THE CHALLENGE OF THE EPIPHANY
It is a wonderful feast. It has to be properly celebrated. The virulent temptation is to get lost in a cosmetic celebration of the Epiphany. It cannot be about sentimentality. We can so 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 the new situations, new people, a new language and a new culture. We are missionaries in our own country and in our own lives. Our faith architecture is now inadequate. The jargon of faith won’t do. 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. We can’t allow ourselves be skulking in sadness with a sense of loss. This is a very challenging 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.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory:
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. Our minds are sodden. 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. This is an opportunity to become students and learners. We can become creative and imaginative. In the wider Church, we are given another method or approach with the Synodal pathways. But this has to be real. It isn’t something to talk about. It is practical and immediate. It happens locally. In Dublin we have the Task Force Report. That too has to be real and implemented. It cannot be a lovely document riddled with validation by quotations from the popes. It is the lived reality and experience that matters. The Feast is the metaphor for all of us.
The Capitol and maverick:
Many of us now associate the 6th January with the invasion of the Capitol in the US. This place is a symbol and exemplar of democracy. It is the supposed heart of civilisation. Democracy was the best the West had to offer, for developing nations! In fact, serious efforts were made to impose this form of Government on ‘the suffering people’ of many a country. We were indeed quite arrogant. But now. There was a riot inspired by a President. There was a leader who would bask in the language of the ‘big lie’ and ‘the steal’ and could gather millions who echoed his words. Truth is only what he says it is. Many follow him. What does that tell us about democracy in America now? What is the revelation? Where is the epiphany? Whose star is being followed? What now for all of us? In the UK, Boris is frequently called a serial liar whether that is true or not can be debated. There surely is a political call for integrity; for truthfulness. It is urgent. In Church life, we too must move away from all the certainties of the past. The rigid positions. The clarities. The absolutes. The hinterland of black/white. We move into the mist. We are adventurers. We are travellers. We prepare to learn a new language. The search goes on. For what matters. And for whom. And yet Pope Francis is undermined by many who embrace the absolutes of certainty and who can’t see faith and incarnation as continuing in our daily lives and everywhere. We have to be people of the Epiphany- a living pilgrimage. Humility, humour and honesty are the essentials. The searching never stops. Augustine’s words are true, “You have made us for yourself O Lord and we are restless, until we rest in you.” (Confessions). The restlessness is permanent. This is the Epiphany. The Feast. The mission. The challenge. There is no room for fear or for hesitancy. On your bike. On your camel. There is the call and the demand. The Epiphany is 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
P.S. Some of this appeared last year but there are some additions:
‘As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted’…(Used in Daily Mirror after WW2). I think it applies here too!