There is a story of a mother Caroline who shared how she struggled for years to raise her four children alone, with little money and no support from family and people around her. She did all she could in the great trials she had to go through. One day, one of her daughter, Marilyn met with an accident and was paralyzed. The doctors did not think there was much chance for Marilyn to ever speak or move again.
As a mother, Caroline believed strongly that her daughter will one day recover. So, daily, she would move and massage Marilyn’s hands and legs; most important of all Caroline would repeatedly whisper into her daughter’s ears to tell her how much she loved her. Each time Marilyn showed signs of movement and response, Caroline would encourage her even more and would tell her how much she and her siblings loved her. After three long years, Marilyn was well enough to return to school. Now, full grown, Marilyn finished law school and is about to be married.
Caroline’s love for her daughter cannot be forced; it is a love that keeps our human spirits up and gives us the strength to love even more. However, such love could never come by us in normal times when all are well and when we take life’s goodness for granted. Caroline’s love for her daughter was beyond a mother’s love; her strength was more than emotional; she had the wisdom like those of the Magi.
In today’s Gospel, let us take note that the “Star of Bethlehem” did not shine all the time. The Gospel tells us that the star shone at the beginning of their journey, when the wise men “saw it rose” (Mt 2:2) and then only again at the end of the journey, after they sought advice from king Herod. “And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling on their knees they did Him homage.” (Mt 2:9-10).
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Caroline’s love for her daughter gave her the hope; God’s love for Caroline gave her strength to persevere, but Caroline’s wisdom was the wisdom that like the Magi dared to believe that the “Star of Bethlehem” was still there even though it cannot be seen. If the Magi were to have turned around and returned home when the “Star” was no longer visible the Christ-Child would not have been found. And if, Caroline did not believe that her love and God’s Love would see her through her crises God would not have been able to work through her.
If we reflect on our lives, on human relationships and the world we live in, we can so easily give-in to discouragement, despair and for many even depression. A spiritual writer explains that as part of human living we are appalled and horrified by the collective human capacity for violence and exploitation. We become distressed by the suspicion and alienation that are too often the hallmarks of human relationships. The darkness of tragedy, loss, bereavement, rejection and failures are all common experiences; life is so vulnerable and unpredictable that they can leave us feeling overwhelmed, powerless and insecure. All these can lead us to anger, blame, self-protection and hostility. We may even try to anesthetize ourselves from life’s experiences. But, in doing so, in our numbness we increase our isolation and pain.
However, if we have the wisdom of Caroline who lived in hope and the Magi who had dreams that the fulfilment of this world will come through the infant King of the Jews, then everything changes. Even if the “Star of Bethlehem” is not visible, we must believe that it is still present. Meanwhile, like Caroline and the Magi, we must dare to believe that within the darkness of life there is Light; within the trials of life, God has Triumph and within the deceptive and destructive forces and powers of evil that is symbolised by king Herod, God will never fail us. Indeed, in God’s Time and Providence, “the star will shine” (Mt 2:10) before us and lead us to the Christ-Child of Mary, whom we are to prostrate in homage and worship.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, as we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany let us pray for the wisdom to live in God’s Light. The word “epiphany” means showing forth or manifestation. In other words, today we are celebrating the revelation of God’s Salvation to the whole world, as symbolised by the Three Wisemen’s acceptance of the Truth.
God through His Holy Spirit is constantly manifesting Himself to us. He never leaves us, let alone abandons us. If a mother’s love, like Caroline can be so selfless and filled with hope, and if the Magi’s desires and dreams of the Salvation of the world, can move them to leave the securities of their homeland to search for the Saviour of the world, “What about your journey and my journey in our lives?”
Do we know why our present Pope Francis is such a great spiritual leader and model for our Church and the world today? First, he is someone who faces the truth and the darkness of life. When asked in an interview who does he think he is, Pope Francis paused for a moment and then says, “I am a sinner.” Pope Francis admits this truth of himself with humility; he does not allow the position he holds as the universal leader of the Church to inflate his ego. Neither does he allows his sins and imperfections to dampen his hopes for the Church and the world that he is called to Shepherd. For him, it is very clear that as Pope, like Christ, He is “to Serve, and not be Served.” How many of us have the humility to acknowledge and accept that we are each a sinner; and in many ways imperfect, narrow and proud? Ponder for a moment on what happens to us personally when some arguments surface especially, when our pride and egos are being wounded.
Second, Pope Francis believes strongly that the Gospel of Christ brings “Joy” into our lives. Pope Francis is more than an optimist; like the Magi, he too has the wisdom to dare to believe that the “Star of Bethlehem”; that God’s Spirit will continue to guide and protect the Church regardless of the darkness and challenges She is facing.
Third, Pope Francis is a man of Prayer and Contemplation. Like Mary, he is close to God, he is close to the poor and suffering people in the world and he speaks up for them, and he is an instrument of God’s peace and unity in the Church and in the world.
And so, as I conclude, on the Feast of the Epiphany, let us be specially mindful that God is constantly trying to manifest and show Himself and reach out to each of us from within our hearts and in all situations of our lives. Let us pray for the grace and gift of wisdom and like Caroline and the Magi and Pope Francis, believe strongly that God’s Caring and Compassionate Presence and Love IS STILL there for us, at all times; including the darkness, discouragements and despair that we may be experiencing in our lives.
The “Star of Bethlehem” may not be seen, but it has not left the scene; it will rise and appear again in God’s Time and Ways and like the Magi, we too will be filled with great Joy and Delight and find the Christ-Child with Mary and Joseph in the midst of our daily living and challenges.
(cf: Adapted from Soul Food, Stories to Nourish the Spirit and the Heart, by Jack Kornfield and Christina Fieldman: Pub. HarperSanFrancisco: 1996: pp. 89, 113-114) .
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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