words and promise: Come to Me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest" (Mt. 11:28)

I also went to see a sick priest-friend, who is elderly and diseased, but not defeated. It was like seeing Jesus in his agony-sickness. Alone, New Year's Day, foot splotched with ravages of age, and alone by himself in the world, but certainly with his priestly faithfulness-he asked me for a rosary and then to hold my hand. He said: I want to want only what Jesus wants." How sincere, how sacred and sacrificial: "I fill up what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Col 1:24). The freezing winter sun shone outside in a silent nakedness: but, within this hospital room was an epiphany of love in this priest's faithfulness.

Epiphany within Nature:

Daniel (holy man in the Lion's Den twice) chanted God's praises and seemingly found Him in Nature, almost as if Nature could pray (these beautiful verses are not found in non-Catholic Bibles: Protestant ones unfortunately delete this section):…"Every shower and dew, bless the Lord…Frost and chill, bless the Lord… Mountains and hills, bless the Lord…All you birds of the air, bless the lord…" (3: 64, 69, 75, 80).

St Francis must have read such verses and himself composed some like it after finding epiphanies in the Umbrian-Italian countryside (easy to do there): "Praise be to You my Lord with all Your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun, Who is the day through whom You give us light. And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor, Of You Most High, he bears the likeness"… Point: Nature, creation, holds the imprint of the Supernatural, the creator- God. As Bonaventura said, traces of the Trinity in the world and it is, in fact like a " Second Book of Creation". Gerard Manley Hopkins, famous Irish Jesuit poet, once wrote of God's epiphanies in Creation: "The world is charged with the grandeur of God/ It will flame out like shining from shook foil…"

Scientists today like William Dembski have asked, Is there an "Intelligent Designer" behind the infinitely complex design of, say, the eye and process of seeing? They imply that it could not occur by chance, without design or a designer. God does reveal to us if we use our human reason. The Book of Wisdom says: "For He gave me sound knowledge of existing things that I might know the organization of the universe and the force of its elements" (7:17). Leonardo Da Vinci, Catholic scientist and artist par excellance, found in the complexity of whirlpools, the weather and waxing sunlight, the beauty of God's Snowflakes. I recently read two articles on snowflakes (really spiritual, eh?!). I was impressed and inspired. Every snowflake begins as a speck of dust in the atmosphere, collects vapor, and then ice crystals, and eventually "makes itself into" (by the winds' effects, mostly) a billion molecules, each flake unique, different, and yet similar, with six points to it (although many are destroyed upon their fall to earth). "Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness" (Ps 29:2)

Mother Seton said: "If you could breathe our mountain air and taste the repose of the deep woods and streams…We are half in the sky; the height of our situation is almost incredible." She found the Creator in the Eucharist (one of the reasons she became a Catholic) and also in Creation.

Juliana of Norwich is a famous English author of "The Showings" (of God), who found God in the subtle epiphanies of contemplative prayer, in her soul: "Though the three Persons in the Trinity be all even in Itself, the soul took most understanding in Love; yea, and He willeth that in all things we have our beholding and our enjoying in Love. And of this knowing are we most blind. For some of us believe that God is Almighty and may do all, and that He is All-Wisdom and can do all; but that He is All-Love and will do all, there we stop short. And this not-knowing it is, that hindereth most God's lovers, as to my sight. (Chapter 73) . Are you seeking and sacrificing for God in the quiet moments of prayer where He will unveil Himself. Jesus says: "Go into your room, lock the door and pray to your Father in secret" …

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi