|January 9, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 5|
Epiphany of the Lord, January 8, 2012
The readings for this Sunday are for the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. To begin this reflection, there is a quiz!
The answers are directly from Scripture’s Gospel of Matthew. Do you really know what Scripture says about this feast?
Question #1 — The magi wanted to find Jesus in order to A) warn his parents about Herod’s plans to kill Jesus; B) worship him; C) give him gifts. Write down your answer.
Question #2 — The magi found Jesus in A) a stable; B) a house; C) an inn; D) we don’t know. Write down your answer.
Answer #1 — Look up Mt 2:2
Answer #2 — Look up Mt 2:11
How did you do? Did you really know what the Gospel says about the visit of the Magi?
Sometimes we have to read the Scriptures carefully to know what is being said. Often paintings or our Christmas crèches lead us to visualize something different than what is written in Scripture.
Whether there were three magi, or more or less (tradition has three since there were three gifts — Matthew’s gospel does not tell us how many!), they began on a journey that led them to Christ. A journey that led to Christ!
You and I began our journey to Christ at our Baptism. We may not have a physical star which will lead us to Christ, but we do have many other guiding signs.
Some of our guiding signs may be brighter than others, but they are there.
Some of the guiding lights in my life have been my grandparents and parents. I have also been blessed with many people who have helped shine the path to Jesus for me.
In addition, there have been the sacraments. Scripture. Quiet moments of reflection. Liturgy on Sundays. Places which reminded me of my faith. Scripture sharing sessions. Persons, places and experiences.
So many guiding lights! So many shining stars!
The two questions at the beginning of this reflection referenced “why they wanted to find Jesus” and “where they found Him.”
Yes, they were led by a star; we are led to find Jesus through people, places and experiences.
They wanted to find Jesus to fulfill their long journey. We want to find Jesus to fulfill our life-long journey. They found Jesus, but maybe not exactly where they might have expected. Likewise, we sometimes find Christ where we have least expected.
Who or what have been the guiding lights in your life? Who or what has led you to Christ? Where have you found Christ?
A life interrupted can still be meaningful
One of the greatest challenges I faced as a young mother was dealing with the interruptions permeating life with children.
Interruptions are so common, in fact, that many young parents learn to allow time for them in their day. Getting a family ready for church, for example, requires dressing time, breakfast time, driving time, walking from the car to the church time.
In addition, most families will allow at least half an hour for the inevitable mishaps expected to occur — squabbles between siblings, toddler tantrums, spilled juice, missing shoes.
Of course, once life settles down, and our children mature, we parents forget about interruptions. We become more accustomed to our routines, and we can become set in our ways.
When grandchildren come to visit, grandparents love being in the company of their young grandchildren, but these same grandparents are usually relieved when the house becomes quiet again, and the normal rhythm of daily life resumes.
However, even among the older set, interruptions can’t be avoided. Yes, our days are quieter. And while we no longer find ourselves challenged by the petty but irritating interruptions of daily life with small children, we face interruptions not so easily overcome.
Illness, injury, disability, divorce, job loss, death — all these and more are interruptions that shake us to the core. What we may be expecting for the second half of life, whether a relaxing retirement, rewarding family time, or travel adventures, may not materialize. We may find ourselves struggling with a reality entirely different from our best-laid plans.
E.M. Forster wrote: “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
It’s difficult to reconcile these two lives — the life we expected and the life we have.
As Forster suggests, the only way to reconcile them is to let go of our expectations and accept that the life we have waiting for us, even if it doesn’t match our hopes and dreams, is the only — the best — life we have.
By hanging on to what we want instead of accepting what we have, we are the adult equivalents of stubborn toddlers convinced that having it our way is all that matters. Once we let go of doing things our way, we find the alternative to our plan, while not what we would choose for ourselves, is profoundly meaningful.
That’s not to suggest we can’t work to improve our lives. Indeed, we are called and expected to do everything we can to lead healthy, emotionally satisfying lives.
Yet even our best efforts do not always bear fruit. Illnesses are not always cured. Disabilities are not always overcome. Relationships are not always mended.
Those who face significant and frightening interruptions in their lives may grieve and rage at the surprising circumstances that have derailed their plans. But after the grief and anger pass, the acceptance of the life they are given allows them to live fully, immediately, and consciously, trusting in God’s providence.
Ultimately, a life interrupted, when accepted and lived, is a life permeated by grace.
Welcoming the Stranger
While we were in California, one of the places we visited was the Getty Art Museum.
The paintings by medieval artists were especially beautiful but, reflective of the period, the religious themes seemed to be of air brushed quality. One piece I found particularly interesting was a portrait depicting the Holy Family during their flight into Egypt.
The artist had portrayed the couple resting along the way in what looked like a lovely country scene, complete with trees and a nearby stream. Mary and Joseph sat perched on a rock watching Jesus play.
In the Gospel account, Herod ordered all infants under the age of two to be slaughtered. This explains why Jesus was not portrayed as the newborn infant that comes to mind when the Gospel is read during the Christmas season.
As I looked at the painting, I couldn’t help but wonder if the actual event was anything like what the artist had imagined. The Gospel account depicts Mary and Joseph gathering their son in haste after Joseph was warned in a dream that Jesus’ life was in danger.
I wonder: would someone running for their life take time for what looked like a leisurely picnic?
During our assignment here in Topawa, we are reminded daily of the plight of those who are seeking asylum. The real life picture is very different.
Migrants making their way across the desert often arrive at the Mission hungry, thirsty and geographically disoriented. In fact, most end up at the Mission only because they are lost.
They come to the doorstep of the Franciscans because they recognize the cross on top of the church as a symbol they have learned to trust.
In keeping with the spirit of St. Francis, they are given food and water and the use of restroom facilities. Guests are given blankets for the night and invited to sleep on the large covered porch and when they leave, they are given a traveling kit that contains food items, water, Band-Aids, a pair of socks.
Most migrants do not speak English so communicating with those of us who do not speak Spanish adds to their sense of helplessness.
As I look at them huddled together in the cold on the friary porch, I can’t help but wonder if this portrait is more like what the Holy Family endured during their terrifying flight into a foreign country.
It’s a timely consideration since the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has designated January 8-14 as Migrant Week. The bishops have set aside this week to remind us to welcome the stranger in our midst, regardless of our political position on the immigration issue. The fact is our religion has a long tradition of welcoming the stranger.
In Biblical times, strangers were regarded as messengers from God and treated with the upmost respect. They were given food and lodging because to do otherwise would be unconscionable. Abraham was told that his wife Sarah would conceive a child in her old age by just such a visitor.
This year the Bishops have chosen the “Road to Emmaus” as the theme for Migrant Week. Just as the disciples recognized Christ in the stranger they encountered when they left Jerusalem, so we are called to recognize Christ in the stranger, and that includes the migrant and the marginalized.
We are called to treat them as we would treat Christ, because helping those in need is not a political issue; it is an act of Christian charity, a corporal work of mercy, which we have a mandate to perform.
Catholics in the United States have a history of helping those in need. We provide assistance to refugees and immigrants through Catholic Charities. Parishes sponsor families and individuals donate time and talent to those who come to the United States seeking a better life.
While no one would dispute the fact that our current immigration system is broken, we can’t ignore the human face of suffering when we see it.
I believe this is what the Bishops are asking us to consider. It may be difficult for those of us who were born here to imagine the suffering that those who live in dire poverty must endure.
To dream of a better life, to escape hunger, hopelessness and in some cases death is what drives many to come across our borders.
I wonder how the Holy Family might have fared had they been asked for papers when they were seeking refuge in a foreign land. Day after day we watch the Border Patrol buses returning migrants to Mexico.
Not all who make the trip across the desert find a home here, and I’m not suggesting they all should. However, as we advocate for reform, it is important to reverence families enough to keep them intact. To punish a child for the conduct of the parents by separating them is not the solution.
Like the medieval artist, who paints a picture that is more aesthetically pleasing than realistic, when we reduce the immigration issue to politics as usual, we may be guilty of airbrushing the human face of suffering.
This will never do because to encounter the face of suffering is to encounter Christ. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, let us pray that our hearts may burn and our eyes be opened as we welcome the stranger in our midst, even when it may not be politically correct.
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