Today’s feast of the Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season.
While we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany today (Sunday), in many other parts of the world (including Italy) the Epiphany is celebrated on the traditional date of January 6, that was Friday.
I found Francis’ Epiphany homily last year deeply moving – encouraging and life-changing. Here’s one paragraph to whet your appetite:
“Each day the very air we breathe is full of “tranquilisers of the soul”, surrogates meant to sedate our inner restlessness and to suppress those very questions: new items to consume, empty promises of pleasure and non-stop media controversies, the idolatry of fitness. Everything seems to tell us: Don’t overthink things; let go and enjoy life! Often we try to soothe our hearts with creature comforts. If the Magi had done that, they would never have encountered the Lord.”
In secular usage the word ‘epiphany’ means a breakthrough – a realisation of the true meaning of something. This is because our common usage comes from the religious meaning of Epiphany as the human experience of waking up to a previously hidden significance of something or some one. In this first Epiphany, through the insight of the Magi, the ultimate divine manifestation is made known to the world.
The world that was in darkness, has now seen the light. This magnetic attraction to the light is a natural and enduring drive. It is in life’s darkest moments that we are most aware of our need for light. As Leonard Cohen sang: “there is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”
A Christian accepts that we are invited to share this divine light eternally after our death, but how does this help us in the midst of today’s burdens?
The key is reality. Faith leads me to reality, both the reality of God and the reality of my own life. We begin every Mass with the invitation “brothers and sisters, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.” In other words, let us wake up to our personal and communal reality, that we might know our capacity for the reality of God to enter us in this Mass.
Let’s be honest about this reality. While I am attracted to the light of truth, there are many times when the reality which highlights every speck of dust and stain of sin is too much for me. Like Adam and Eve in the garden I head for the shelter of the shade. At times I even prefer darkness, but my attraction to the light remains.
Humans can survive darkness. We can exist in the gloom. But only the light provides an environment of growth and life, We much prefer the freedom of openness and honesty to the fear of secrets and deception. This fact is the heart of the feast of the Epiphany.
T.S. Eliot has the Magi returning “to our places, these Kingdoms, but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation.” This is the effect on the one who has encountered the person of Jesus. We are never again fully at home on earth, even in the fulness of all that our world has to offer. We are drawn to a greater light – and this is a sign that we are healthy.
We can never be happier in this world than when we are following THE light. In the midst of the reality of human suffering, we delight in the presence of the one one who transforms our days of darkness into an eternal life of light.