THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY
It is a wonderful feast. It has to be properly celebrated. The dangerous temptation is that we can sentimentalise religion. We can easily get distracted with ‘Little Christmas’ or ‘Nollaig na mBan’ or even see Epiphany as a time to conclude the Festive period. But it is more than that. We can get emotional too over a baby and admire these wandering gypsies or kings (especially on camels with exotic gifts) or the notion of a star. But the reality behind the story, is much more dangerous and radical. The Epiphany screams at us from the bowels of the earth. It asks us to live and learn. It demands that we reach out and cope with new situations and new people and a new culture. We are missionaries in our own country and in our own lives. There is no hiding in the past or attempting to do things as we used to do them or hankering after wistful nostalgia or dreaming of how good things used to be, in the old days. It is a dangerous feast. It calls for pioneers in faith. The very sinews of our faith are stretched to the limits. They won’t break. But stretching exercises are essential.
Wake up and smell the coffee:
We are asked: “Lift your eyes; look around.” (Isaiah 60). If we look around at present, we are haunted by the ghosts of the virus. They get everywhere. They are lurking in the most unlikely places. They seep into our innards. These ghosts are frightening. They tease and taunt us. They jail us. They lock us up and lock us down. But the Feast still says: ‘Lift up those eyes and look around.’ What do we see? We can soak ourselves in nostalgia. We were free (BC – before Corona). We could go where we wanted. We could do what we liked, as we wished. We could eat, drink and be merry. We could even attend Church sometimes and go through the motions of Mass and Liturgy. Now everything is changed and indeed ‘a terrible beauty is born.’ We are stripped of our controls. It isn’t only the old and those who are compromised (health-wise) that are vulnerable. We are all fragile and vulnerable.
There has been a coup – the experts!
There is a deluge. Of experts. Of Government spokespersons, telling us the guidelines and the rules. Of the media dissecting numbers and basking in the entrails of news, that keeps on giving. We can’t go into a shop without queuing. We must wear a mask. We can’t touch or hug or kiss or embrace. Everyone is a suspect. Keep your distance. That is the only currency. If those eyes are lifted; what do we see when we look around? Everything we have taken for granted. People. Characters. Nature. Beauty. Freedom. The poets. The artists. The writers. The humorists. The comedians. The photographers. The illustrators. The real beauticians. The Godliness of life. The graciousness of people. The awesomeness of health. The kindness of so many. The very wonder of what we had and have. The legacy of those who invested everything in us. We need now a new priesthood or ministry in a world culture utterly changed. If we don’t do this; we ape the deluded man in USA who can’t accept that he has lost the election. This new priesthood stands tall. It is unafraid of any question. It is bold. It fears nothing or nobody. It is assured. It is confident. (Has faith). It is the priesthood of everyone. Real expanding priesthood, evolving into something bigger and better.
‘The Waterford Whispers’ shocked many. Apparently it was crude and blasphemous. It may have trivialised rape victims too. God. Christ. Mary. Can cope. Most of us can cope too. It didn’t cause an outbreak of violence like Charlie Hebdo. But it was in that vein. Our Church is robust. However, I want to apologise for Tramore, (as a Déise man) which deserved better than that puerile effort at satire. Nonetheless, we cannot be afraid of satire/irony/attack. If the Epiphany is being celebrated; we are travellers in unfamiliar territory but we are searching. The wisdom in our search, makes us strong and willing to go anywhere to find, the God of our lives. We are fearless. We cannot be intimidated. Or even apologetic.
Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?
Tony Flannery’s questions posed recently (on the website) deserve an answer. If some bishops can raise similar issues to his ones, why is he such a renegade? I think Brendan Hoban raised a whole series of questions too on priesthood (pen pictures of ministry) but not many have taken up the cudgels to challenge an emerging stereotype or to paint their own profile of ministry. Caricatures can take over. The clichéd image can emerge. Again our task is to shatter the expectations that people have. Surprise everyone, always! I see that some folk have tormented Diarmuid Martin to such an extent that he had to look for clarification from Rome, on how the bishops (Dermot and Diarmuid) would be included in the Eucharist Prayer. Now there is a real problem. Even if I can’t see it. ‘Fiddling while Rome burns,’ comes to mind. I shouldn’t smile at the scruples of those who have troubled Diarmuid.
Who will follow the present star?
I think (as a collective and as individuals), we should make a serious attempt to look at the creation of a new faith/worshipping community, after Covid. The feast confronts us this year. A new way of being priest. A new way of being bishop. A new way of being parish. A new way of celebrating Baptism. A new way of celebrating Confession. A new way of celebrating Mass. A new way of celebrating First Communion. A new way of being Christian. A new way of defining Church. A new way of seeking God. A new way of expressing faith. A new language. Covid is our tsunami. We have to introduce ourselves to the whole package of what religion is, and how we celebrate it. Who God is, and how reach the God of today. What prayer is, and how we can pray. What Liturgy is, and how we can go about it. There was much of the habitual and the formulaic in what we did. We were ritualised and stylised. We got lost in the swamp of trivial issues which assumed a life of their own. The Church of the past is gone. People won’t rejoin……
New World Symphony (Dvorak)
Mass too wasn’t as passive (in the church of BC) as it can be online but almost. Baptism happened. Because it was the done thing. First Communion occurred. Because the little ones were beautiful. But was it real? Confirmation was done. Because that was the age for it. Bishops dressed up in outlandish clothes. Strange titles were splashed about. Because relics of old decency remained as residual from the days of royalty! It is now a new and different world.
Let’s make real music of our faith. Epiphany is for showing off. It is an explosion of God in a different way. It is dangerous. The hooligans of faith, are not the obvious Herods; they are really the ones, who want to stifle God, and to keep everything as it used to be. Awe and holiness go together; we have to rediscover the sacred. Communion of the faithful – has to be mean that. Everyone is welcome to our Table of adventure. Communion is vast and all-embracing. Full-of-faith (faithful) is beyond us, but that is our journey. Community is our need for each other. We cannot act like sulky children and keep on trying to do things on our own.
The Epiphany is about a grown up adult faith or rather a grown up Community, which is searching. We should be grateful for this opportunity. The Epiphany asks us to explore and face the radical questions of a different world. It is exciting and frightening and wonderful and brazen. We all need an Epiphany. Reach out. Reach up. Stretch the muscles of our minds, imaginations and hearts. We are being prepared through the refinement of Covid 19.
Seamus Ahearne osa