Sunday, January 3, 2016

Seeking Understanding

The Adoration of the Magi by Reubens
Readings for Sunday, January 3/ Epiphany Sunday:
Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72
Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6
Matthew 2:1-12

In many organizations there are certain thresholds that one meets along the way that are so different and transformative that simply recalling the word or phrase permits everyone who has endured it to relate and have an instant bond of fellowship. Pledge week for fraternities and sororities, basic training for military, the spreading of blood on the occasion of killing one’s first deer, etc. One of those thresholds in the college seminary at St. Ben’s is Fr. Augustine’s class because in that class you learned to write papers like never before one account of a philosophy paper being due every single class period. One of the other trademarks of Fr. Augustine’s class was that the students were the teachers. We were assigned a text and had to present it and field questions ourselves. The class I was assigned was a portion of a work from the atheist philosopher Fredrich Nietszche. In preparation for the class I sat down and read the work and got to the end and realized I didn’t understand a single thing he was saying. So I read it again with the same result. And again. And again. After about 6 or 7 times through the text and taking copious notes, drawing diagrams, thinking through it over and over again for hours, I finally had an insight into what he was saying and with it came the whole of the presentation. It was the concrete application of what we had learned in another course: that we learn by a three-fold process of experience, understanding, and judgment. In short, we experience something (the text, for instance) and then we seek to understand it (it can happen quickly or take years) and ultimately arrive at some moment of insight and are led to a judgment of the truth of the issue at hand.

What’s interesting is that the same process of experience-understanding-judgment is what the Christmas season provides for us. At Christmas we celebrate the birth of the little Lord Jesus and we honor Him in the commemoration of the Holy Family. Today we celebrate Epiphany, which literally means ‘revelation’ or ‘manifestation’ and we listen in upon the scene in which the Magi come in search of the new King of Israel. We travel spiritually with them from the east to Jerusalem – searching, seeking – and on to Bethlehem. The light of the star leads them to the Light of the world and they bow before Him, offering gifts and contemplating what would become of this King born in such a strange state. They pondered deeply in their hearts for years and it led them to that moment and they left changed. As Bishop Robert Barron says, ‘We always go away different when we encounter Jesus’ and so they went home by a different route. Next week we will celebrate the judgment in truth that Jesus is the Only-Begotten Son of God, but today we have the joy of seeking understanding.

We come here from different experiences this week and bring different gifts for the King. But we all still come. We are here and we are invited to ponder like Mary, to question with the Magi, to seek truth, and to see the Epiphany of God here in this Mass. Who is this Jesus? We may know the story of the Lord’s earthly life and ministry, but what of Him now? What is the Lord doing today? Where is He continuing to unfold His divine plan before our eyes? What is happening in this Mass where we encounter Him once more? How might we walk away changed today? What might the Lord speak to us in our hearts if we give Him a moment to speak while we listen?

May Our Lord grant us open eyes, ears, and hearts this day, that seeing Him now as through a veil, we might one day rejoice to see Him face to face in Heaven. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!