Thought for the week - 7 January 2024
It was a year ago today, on the feast of the Epiphany, that I said my last Sunday Mass in my previous parish. I remained there for a few more days, as there were many loose ends to tie up and, in the end, on the final afternoon, I finished interviewing a new priest for a church in my Deanery, appointed her and got into my car to drive round the North Circular, up the M1 and M6 and to Blackpool. It was a little surreal – I had been at so many leaving ‘dos’ (it seemed that every job I did required a separate one) and I do not think that my parishioners actually believed that I would be really, truly leaving until, suddenly, I was gone- even though I had spent six months preparing them for that day.
I chose the feast of the Epiphany to leave because it was convenient but also maybe it chose me because it is my favourite day in the church year and it is of course a very good day for coming and for going, for beginning and ending journeys. The Magi, those restless men, must have arrived in Bethlehem and realised that their journey had only just begun, as they left to return home changed by their encounter with the logos, the word made flesh. I often wonder what happened to them as they returned to their Kingdoms to inform their priests and scribes that they had, in fact, got it all wrong and delivered such weighty news on so scant a raft of evidence. But they had seen, and understood, seen the word – what a beautiful thing that is, and how hard to convey to those who have not seen it, not known it, not loved it. They took the truth home and how unwelcome and cumbersome it must have been for them.
Even in this age which profoundly distrusts any claims for absolute truth, there remains in the human heart a deep desire for the truth. There is a human ‘inclination to the truth’ (propensio ad veritatem) which is in every human heart. We believe that the child born in Bethlehem is the truth for which human heart hungers. Like the Magi, we need to be attentive to the truth wherever it is to be found, for ultimately it is one with us in Him who said, ‘I am the truth’. And in the truth is freedom, for which the Magi, I suspect, paid a high price.
The Magi went to seek for this truth with their bags full of valuable and mystical things, but more importantly they depart with their hands empty, and thus able to receive the gift of all that Jesus is. They went home without the certainty they came with, without the gifts they brought, without much of an idea what was to happen next, but they went home because once we encounter the truth, the pearl without price, we too are obliged to make that great, rare thing known to all people – this is the other meaning of Epiphany – the manifestation of Christ to the whole world, and we behold the life’s work that sets off in each of us. We can contrast this with how Herod sees the child, as a threat to what he possesses, to his kingship and riches. His hands are too full to receive the gift that he too is offered in Christ. If we are to receive the gifts of this Epiphany, then we must empty our hands too.
The powerless child Jesus is seen as a threat by a King who fills his life with power and fear, but to us who are not afraid of losing what we have in this world, not afraid of losing life as we know it itself, then we find the truth we seek, and we find love. Epiphany, I think, teaches us that truth and love are essentially the same thing and they have their beginning and their ending, their Alpha and Omega here, in the manger at Bethlehem, and we are called here too, called in love to seek and find the truth and to open our hands to free us from the deceit of this world and to let what we find fall from our hands. One thing we know, it doesn’t belong to us any more than it belonged to the Magi. We have work to do, just as they did.