Sunday, January 3, 2010

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily on the Feast of the Epiphany

Feast of Epiphany Sunday - Jan. 3, 2010
Readings: Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-6; Mt 2:1-12

The main theme of the feast of Epiphany seems rather evident: it is the manifestation, the "shining through" (epi-phania) of the majesty and glory of God. This God in Jesus Christ has been made known to the nations—that is symbolized so powerfully by the three magi (or kings) who come to pay homage to the new-born child (and king). That’s the basic message of Epiphany.

Or so it seems. But is there something more? There are few other feasts so liable to subtle distortion as this one of Epiphany. The mistake that Christians often make is to assume that the evidence for God is plain and irrefutable, and all that’s needed is a simple acknowledgment of the fact that God’s glory is plainly clear. That would be a mistake. In a recent article the religious writer, Karen Armstrong,
deals with the subject, "How Not to Talk about God." (U.S.Catholic, Vol. 75, No.1, pp. 24-28). She makes the point that most people in Western culture treat God as a fact that is easily proven, that God is a distinct personality like you and me, that
God is a "creator" in the same way that you and I create something. She then goes on to say that the best of the Catholic theological tradition (e.g. St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Augustine or St. Gregory of Nyssa) never see God in those self-evident terms. They would never say that God is a fact or a distinct personality like any of us. They would always remember the inadequacy of
any human speech about God, and that true language about God can only end in silence and transcendence. In other words, the coming of Jesus Christ is only a hint and a direction towards who God is. Jesus Christ is never the clear and scientifically proven answer about God. Jesus Christ rather leads us toward Mystery.

Actually the liturgy tells us the very same thing. If we have listened carefully to the words of the Christmas Prefaces we would have caught that. The first Christmas Preface says, "In Christ we see our God made visible and so are caught up in the love of the God we cannot see." Jesus does not ultimately lead us to clear knowledge, but rather to be "caught up in love" before Mystery. The second Christmas Preface has a similar thought: "No eye can see His Glory as our God, yet now He is seen as One like us." Again Jesus leads us to an unseen Mystery. It is that which we
celebrate this feast of Epiphany.

Karen Armstrong provides another clue that takes us a step further. She says, we must remember that religion is ultimately a practical form of knowledge. It makes no sense unless you put it into action. (p. 26) Let’s go back to that First Preface of Christmas: "In Christ we are caught up in the love of the God we cannot see." The adoration of Jesus as the Incarnate Word leads us to an act of love, which means that the true Mystery of God in the Christian sense can only ultimately be known in an act of love. The knowledge of God that Jesus brings is not a knowledge of the mind, but of the heart. It’s like this: the gift of Jesus brings us to the point of knowing the boundless love God has for each of us. But in that very act of intellectual knowing, all intellectual knowledge fades away and our only further response is an act of love to the God who loves us beyond all bounds. In that moment we are "caught up in the love of the God we cannot see." Epiphany is indeed a very powerful Christian feast.

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