Becoming an Epiphany
Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

Doug McManaman
Epiphany A 2014
Reproduced with Permission

Socrates of Athens, the Greek philosopher who lived in the 5th century BC, said that all human beings seek happiness as their ultimate end, and he said there is no more important question than the question of what it is that constitutes happiness. And that's what Socrates set out to discover: "What is the chief end in life that is alone worthy of desire?" And he divided humanity into three groups on the basis of what each group regarded as the ultimate end that constitutes the happiness that all people seek. The majority of human beings identify happiness with pleasure; next are those who regard fame and honors as the chief end in life that alone brings happiness. And then there is a small minority who seek wisdom above all things. And of course, this is what Socrates said is the purpose of human life: to acquire wisdom, which for Socrates meant the knowledge, pursuit and attainment of moral goodness.

This gospel includes representatives of all three categories. Herod and his son represent the pleasure seekers and those who pursue fame and honor as their chief end. Herod the Tetrarch, who is the son of the Herod in this gospel, is the one who questioned Jesus at the time of his Passion, and if you recall, Jesus did not respond to him. He did not reply to him because Jesus saw he was drunk. He was also the one who ordered John the Baptist's head on a platter, after the daughter of Herodias performed a dance, which was really a strip tease. His life was all about pleasure.

His father, Herod the Great, who is featured in this gospel, was a paranoid murderer and a liar. If he suspected anyone as a threat to his power, that person was quickly eliminated. He murdered his wife and his mother in law, as well as three of his sons. When his own death approached, he gave orders that a collection of the most distinguished citizens of Jerusalem should be arrested and imprisoned on false charges. His orders were that the moment he died, they should all be killed; for he was aware that no one would mourn his passing, but he was determined that some tears would be shed when he died.

In this gospel, Herod does not go looking for Christ; he gets others to do that. Those who pursue pleasure, power, and honors as their god do not go searching for the true God. Herod only wishes to know where the Christ child is so that he may destroy him. His character is so twisted that he cannot properly interpret the divine gesture; he sees the birth of Christ as a threat to the environment he has worked to create for himself. And make no mistake about it, it is for the same reason that the Church, which is Christ's body, will always be misunderstood and persecuted by the lovers of pleasure and power in this world, and so there's never any need to be scandalized by this.

The Magi represent those in the third group that Socrates distinguishes from the other two: those who pursue wisdom. The Magi represent the wisdom of the east. Anyone who has studied the religions of the east knows that there is tremendous wisdom to be found there. The Magi represent everything that is best in the east; their eyes are so pure and unstained by the disordered desire for pleasure, honor, and power, that they find the God who has come searching for us, that is, they recognize him.

That's why I believe there is hope for religious unity in this world, at some level. What I find very interesting as a religion teacher is that I have all sorts of non-Christians in my classroom every year, and we as a school continue to pray in the name of Christ, we proclaim our faith in Christ, and as a teacher I continue to teach as if everyone in the class is a Catholic. What is interesting is that those students who come from Eastern religions quite readily embrace what we teach. They believe our proclamation. Many have said so over the years. They have the eyes to recognize Christ. It's very interesting. They don't necessarily leave Hinduism or Islam or Sikhism, they just continue on in life, but they have come to believe that Jesus is God in the flesh, that he died and rose from the dead, etc. What they do with that later I don't know, but it is interesting that in the depths of their souls, they cooperate with the grace that enables them to make an assent of faith.

The Magi have found everything that the religions of the world have been searching for. All that these ancient religions and philosophical schools of thought were able to provide us with were a great many truths, far more valuable than the greatest pleasures and honors. But what the Magi found was not a collection of eternal truths, but a Person, an eternal Person who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Eternal truths are the food of the intellect, but the human heart longs for a Person, to join to a Person, and not just any person, but the One who is the origin of all, the Person of Christ, who is God in the flesh, the Alpha and the Omega. He is everything that the human heart longs for, and he has given himself to us as the Bread of Life. He is the Eucharist, and we can consume him whenever we want to attend an ordinary Mass. And it is only when we choose to lay down everything we have at his feet and worship and adore him in his humility, and follow him and consume him that we find the peace we long for. Without him we remain restless. But when we have discovered him and live for him, our life is different, and others will see that our life is different. Although many people come to Church, their lives are really not that different from everyone else's life. Their lives have not become an epiphany, a manifestation of Christ, who is the Wisdom of God made flesh. The reason is that although they may come to Church, they have not really laid down everything at the feet of Christ; they still have a heart set on a life of enjoyment, a life lived for primarily for themselves; they still have an attachment to the world, and it's that attachment that dims the light of Christ in their lives. People will look at us and conclude that we're not that different from anyone else.

But when we give everything over to Christ and lay everything at his feet, we become different in the eyes of others. We might be the same in that the work we do at the office, the way we dress, etc., is like everyone else, but people will see that we are different. There will be a wisdom about us that others will notice - and it will appear on our faces. What takes place in your soul will manifest in your face. I saw on Facebook recently some former students of mine at university, who really have found Christ and who are committed to the Catholic Student Club at the university and are involved in Eucharistic Adoration, promoting the faith on campus, and promoting morality, chastity, etc., and what struck me was the radiance of their faces. They have a beauty and innocence that is very different from Hollywood beauty. This is what you notice about people who have found Christ. Their faces become an Epiphany, a manifestation of Christ. But those who live for pleasure and honors, who live for this world, their faces are soft and plane, nothing radiant, and in many cases unattractive.

It all begins with finding Christ in Bethlehem. The word 'Bethlehem' means 'house of bread'. A manger is an open box that holds food for animals. Christ is lying in a manger in a cave in Bethlehem. The meaning is obvious: Christ is our food, our bread. The Mass is where we meet him. We have to allow Holy Communion, this simple act of receiving him, to transform us into himself. Everything we are looking for in life is here, in the Sacrifice of the Mass, all contained under the ordinary appearance of bread.