Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Epiphany: From Darkness to Light

In his novel, Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh tells the story of Charles Ryder and the Marchmain family. Near the end of the novel, Ryder has an awakening, an epiphany, as he watches the final act of faith of a man he presumed shared his ambivalence toward Catholicism. Despite himself, Ryder “felt the longing for a sign…the hand moved slowly down his breast, then to his shoulder, and Lord Marchmain made the Sign of the Cross. Then I knew the sign I had asked for was not a little thing, not a passing nod of recognition, and a phrase came back to me from my childhood of the veil of the temple being rent from top to bottom.”

In the ancient world, an epiphaneia was a visible manifestation of a god or the solemn visit of a secular ruler to the cities of his realm. Today’s celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord brings together the quiet realizations of a Charles Ryder with the grandeur of a king’s visit. In this liturgy, we are not passively remembering the journey of the Magi—Epiphany is a dynamic feast celebrating the redemption that has been won for us through the Incarnation of Christ.

The Adoration of the Magi
from the Beuronese murals in the
Basilica of the Immaculate Conception
at Conception Abbey, Conception, Missouri.

While the visit of the Magi is an unmistakable sign that the salvation offered by the newborn King is for all times and peoples, monastic writers through the ages came to understand the Magi’s journey as a metaphor for conversion. Listening to the voice of the Lord, we move from the darkness of doubt and sin, entering into the light and freedom of the children of God (cf. Isaiah 60:1-6). As Saint Bruno of Segni wrote, “We offer the Lord gold when we shine in his sight with the light of heavenly wisdom. We offer him frankincense when we send up pure prayer before him, and myrrh when, mortifying our flesh with its vices and passions by self-control, we carry the cross behind Jesus” (Sermon 1 on the Epiphany).

The star that guided the Magi still shines in the Gospel, which continues to guide us along our pilgrim way. The Church, and every person of faith, has been entrusted with that same light and we are called to carry that light into the dark places of the world in our prayer, words, and acts of charity. As Pope Benedict  XVI reflected, “How important it is that we Christians are faithful to our vocation! Every authentic believer is always travelling his own personal itinerary of faith, and at the same time, with the little light that he carries within himself, can and must be a help to those alongside him, and even help the one for whom finding the way that leads to Christ is difficult” (Angelus, January 6, 2008).
A Prayer for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord +
O God, who on this day
revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star,
grant in your mercy
that we, who know you already by faith,
may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, you Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal) 

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