Catholic Homily/ Sunday Reflection

Solemnity of the Epiphany(C)

January 3, 2009

People are positioning themselves these days on the national scene trying to find themselves a much-coveted niche from which to “serve” the people through national public office. The star of government “service” has, for some time now, been shining brightly in the political firmament, attracting both the best and the brightest, on the one hand, and the boorish and the inane, on the other.

Today, feast of the Epiphany, a day when we recall wise men going out of their way in search for what the star at Bethlehem was pointing to, it would be good for us to take a look at the presence – or absence, as the case may be – of a guiding star that also sets us on our way towards some goal or other as we journey through life.

The truth of the matter is that all men and women act for a reason, in pursuit of a particular star, in search for the achievement of some goal or other. We all are motivated to act this way or that, because we all want to achieve something, on the short or the long haul. We all act so as to attain some perceived good. We all behave in a certain way because we want to get somewhere. We all are like the fabled men from the east, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, immortalized by today’s Gospel passage from Matthew.

But there are at least two things that separate and differentiate us from the Magi … perhaps, more. For one, the Gospel calls them “wise” (Magi). Secondly, they came in search for something and someone whom they have already found in their hearts, or they would not have come bearing gifts! They went in search, not so much because there was something lacking in their lives, as because they had something to offer, something to give both from their riches, on the one hand, and, at the same time, their penury, on the other.

It is a good time today to look at the many different objects of our search. The age of computers and the world wide web that boast of lightning fast “search engines” have changed the meaning of “search” forever. Dictionaries, encyclopedias in big tomes, why even Biblical concordances, and desk references of all sorts, now all sound ancient and obsolete for millions of computer bound geeks and non-geeks alike. Gone is the patience to look for data in libraries using the old reliable card catalog based on the Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress systems. Gone is the capacity to wait for things that take time to materialize. In this age of “overnight” shipping, of real time chat rooms, “instant messenger” and, at least in the Philippines, the phenomenal so-called “texting” culture that merits beings immortalized in the Guinness Book of world records, waiting, and working patiently for results that would take half a lifetime to acquire, are not among the most popular activities of the younger generations. (By the way kitchens are designed in today’s modern homes, one could tell that the closest one could get to good old fashioned home cooking that takes time to do, is to open frozen pre-cooked dinners to heat up and prepare in no longer than five minutes!)

Searching for something, too, has become a matter of money, more than anything else. Money has become the indispensable tool for all imaginable searches we can ever think of. Elections both local and national do not run on empty engines. Candidates’ paths to victory are paved with gold (In the Philippines, you add two more g’s: goons with guns!) Already this early, the political engines euphemistically called “fund-raising” sorties and campaigns are on high gear. A great deal of “wheeling and dealing” in smoke-filled back rooms are going on, far from the prying eyes and ears of the media and the rest of the masses who don’t know any better. Alliances, whether holy or unholy, are being forged by the day, to assure all and sundry that their own personal stars are kept shining brightly in the political – and economic – firmament! Like the insecure Herod, they surreptitiously and openly ask questions, not because they are sincerely looking for the truth, but because they are finding for ways and means to meet their own agenda, and assure their positions, even if it means getting a few people out of the way, by means fair or foul, mostly the latter.

But this reflection is not meant to cast aspersions only on those who openly are out in search for national power and the offices that assure the exercise of that power. This is a reflection for us all who may not have gold, frankincense and myrrh, but who, like the magi, have our own personal riches to offer the newborn King of Kings, the Lord! This is addressed to the rest of us who nourish in the secrecy of our own hearts our own little stars, our own little goals and dreams that keep us motivated to go on, to live our lives the way we live them. This is addressed to all of us who may stand to forget that not all goals and dreams are worth spending our whole lives for, worth all the energy we can ever expend in this short lifetime here in this world.

Traditional catholic philosophy and theology can help us in this regard. What is the ultimate object of our desires, of our longings, of our search? Teleology is the word used by traditional theology to refer to this ultimate goal of human striving. What is the ultimate “telos” or end of all our strivings? What is the finality of all our earthly and worldly efforts? As we recall the visit of the magi to the newborn Jesus, bringing with them symbols more than just gifts, we might want to look at the clear example they are setting for us. Being wise, they knew that wealth or power alone were not the end-all or be-all of their existence. They knew there was something more to life than just position, privilege and power. And they acknowledged someone else to be the sole legitimate holder of them all – Jesus, the Prince of peace.

For many people in the world nowadays, caught as we all are in the very powerful grasp of a culture of consumerism and what some authors refer to as the commodification of society, a huge veil covers our capacity to see beyond things and events of the here and now. A dark pall stands in the way of our being able to see clearly ahead of us, and see the ultimate goal of our human existence. For many people, the immediacy of the present moment prevents them from even thinking about eternity, about the reality of the next life, about heaven, about God and His role and presence in our lives today. The eclipse of God is very much a reality in our political system, in the world of business, not to mention the world of entertainment. For many, perhaps including ourselves, the farthest our minds and hearts can set their sights on goes no further than a big, comfortable house, nice cars, a life of unlimited creature comfort and never-ending entertainment. God is conveniently placed in the back seat, and spirituality is put on the back burners.

We need to allow the celebration of today, the epiphany of our Lord, to lift this veil that blinds us and prevents us from seeing the presence of God in our own personal lives. Epiphany, we must remember, basically means “unveiling.” God was unveiled before the eyes of wise men who were out in honest search for Him. God was unveiled because there were people who were sincerely looking for a reality beyond the light of a distant star. God unveiled Himself to people who were sensitive enough to see the “sacrament” in the little shining star, the “sacrament” behind the little baby boy laid out in a manger, attended by simple folks, Joseph and Mary, and by shepherds and their flock, but whose coming was heralded and exulted by no less than a host of angels!

We now have the responsibility to take efforts to unveil some of the blindnesses that rule our lives, that prevent us from really living a spiritual, Godly life. To do this, we must be like the wise men who went out of their way to do a painstaking search. Their search was not helped by lightning fast search engines in the web. But they found whom they were searching for owing to one simple basic reason: they already had Him in their hearts! The desire in their hearts was enough … for indeed, blessed are those who seek, for they will find!