p. Luis CASASUS. President of the Idente Missionaries.
Rome, January 6th, 2023 | The Epiphany of the Lord.
Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12.
We do not know much – or anything – about what happened to the Magi on their long journey to Bethlehem. The people they met, the places where they rested and perhaps the dangers that surrounded them. But what is clear is that the Three Wise Men of the East, upon arriving at the manger and seeing Jesus, found the meaning of their mysterious journey after the star. Every minute, every step, every hardship experienced made sense. Everything was illuminated with a new light and they were able to understand nothing less than God’s plan for them.
Perhaps when they were children they were enthusiastic about looking at the stars and later that was their task as adults… which Providence used to guide them to the Child God. But it is not necessary for them, nor for us, to know all of God’s plans. Nor could they imagine, surely, that their pilgrimage would serve as an example, down through the centuries, to those of us who want to draw closer to Christ.
This may be one way of understanding what Epiphany means, that is, the Manifestation of Christ: He is the only one who can give meaning and a new light to everything that happens in our life.
All religions highlight the need we have for a Master to reveal to us what is truly valuable within and outside of us. This is necessary when we are going through difficult times, but also when things seem to be going well, as in the case of the Three Wise Men, who were people with a successful and apparently happy life. For example, this is how the Buddhists express it, with one of their typical legends:
A wrestler used to wear an ornament on his forehead of a precious stone. One time when he was wrestling the stone was crushed into the flesh of his forehead. He thought he had lost the gem and went to a surgeon to have the wound dressed. When the surgeon came to dress the wound he found the gem embedded in the flesh and covered over with blood and dirt. He held up a mirror and showed the stone to the wrestler.
Buddhists say that our true nature, what is important in our life, is like the precious stone of this story: it becomes covered over by the dirt and dust of other interests and people think that they have lost it, but a good teacher recovers it again for them.
With the star of Bethlehem, God revealed to the Magi WHO could give meaning to all the events, the sorrows and the joys of their lives. It was worth the journey.
This is the difference, for those of us who have the privilege of knowing Christ. We do not receive a valuable object, but a divine person who accompanies us always and is the merciful face of God, as he has been called by the Popes and by many saints.
It is relevant that the first to enjoy this manifestation or revelation of the person of Jesus were the shepherds, who can be considered as “ordinary people”, and somehow close to the local religion and traditions and the Magi, whose life revolved around the science of the time and undoubtedly professed other beliefs, surely the Zoroastrian religion, as historians believe. This panorama shows us the universality of Christ, who before being able to speak reaches all types of human beings. Today, always, he continues to do the same, although sometimes we do not seem to be convinced of it.
But when we say, already in the New Testament, that Christ is the light of the world (Jn 8:12), we mean that his coming in human form is a unique moment, expected for centuries, part of the divine plans for each and every human being.
Thus, in today’s First Reading, Isaiah prophesies about a time of glory and splendor for Israel. This great time is represented by the symbol of light, when “the Lord shines.” This light that will come to the Israelites is intended not just for them but for all people, for “nations shall walk by your light.” Other nations (i.e. the Gentiles), in fact, will come with gifts to Israel in order to worship the Lord. These gifts include “gold and frankincense.” Thus, the fact that the Magi bring gifts of “gold and frankincense” shows that the fulfillment of this prophesy comes with the birth of Jesus.
Of course, our celebration of the Epiphany must have the intention of “making everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things” (Eph 3:9).
A second way of contemplating the Epiphany can be something that Pope Francis briefly mentioned at the end of his homily for the Magi last year. I am referring to the fact that Christ, in addition to coming as light, comes to liberate us in a very precise and concrete way. He will not only give us the sublime and overwhelming proof of final forgiveness, which he won for us on the cross, but daily freedom, also impossible for our poor strength. What does he free us from? In the Pope’s words, from the tyranny of our needs.
This is something very relevant, countercultural and as profound as it is practical. If we ask a psychotherapist how to live in a balanced way, with serenity and without anxieties, one of the typical answers will be to tell us that we must distinguish and separate our emotional and physical needs from our wants. The basic idea is to prevent any desire from destroying or making it impossible to achieve what we “really” need. Although this is not a contemptible idea, nor a simple task, the limit is that it is proposed to people to reach a self-realization, as a supreme need. And therein lies the unattainable goal. Our forces cannot reach the top of that pyramid, where we are supposed to be able to live in full harmony and total vision of reality. Christ gives us a precise way to free ourselves from that dictatorship, both of desires and needs.
We know well that the fullness of our life can be summed up in the sharing of the bread, in that Banquet which is what we recite in the rite of communion: a sign of reconciliation and a bond of fraternal union. No fullness can be achieved if there is a residue of individualism.
Let us look at an example from our days, which unfortunately is found throughout human history.
Researchers have studied veterans from the war who have had trouble readjusting upon returning home. Many face depression, substance abuse, or even thoughts of suicide. Often, when questioned, they express a desire to return to the war. But that is not because they were fervent believers in war’s purpose. Instead, they missed deeply their belonging to their platoon.
Being bound together with others in a commitment so strong that one’s life could be sacrificed for another’s gave their lives a compelling purpose. Moreover, this came through participating in a shared mission together. Once back home, for those finding adjustment difficult, life seemed to offer nothing comparable. They missed and even longed for the bonds of their platoon in ways hard to rationally understand.
Let me illustrate the importance of rejecting individualism with a well-known example of African thought. It is the concept of Ubuntu, which is a Zulu word. Essentially, it means that one can only be a person through one’s relationships with others. Simply put: I am because we are.
Even a famous American basketball team, made up of great players, was able to beat all the others, equally competitive and brilliant, because their coach patiently instilled this principle in them and they were willing to give up individual brilliance to achieve plays full of coordination among all. With conviction, they repeated the cry of ¡Ubuntu! every time they restarted the game after each technical break.
A yearning for community is implanted deep within the human heart. Yet so much in modern society pushes us in the opposite direction. We worship individualism. Society is constructed as if “I” is at the center of everything. The bottom line is that my rights, my prerogatives, my desires, my fulfillment, and my wishes come first.
I think this is what the Pope meant when he spoke of the tyranny of our desires.
Only by being truly pilgrims, identes, like the Magi, can we be free, or better yet, make the freedom of the children of God grow in us. And we have to make this journey in common, as our Father Founder tells us from the beginning and as it appears in our Rule as the purpose of our Institute. Not only the Examination of Perfection, but also the Chapter of Faults and personal conversations help us to do so.
We stop walking when we are comfortable with our spiritual life, when we never remember our faults and yet our brothers and our superiors make observations about our conduct.
We stop walking when we do not ask for forgiveness for small forgetfulness, for being unpunctual, for small missed opportunities to help (taking out the garbage; helping to clear the table) even if I am not asked to do so; for not letting the others know when I am leaving the house.
We stop walking if we are too silent or – especially the superiors – we talk too much, without taking into account the occupations that await our sisters and brothers and that they also have something to say….
It is about walking, and walking together, like the Magi. We cannot underestimate the insidious pressures of selfish individualism in our soul, in religious and family life and in our society. It tries to shape our lives in many ways. And those pressures cannot be resisted alone. It takes a community of brothers and sisters called by the transforming vision of life together as the body of Christ to nurture a spiritual journey toward liberation from the heresy of individualism.
As Idente missionaries, we have a privilege today, the way in which our Father and Founder has united today the day of the Sanctifying Grace to the Solemnity of the Epiphany.
It is not by chance that he invites us precisely today to meditate on the meaning of this Sanctifying Grace, in the midst of the other graces we receive. In Rome, on January 5, 1985, he told us that sanctifying grace is a marvelous gift which, transforming the sorrowful soul, raises it to the highest heavenly dignity: mystical children of a Father who, eternal and unique, loves us. And he invited us to approach Christ like the Magi, with the certainty that we will be healed and that we will always receive something new, just as the Magi set out on their return to their homeland by a different path, free from the dangers of the world that lay in wait for them.
Today is a day to remember that the Church teaches us that grace is stronger than sin. But it is not simply a beautiful phrase, nor is it a consolation for my personal life. It is a light that helps me to believe that my neighbor, who may seem to me to be insensitive or stubborn in his mistakes, will always be called to be a saint.
Epiphany involves two important and inseparable strands namely, divine call and human response. God calls us to see and appreciate His gift of inestimable value (Jn 3:16). We respond by going to see and appreciate God’s grace. How do we appreciate God’s grace? We do so by giving God our own gifts. The greatest of these gifts is the gift of our whole being.
Today our attention is turned to the Wise Men from the east. The bible reported that they saw a star that was different from the usual as it indicated the birth of a great king. God has many ways of manifesting his presence. The letter to the Hebrews made reference to this when it says that:
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Heb.1:1-2).
Aside from the historical confirmation of these words, they are awakening us to the reality of an ever new, almost always unexpected manifestation of God in our lives. May we not be insensitive to this reality of grace, which is, as Pope Benedict XVI says, “being looked upon by God, our being touched by his love.” Grace is not a thing, but rather God’s communication of himself to men. God never gives less than himself. In grace we are in God.
Perhaps we can say that grace has these two faces: a light to see our whole existence in a new way and a liberation from the tyranny of our needs, so that we can respond to that light.
There is a quick lesson we need to learn from the journey of the Wise Men: Perseverance. From the account we have from Matthew they saw the star and followed it but by the time they came into the city of Jerusalem they could not see it again. It was then that they inquired from Herod about where the king of the Jews will be born whose star they saw earlier. Herod was ignorant of this and he consulted the men of letters who confirmed the prophecy of the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem. Now immediately the wise men continued their journey to Bethlehem and their search for the new born king, the star appeared again and went ahead of them until it came to the place Christ was born.
The lesson here is that we should never be discouraged when a situation does not seem to be favorable like it was in the past. These Wise Men were not discouraged; they stayed in the game. When fruits are no longer visible like before in your mission, stay in the game. When your family or community life seems to be facing turbulent times, stay in the game. When no one seems to appreciate your input at the Kingdom, stay in the game.
The Wise Men could have turned back when the star disappeared and when Herod could not understand what they were talking about; they stayed in the game and their mission was fulfilled as the star came out again. Sometimes your star would seem dim; do not worry, it will rise and shine again but you have to remain in the game.
Only if we resolve to pay attention to our true desire, that is, that Aspiration which the Spirit nourishes in us, will we be able to take advantage of that ever-new light and that permanent redemption from slavery to our desires which are at the essence of the Epiphany.
In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
p. Luis CASASUSDOWNLOAD PDF