Sunday, January 2, 2011

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for Epiphany

Readings: Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-6; Mt 2:1-12

The feast of Epiphany is the same feast as Christmas. Christmas originated in the Western Latin-speaking half of the Roman Empire in the fourth century; Epiphany arose around the same time in the Eastern Greek-speaking half of the empire. But they celebrate the same event. Later church calendars included both of them because they stressed different aspects of the one event. Christmas accents the birth of Jesus Christ according to the flesh; while Epiphany proclaims the manifestation of God’s salvation to all the nations. They are one and the same event.

Epiphany often implies the revelation of something previously unknown. But that doesn’t always hold true. Sometimes Epiphany involves seeing a deeper level of truth to something that is already known. It can be an epiphany when something or someone that you have long taken for granted is now, for whatever the cause, seen as very special and precious. That harks back to what I mentioned yesterday—the value of deep reflection in our lives. Deep reflection can help us to appreciate real worth in something or someone that previously we took for granted. Epiphany can be either "seeing something totally new" or "re-valuing something already known."

I came across an example of the latter type in a book that I’m currently reading. It’s Pope Benedict XVI’s Light of the World: the Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times—his interview with German news reporter Peter Seewald. It’s really a rather remarkable book, the first time a Catholic Pope has given an off-the-cuff interview to a news reporter. You have probably seen some mention of it in the news media, especially his controversial remarks on the use of condoms as a lesser evil. On the whole his comments on many topics were far more liberal than most people would have expected. Anyway. One point that really got me thinking were his comments about the notion of "progress." He says that we haven’t adequately explored the morality of progress. The Western world has adopted the idea of progress as an almost absolute norm. Everything has to be better this year than last year in every way. Pope Benedict takes issue with that. He says: "A major examination of conscience should begin today (about the notion of progress). What really is progress? Is it progress if I can destroy (something or someone)? Is it progress if I myself can make, select and dispose of human beings? How can progress be achieved ethically and humanely? .... This (progress) sort of thinking results in the claim that science is indivisible. This means that whatever one can do one must be allowed to do. Anything else would be contrary to freedom. Is that true? I think it is not true." (p. 44) The key idea here is that progress does not always mean doing more. Sometimes it can also mean "re-valuing something already known."

The book covers all sorts of topics, some of which are very surprising. You just don’t think often of a pope dealing with issues like the crisis of world environment or the problem of total human population. But the Holy Father realizes that we can’t keep expanding in population numbers indefinitely; there simply aren’t enough resources on earth. In many areas the human population is going to be pushed to re-valuing, downsizing and appreciating anew.

That is also something we might remember as we look forward to our New Year’s resolutions. More doesn’t always mean better. To pray better may actually mean to pray less (in terms of amount) but with more attention. There are many ways in which Epiphany calls us to the process of re-valuing: re-valuing our relationships, re-valuing our goals in life, re-valuing our sense of self-identity. And that might be the greatest lesson of all of this feast.

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