Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Epiphany and Earthquakes-How Do You Respond?

Father John J. Lombardi

Recently a pilgrim said she did not really embrace the idea or reality of pleasure. Giving pleasure or receiving it was not attractive to her. No, this soul said, that was not noble. How uniquely different. This seemingly-strange-yet-alluring thought struck me as indicative of the spiritual life: self-denial and a higher Way of Living. Jesus says: "If you want to be My follower deny yourself, pick up your cross daily" (St Lk. 9;33). And St. Paul says: "I will show you a still more excellent way…love." (I Cor. 12:31; 13:1). Nobility. There's a word we rarely hear. It means high moral character, magnanimity, courage and heroic virtue. I think of that pilgrim's noble character amidst last week's tragedy of the tsunami in Asia and Africa. Many noble people were found responding: rescuing starving children, sending food, making sacrifices thru prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Amidst the natural evil there was a "noble epiphany"-heroic charity manifested and, at least in part, healing some. Perhaps the highest nobility we may see in life, along with Love of God, is solidarity with the suffering. Think of Blessed Damien the Leper priest on Molokai; or St Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Different, colorful saints, yet-same-old-sacred-story: because they encountered the Lord Jesus Himself they obeyed His Way of Life and healed other souls. That's nobility. They gave up their own pleasures to fully focus on healing the Mystical Body around them. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Noble One Himself, responded to our suffering: In the Fullness of time (Hebr. 1:1-5) He came down from heaven to rescue, redeem and restore us: "I came that you might have life, life abundant" (Jn. 10:10). He gave up the Ultimate Pleasure of Heavenly Bliss for this-birth into the world of suffering, a passionate death and Glorious Resurrection. Why? To save souls. Now: what will be your response?

Epiphany-the Solemnity we celebrate today, is, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, from the Greek words, epi, which means "upon," and phainsisei, "to appear" or "to show". Thus, God is showing us His Son, and wants us to make no mistake about it. The impressive and inspirational dictionary is quite theologically correct in saying: "Epiphany is a Christian feast celebrating the divine nature of Jesus to the gentiles as represented by the Magi".

This is high, good theology. Huh? To wit: first, it says the Feast celebrates Jesus' Divine Nature. Some today deny Christ's divinity, implying or saying Jesus Christ is only a man--a good guy, but human, no more than that. Well, frankly, this is heresy, denial of a dogmatic Truth. So, now, in this New Year, affirm it-Jesus is Lord and God. One way to do this, in a minuscule-yet-majestic way: write the Latin inscription, Anno Domini- A.D., where you are able. You thereby subtly affirm Christ is Lord not only of Eternity buy of all human history. All life revolves around His Appearance and "Showing". Some today want to expunge the divine-dateline, with such terms as: B.C.E. (Before Christian Era), or C.E. (Christian Era) and so forth. Every time you write "A.D." you can affirm Christ's Divinity and, perhaps, cause some to have an epiphany! Also: in this Year of the Eucharist, affirm His Divine Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, and visit Him in Church thru a "chapel visit" or holy hour of prayer. Make this a Holy habit throughout the New Year, Anno Domini 2005! …Second: The A.H.D. says the Lord's Divine Nature was revealed to the Gentiles. Translated: we are to show, and testify to the Lord's Divinity to all the world (cf. Mt. 28:19)--that is what the "gentiles" symbolize, the entire world. Some secularists and even some Christians feel we shouldn't pass on our Faith to others, thinking "one religion is as good as the other". This is wrong and, perhaps, harmful. Jesus Christ is for everyone. If Jesus is Lord of pagan astrologer-Magi-Kings, He is for everyone! In our own personal encounter with God, Jesus Christ, we should be changed and want others to have Him, too…In his poem, "The Journey of the magi," T.S. Eliot expresses that, after meeting the Christ-Child, the Magi were changed-they died to their old "gods" and attained God Himself. The "showing" of the Lord to them changed their lives. One of the Magi says:

"Were we led all that way for/ Birth or death? There was a Birth, certainly, We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, But had thought they were different: this birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death. We returned to our places, these kingdoms, But no longer at ease here…I should be glad of another death." So, now, consider: What new ways of life must you make so as to truly follow the Lord? He appears to you every time in Holy Communion, thru the Bible readings, thru the saint's lives and thru your prayer. Are you looking for, embracing the Birth and liberating Death of His Showing, like the Magi? Perhaps an epiphany is awaiting you where you least expect. God gives us, as Catholics, so many ways to detect His Divinity, His "showings"-are you looking, taking advantage?

The devastation of a tsunami last week, killing over one-eighth of a million people, many of them children, shook the world and, hopefully, our souls. Many will ask: Why does an all-just and loving-God allow such suffering and evil? The Long Story Short: God allows suffering and tragedies to occur because of sin (our free will, free choice); and because Adam and Eve's Original Sin even affected Nature (Rm 8: 19-20--St Paul says: "For creation awaits with eager expectation…creation was made subject to futility …"). The parts of the universe tend to come apart. Even our bodies fall apart. All because of sin, because we chose against God's Plan. God never causes evil, but He allows it to occur so a greater good may come about. Therefore, earthquakes and natural disasters, suicide bombers and murders, drugs and killing of innocent children occur. He allows suffering so that we might fully wake up and convert to His Way of Life. God allows all this thru His "passive Will." His "active Will" is His actually moving certain people and events, assertively, directly, to do certain things. We must always remember amidst these mysteries, though, whatever God does, it is for Love and salvation of souls. He allowed Moses and Job to suffer-and all the prophets-so they might totally rely upon Him and His Divine Providence. And to forge out of human beings a noble character-choosing God's Will and Plan, and other's people's welfare, rather than one's one. A mother and father know this as they sacrifice for their children. A priest should know this as he surrenders his life for the flock of believers. A St. Joan of Arc suffered martyrdom because she wanted to help the Church in France. Will you embrace noble suffering for the Church like her? St Thomas More suffered a torturous death for the family, the Pope and Roman Catholic Church. Will you sacrifice for the family today which is under attack? Bl. Miguel Pro died by murder after he sacrificed his life to bestow the sacraments in communist-oppressed Mexico. Will you nobly lead others to the Church and Sacraments? Mother Seton experienced the death of her husband and two children, ridicule in her conversion and yet still persevered in becoming a Catholic and originator of the Catholic school system. How will you cultivate the holy virtue of Fortitude-keep on keepin' on?

How to Respond to Suffering…

† Acceptance of the Falleness of the World, of Evil and Suffering in the world. There is a fundamental flaw in life-suffering and evil. Jesus says we sometimes cannot overcome evil and, in some fashion, must accept some of its presence in the world, while still working to change what we can (see: Mt 13:25ff). Catholics are realists: We are not in the Garden Of Eden, we are in a kind of exile where evil and tragedies often occur. Jesus Himself wept at the death of His friend, Lazarus (Jn. 11:33). We too, may weep at this horrific tragedy. That is ok. Jesus says, further: "In the world you will have many sufferings. But fear not: I have overcome the world" (Jn. 16:33). Realistically "reading the world" will not make us lukewarm or carefree to others suffering. No. It should make us more invested and loving, and help forge in us a kind of noble fortitude-so we are in discipleship and helping of souls for the long haul. Remember: respond but don't become despondent. Despair is not an option-it is a sin. The Mystery of Iniquity can be confounding-if we think too much. Simply put, remember the "KISS Principle"- Keep it Simple Stupid: Trust God and help others.

† Atonement of Jesus Christ-His Blood makes us one with God. This is a meaning of the Atonement/At-One-Ment-Jesus' Sacrificial Death: God's unity with our suffering. Emmanuel = God-with-us. We are not abandoned. God allowed Jesus to suffer the worst death-an extended agonia, to show us: redemption and solidarity with our worst sufferings. So: look at a crucifix often. Realize and embrace the fact that He Loves us infinitely. Attend Mass to re-experience the re-presentation of His Sacred Death. Extend the graces of the Mass to those who suffered death recently. Pray the Stations of the Cross and re-realize His Sacred Path of Love. Trust.

† Aleve: other's suffering-(cf. Mt. 25:31ff). Help others as Jesus passes thru this world in distressing disguises, in all the poor, sick and dying. Jesus says: "Whatever you did for the least of My brothers you did for Me" (Mt. 25:41). Help the victims of the tsunami thru prayer and fasting, thru financial or material relief (see below). Don't wait! Also: help suffering people right where you are. Don't make it just a "Christmas-time thing." Some people practice charity cautiously, but Catholics carry it out continuously. We are not helpless amidst the world's tremendous sufferings-He wants good to come out of evil-to unify and heal the Mystical Body.

People should see us and make no mistake that they are seeing a kind of "showing," an epiphany of God's grace in this world. St John says: "If we Love one another God remains in us and love is brought to perfection in us" (I Jn. 4:12). My street-wise dad says it this way: Deeds, not words.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi