Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord. In today’s Gospel, we just heard of how the three wise men from the East, guided by a “star” were searching high and low for the child Jesus, the Messiah in a manger.
For today’s Feast perhaps, we could focus on the aspect of the “journeying and the searching” for the Messiah/Saviour of our lives. We tell ourselves, we all know who Jesus is. He is our Saviour. What is perhaps very important to ask ourselves today is, “How much do we know Jesus? How deeply committed are we to Him?”
It is good to begin by asking ourselves, “How is this important Feast related to our lives and our faith?” If we look around us here in this church, we see great differences amongst ourselves: the differences of age, race, social status, nationalities and the like. Yet, we also realize how similar we are in so many ways. We are similar in our human experiences of similar concerns, needs and problems in life.
As our human experiences are similar, perhaps, we too would have a similar list of needs and wishes for this year 2006. Some of us would wish that we have a better or new job. Others may wish that their young children would study better in school, or their married children be more settled-into their newly married life. Still others would wish that their strained relationships and quarrels in the home or amongst relatives would be resolved and settled or that someone they love would be cured of their illnesses or that their financial problems would be resolved. This list of needs and worries can continue endlessly . . .
If God were to tell us today that He would grant us all our wishes by the end of this year, “Do you think we would be truly happy?” Many of us may be tempted to react immediately and say, “Sure! I will be truly happy if my list of wishes is granted.” Actually, I am not too sure about this!
I know of someone, Peter (not his real name) who had failed many times in his examinations, and feeling desperate begs God to intervene and help him pass his examinations. God intervened and he passed. However, soon after passing he began to forget God.
I am in-charge of vocation promotion for the Jesuits in Singapore. Some years ago, I came across a case of mother, Jane, (not her real name), a non-Christian, whose son was dying and the doctors have all given up hope on the son’s recovery. Jane was desperate. Her Catholic friend asked her to go for Novena to Our Lady to intercede for her needs. She said, “Jane, you have nothing to loose; your son is dying, maybe through Our Lady’s prayers, Jesus may save your son.” Jane went for the Novena, in the Novena Church, at Thomson Road in Singapore. She promised Our Lady that if Jesus cured her son, she, her daughter and son will all be converted. Her prayers were answered; her son recovered miraculously within weeks. All the three of them took up RCIA and got baptized. Some years later, Jane’s son felt the calling to become a Jesuit priest. Jane strongly objected. Her objection was so strong that her son, did not dare to bring up the subject of vocation again to her. This is not surprising because Jane’s son told me that his mother and sister, over the past years have become lukewarm in their faith and have even stopped going to Church. Her son thinks that his mother has lost her faith. In fact, Jane is now quite bitter with herself and with life again.
What is the basic problem we find in Jane and Peter? I think the basic problem is that they were over focused on their personal needs. Their personal needs became more important than God. While it is very good and important that we attend to our personal and family needs, we should not be over focused on them. Thus, to be over focused on the “me,” “my needs,” and “my family needs” are not “everything in life”. I know of people who are financially stable, intelligent, have good children and spouses and “everything in life” (so to speak), but never truly happy.
So, to have all our list of needs and wishes granted for 2006 is no guarantee that we will have a happy and fulfilling life. Such needs are not totally and the full picture of what life is about. They are not deep enough, not complete enough and not foundational enough to give us the solid peace and deep happiness that we long so deeply in our lives.
We all need to put God at the centre of our lives. God must be the focus and foundation of our personal and family needs. The “Three Wise men” in today’s Gospel were kings. They had families, riches and concerns in life. Their riches are far more than all our riches put together. They had everything in life so to speak, yet they left everything they possessed and went in search of the true happiness in life; they went in search for the Messiah who was born and laid in a manger.
And in their search for the “Messiah-Child,” they were guided by a star. This star that guided the three wise men is also the “star” that each of us have in our lives. I am not talking about the star of horoscope or of astronomy. I am talking about the “star of our faith”; the “star” that symbolises the deepest longings and desires of our hearts. And if we are truly sincere with ourselves, our faith and relationship with Our Lord, we will find that this “star” is within our hearts. This “star” is the Holy Spirit that will point us to Our Lord, Jesus.
“Epiphany” means “revelation”. This revelation is of God to the whole world; the God who has come to bring us Salvation and eternal life. Our Lord wants us all to share eternal life in Him. However, sadly, very often our eyes are not perceptive enough and our hearts are not receptive enough to this gift of eternal life that Our Lord is giving us. Perhaps, we are over focused on our narrow personal needs and family needs, and have perhaps forgotten to put God at the centre of our lives.
The three wise men on the contrary were totally focused, committed and single-minded in their search for the Messiah of their lives. . . “Are we?!” The three wise men were willing to let go of their rich possessions and many attachments in life to search for the Messiah . . . “Are we?!” They were willing to pay the price of leaving the comforts and riches of their palaces and kingdoms behind; they were willing to travel to unknown foreign lands and risk being robbed and attacked; they were also willing to bear the piercing cold of the night desert, and indeed, they were willing to persevere in their search to find the Messiah. Night after night, month after month they continued their search . . . never giving up in spite of the harsh conditions, sacrifices and suffering they had to face. This is commitment; this is single-mindedness; this is the type of genuine search for the Messiah that will bring us the deepest fulfillment that we all long for in life.
Thus, the “Three Wise men” went through all they had to go through because they longed to discover the “Messiah-Child”, the “Saviour of the world”; the true happiness of their lives. Was it worth-while going through all that had to go through just for the brief moments of seeing the “Messiah-Child” in a manger? “Yes, it certainly was worth all their while because when they encountered the Messiah, their lives were totally transformed. They were like the Prophet Simeon, who waited for years in his old age to set his eyes on the Messiah. And when he did see the “Messiah-Child” his heart was at peace, and he was willing to leave this world. The “Three Wise men” too, when they found the “Messiah-Child” they bowed deeply and knelt reverently and offered their most precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Child. In their encounter with the “Messiah-Child” they were totally transformed; they were no longer the same persons . . . they would no longer rule their kingdoms and people in the same way . . . every thing they did would be God-centered and God-loving . . . even though they may not always be done perfectly.
Today, on this Feast of the Epiphany, we too are all challenged to follow the “star” that God has planted within our hearts. This “star” is the Spirit of God who will always point and guide us to Jesus. And if we are able to be connected to this “star” that is within us, then our lives will be more God-centered, and the “Messiah” would become a stronger foundation of our lives.
How do we do this? We could begin by spending some quiet and quality time of say, 15 minutes a day to pray meaningfully. We can try to listen with our heart to what the Lord wants to tell us each day. We can also speak to Our Lord about ourselves and our concerns and joys of our lives. We need to find ways to be connected to Him in a personal way.
“How often do we find ourselves doing so many superficial and unnecessary things that will not make any difference towards helping us mature and grow in our relationship with God like watching hours of trash on TV, playing computer games endlessly, getting uptight with the measurement of our waistline, the complexion of our skin and the like?
When we come to Mass like this, do we come with a heart that is open to worship, praise and express our deep gratitude to the Lord for the abundant blessings that He has and continues to give us, especially the gift of faith that offers us eternal life? Or are we here simply because we are caught up in the routine of our faith? Is God, Our Lord our focus at each of the Sunday Masses that we participate in?
When we learn to put God at the centre of our daily lives, we will also begin to find Him in all the situations of our lives. God is every where to be found and He is present in all aspects and events of our lives . . . even in our pains, He is present with us. If we are willing to pay the price like the “Three Wise-men” of today’s Gospel, if we are willing to go beyond over focusing our lives on meeting our own and family needs like Jane and Peter (whose stories I have described above), then we will surely receive the graces of the Feast of the Epiphany of discovering the “Messiah-Child”, and indeed the most fulfilling happiness of our lives, not only now, but for all eternity.
Philip Heng, S.J.