Having just celebrated the beautiful feast of the Epiphany, aka, the Adoration of the Magi, I have been ruminating on some of the things that feast should mean for us as Catholics in the current world, and as harbingers of the New Evangelization.
Epiphany comes from a Greek word meaning ‘reveal’ or ‘a startling or striking realization or revelation’. In common use, it just means a moment of fresh clarity or a revelation of something. In religious terms, it refers to a ‘sudden insight into the divine’ (here I have committed the cardinal sin of consulting Wikipedia).
The feast of the Epiphany is called so because it was Christ’s revelation to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi, kings or nobles from the East who followed astrological ‘signs’ which culminated in the Star of Bethlehem that led them to the newborn Savior. It is a commemoration of a literal revelation, and of theological revelation. As the Liturgy of the Hours prayers for the octave of the Epiphany remind us:
“All the kings of the earth will bow down in worship.
– All the kings of the earth will bow down in worship.
Men and women of every nation will serve him.
– They will bow down in worship.”
(Responsory for Morning prayer, Wednesday between Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord)
This sentiment–that Christ as King of the World is now revealed to the nations–is echoed throughout the psalms and antiphons chosen for the LOTH propers, as well as in some of the regular psalms for Week II:
“…The mountains melt like wax
before the Lord of all the earth.
The skies proclaim his justice;
all peoples see his glory…”
(also from Wednesday Morning prayer, taken from Wednesday in Week II)
So, the Epiphany is not a historical feast. It is not simply a remembrance of the literal meeting Christ had with Gentile men who, through that interaction, came to believe in Him. Rather, it is a timeless message that Christ is revealed to and will be worshiped by all nations.
This is such an incredibly heartening thing. No wonder most of the rest of the LOTH prayers for this week have been all about the great majesty of God in tandem with the rejoicing we should do when we realize it.
I sometimes get discouraged by the immense amount of anti-Christian, immoral, relativistic, apathetic garbage in which our culture has immersed itself.
Sometimes Often, I feel like no matter what I say or how hard I try to reach people, I will never be able to make a dent in the leviathan of the World and all the evil of our time.
“Will the Lord reject us for ever?
Will he show us his favor no more?
Has his love vanished for ever?
Has his promise come to an end?
Does God forget his mercy
or in anger withhold his compassion?”
(from today’s Morning prayer)
This year, however, celebrating the Epiphany reminded me of how much hope we really have. Not that I’ve ever despaired, but I think sometimes I forget what God expects from and will work through me. There are more solutions to the immense problems of the world as it stands today than fire and brimstone and God’s direct and tangible intervention (despite what I ruefully remark to myself all the time).
Christ has come. He has revealed Himself to the Gentiles–to the world–and “Men and women of every nation…all peoples” will come to recognize and worship Him. Hopefully, this happens for the vast majority before they reach judgment, so that they can also come to love Him and be united to Him in Heaven. In the meantime, what this means for me–and for you, if you are also striking out in pursuit of the proclamation of Christ’s Gospel–is that my voice is strong because it is backed by the Word of God, speaking from before time, to say again and again, throughout Scripture and through the words of the Church, that Christ is here and He will be acknowledged.
Every new idea or realization that God has placed in my heart for the past year or so, I find even more clarified in something from our beloved Pope. In Evangelii gaudium, he says
“This principle [God as the final Cause, outside of time] enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results. It helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations, or inevitable changes in our plans. It invites us to accept the tension between fullness and limitation, and to give a priority to time…What we need, then, is to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events. Without anxiety, but with clear convictions and tenacity.” (EG 223, emphasis mine)
In other words–take heart! We must persevere, and we should be joyful in doing so, because “the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and He has set the world upon them” (Samuel 2).
Julian of Norwich, who is recognized as a saint by the Anglican church, and whose writings have been deemed worthy by the Catholic Church, had a vision of Christ in which He held the entirety of the world in His hand, in a hazelnut shell. He told her that this tiny ball was “all that was made”. She wondered how it could be sustained when it was clearly so small and God was clearly so much bigger, and Christ’s answer was that it was through the love of God that all things retained their being. I take a fresh breath of energy and hope from this, and from the meaning of the Epiphany as I experience my own epiphany: “My heart leaps up with joy to the Lord, for he humbles only to exalt us.”
This year will be a year of fruitful evangelization and witness if we only keep our eyes on Christ, our King, and by word and example remind others of the revelation He has planted in their hearts.
“See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples;
But upon you the Lord shines,
and over you appears his glory.
Nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your shining radiance.”
(from an excerpt of Isaiah for the Solemnity of the Epiphany, Morning prayer)