Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Epiphany as Little Christmas

Father John J. Lombardi 

I just went with Paul to a nearby drug- treatment center and asked him to spontaneously give a talk, following upon my talk on The Epiphany. And he wisely characterized Epiphany this way: The First Christmas was the appearance of Christ to the Jews, the shepherds of the region at the Nativity, and Epiphany is the "Second Appearance" to the Rest of the World, to all the Gentiles, non-Jews, when the Magi came to greet the Child-King. Paul further said to the clients' amazement: "At my house, we have another Christmas, and we exchange presents again-all the stockings are stuffed."

The people there were struck with a new thought: Two Christmases! Yes. With all my theology and studies in seminary, I didn't really think to present Epiphany this way!

Yes, that is the way we should celebrate Epiphany-as another "Little Christmas". While the rest of the world has finished celebrating Christmas-usually the day after Christmas-we Catholics and Christians should keep celebrating, for, officially, the Christmas Season lasts until this Epiphany Day. Epiphany means "appearance" or "manifestation." After all, God revealed Himself to all the world to show His love for us. As Paul said, Incarnation literally means, in- carne, the flesh. God gives us loving signs of His Love in crosses and crucifixes and Bibles and so forth, but He didn't want any mistakes "this time"-He came in the flesh, one-of- us.

What are some further lessons of this "Little Christmas"?...

In the First Reading from Isaiah we read: "You shall become radiant at the vision" (60: 1-6). Yes, we should. Upon seeing Beauty, Light and God Himself, we should become radiant, at least within, in the soul. You see, we have a choice: to look at, gaze upon beautiful, glorious, spiritual things, or, oppositely, upon garbage and ugly things (like gore, mediocrity, pornography). We become what we see and attach ourselves to. You see, when seeing something, something happens: we actually merge with the object seen, by the nature of the soul's perceptive powers, it draws within it's metaphysical powers, the light-images of the object and we thereby become one with the object. There are no longer two entities-subject-perceiver and object-out-there, but one full entity-us, filled with the object of vision. And, if it is God Whom we gaze upon, like the Magi-Jesus Christ-say, in the Blessed Sacrament, then we shall become radiant and, perhaps, if we are in a state of grace, God-like. When the priest says at Mass, "Ecce agnus Dei" (echoing the words of St John the Baptist: Jn 1:29) then we should do just that: behold the Lamb of God, and allow Jesus Christ-God Himself to enter into our soul in this Divine Epiphany. We can, therefore, as Catholics, have and embrace this Epiphany every time we attend Mass!

Light is another theme of this Sunday's Readings and Epiphany. Re-read Isaiah and St Matthew Ch 2 and see how many times the word "light" or "shining" or "radiance" appear: many times! Light, in the Bible, usually means a theophany of God-another word for appearing. So, since your soul desires Light-Infinite and Uncreated, because this is the way God designed your soul-to thirst for this manifestation of Him, then within, in your soul's deepest powers, apprehend, deep within, stretch-for, love, grasp and receive this invisible, inner Infinite Light of God. So, incite your soul into a divine desire to be enraptured by the Light of God, through deeper prayer and, like the Magi, strip your soul by leaving your past life and earthly ego behind, and say, pray with the Psalmist, "In Your Light, O God, we see light" (Ps. 36).

Christ is Divine is another theme of Epiphany: just like in the Transfiguration (Mt. 17:2), Jesus manifests Himself as God. That is why the Magi all prostrated themselves at the Child-King, and why we Catholics should genuflect upon entering any Church where Jesus is in the Blessed Sacrament. Now, after our visit at the treatment center, over a cup of hot tea, Paul mentioned how Jesus is truly present in the Holy Eucharist, substantially, by manner of transubstantiation: the bread and wine actually, substantially, become the Body and Blood of Christ-Divine: Jesus Himself. Paul mentioned that Jesus is also present in creation, say, or even, of course in the Bible read at Mass or even in other people, but in a different way. While He is "present" in all these manners, He is not substantially present, uniquely, as He is in the Eucharist, which, as Paul said, we call the Most Blessed Sacrament since He is united and Present in a substantial way. So, in Holy Communion, we receive Divinity, commingling with our humanity. How delightful and insightful, and why not, Catholic, receive Him more often and, by the way, clear out the sin (thru Confession) and turn to Him: Divinity. God revealed Himself in the Epiphany to the Magi and so wants all souls to come unto Him in a readily, accessible way: daily to you in the Mass. Divinity comes to humanity in a "beautiful wedding"-and everyone likes weddings.

"They went back by a different route". This describes the Magi after their Encounter with the Lord: Usually it means their physical route back home. But: doesn't it mean, also, their metaphysical route, that they left the Child changed men? They went thru a conversion there. So: what do you need to change and re-order in your life after your encounter with Jesus? Undergo constant conversion after your Communion with Him-let go of pride, anger, gluttony, avariciousness, lust, envy, sloth. Convert again and again thru Communion with Him.

Salvation to all: that is what Epiphany means, too, since the Magi were non-Jews. God is manifesting Himself to everyone in the Epiphany. Recently I had dinner with Fr Edward Bayer. He is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. What is he doing in his retirement after fifty years of service to God's people? Living in luxury and in easy leisure? No: he is teaching young seminarians in Papua, New Guinea, all the way around the world, to become priests. He said: "Who would have thought I would be traveling all round the world at the end of my life to teach?" He seemed amazed himself-and delighted in God's Plan for him. We should admire men like this because of his, their desire to continue to serve and spread the Good News unto the end of the Earth. So: cultivate the desire to always serve, and "die with your blessed boots on" manifesting Jesus: don't ever give up! With examples like Fr Bayer we should increase our desire to serve-for-ever. God made the infinite distance from Heaven to Earth to save us, so shouldn't we try to imitate the same by helping other thirsting souls? Divinity Amidst poverty. This is the way Jesus was born. Not in a palace of splendor (except in the Virgin's womb, of course!) but in a lowly stable. My dad recently gave me an article from The New York Times, reviewing the book: "Happiness: Lessons From a New Science," by Richard Layard. Basically, the author says that money doesn't buy happiness-Oh, it may help for a while, when we get a new car, or better paying job, or new coat or something like that. Then our "happiness factor" rises and then, eventually, wanes: it comes and goes, like the wind. We all know the syndrome. Happiness comes rather from strong friendships and family ties and so forth-from deeper things and realties. Jesus Christ chose to be born amidst poverty to show us radically that we should not place our trust in possessions but in Him, in God. Do you? The Gospel and Jesus promise not happiness but joy (Mt. 5:1ff). I recently read where joy comes from a strong, deep union and relationship with Jesus Christ. Think: the less you have the more you will need God. Simple, eh? Now: practice it-like the saints, and Magi. True mysticism: today, as in all times, many are looking for visions and "mystical fireworks"-spiritual appearances, locutions and visions of God. Perhaps we've all had this desire-and chased it. But, think: We can have these every time we go to Mass when Jesus-God Himself-comes to us in the consecration. There are many "private revelations" (mystical appearances of God to individual persons outside the Bible) which are true-our Grotto is named after one of them, the appearance of the Virgin to St Bernadette at Lourdes in 1858, approved by the Church shortly thereafter. But, we must be prudent and cautious in wanting to have and believe in further visions, especially since God has shown Himself irrevocably in Jesus Christ, and, as we have said, in the Mass. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quotes St John of the Cross: "In giving us His Son, His only Word, He spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word-and He has no more to say, because what He spoke before to the prophets in parts, He has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behavior but also of offending Him by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ…" (#65). So, we must use holy discernment at the true appearances of God in our lives, all the while learning to discern and see Him in the "ordinary" ways He appears-thru the "whispers" of daily life, as in the created world around us, in the people He sends to us, in the Mass, in the Providential care He provides for us so readily. Don't miss Him-He is appearing in "subtle Epiphanies" all the time!

"Restless Souls"-that is how we could describe the Magi who sought the Lord. It is also the title of a new book I'm reading, by Leigh Eric Schmidt, which describes an increasing phenomenon among us today-people who seek and thirst for spirituality---without religion. You see: some don't want God with ethics and institutions and morality and so forth: they want "pure spirituality" and mysticism without all the "extras"-religion, that is. This is unfortunate and, really, an error, as one critic of the book put it. You see: how could we even have a spirituality without its' "vehicle"-our Religion. If we did not have our Roman Catholic Faith, we would not have the beautiful, flowering mysticism of St Teresa of Avila, say, or of St Augustine, to mention two holy, "restless souls". They were devout Catholics and "seekers" who attained the heights of mysticism precisely because they bound their mystical love with their Holy Religion. The two go together-mysticism and religion, they cannot be separated. So, let us incite both the fire within for "God-encounters"-like the Magi and saints-and also cling to our Holy Mother Church, our Catholic Faith! Don't separate what God has joined together.

The Infancy and Poverty: Our Holy Church protects and promotes infants-babies and families, and the generosity of fertility-and also those mired in poverty. These are not exclusive realties… One time a priest preached on the evil of voting for Catholic politicians just because they promote abortion. The priest was challenged by some university intellectuals and accused of supporting one political candidate (which of course no priest or bishop can do) and, further, some university officials and the president of the college was notified, and the bishop of the diocese was mentioned to "warn" the priest. However, when asked for facts of this, none were given --only accusations. Later, the same professor who accused the priest, unfactually, of course, of political partiality, promoted an advertisement for a Catholic politician who supported abortion on demand. Look: saintly souls like Pope John Paul, Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day all loved the poor and infants-and taught us: we must be courageous to defend them, and never separate supporting those in poverty from pro-life stances. It not only can't be done, it needn't be done. Many will try to intimidate the Church or disciples into fear from defending families, children and infants and the poor. When, like the Magi, we encounter the Lord's Infancy we will help the poor-precisely because that is the way Jesus showed us-He came in a family, and He himself was poor, so, like the Magi, let us honor Him and His Way of life!

On this Solemnity of the Epiphany, may God appear to you in ever so many ways, and may you appear to God like the Magi-worshipping and adoring Him, the Lord-Child King. Fr Larry Adamchyk recently hosted our priest group meeting and dinner, and prayed so spontaneously: "Bless us O Lord, in these Thy gifts…and, O, let us worship you, since this is the First Act of religion, to worship and adore you, O Lord-Amen." May the Blessed Virgin Mary the beautiful Mother of God, help us to fulfill that prayer of the Good Friday-"Come: let us Worship!" Merry Christmas (still!).

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi