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Directed by the Light

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord (B)  |  Fr Robert Gay speaks of the genuine encounter with God which directs and even changes the course of our life. 

We are just a few short days into our new calendar year, and perhaps already any resolutions we might have made have already fallen by the wayside. We may have realised that it takes more than a solemn pre-midnight declaration to change the course of our lives. Yet our desire for change and a better future as we leave one year behind and start a new one is perfectly understandable, especially if the year we have left behind has been disappointing or painful in some way. And without the sense of a need for growth and development, what would our lives be like? What would we be without goals and ambitions to pursue?

Perhaps what does seem a little worrying about our desire for change, and our pursuit of new goals is that so often what we pursue, and the way in which we pursue what we want, very seldom speaks of the faith that we proclaim. What does it say to others if what we want is materialistic, or vain, or fuelled by greed or wrong ambition? And what does it say to others if our way of reaching our goals is self-sufficient and self-centred? Anyone can have goals, targets and ambitions, but surely as Christians these should be more than just a self-directed attempt for self-improvement.

The story of the Magi, the wise men, which is at the heart of this great solemnity of the Epiphany is a story of a life changing revelation and encounter with the Word Incarnate, the Christ child. It was a most significant encounter for the wise men. They, who lived their lives as men who sought the truth, find the very source of that truth in the Christ child. And having done him homage, and offering him gifts they return to their place of origin by another route, transformed and changed by what they have seen, taking the message of salvation goes with them.

The story itself has an important message for our times. The need to set a different course in life which so clearly manifests itself at this time of year is an expression of a deeply rooted desire to find fulfilment. That’s something which is within all of us. Yet in that search for fulfilment, so many things are sought which simply cannot satisfy. And some of the goals and targets can even be damaging to the individual and to others. Seekers will always be restless in their hearts unless they allow themselves to be drawn into an encounter, and then a living relationship with Christ and his Church. If that can happen, then life should no longer simply be a self-directed search for self-improvement, because the encounter with Christ and the relationship with him becomes the defining influence of life. What the goals should be are made clear by what he has revealed. And what improvements might be made are seen through his Law and made possible by cooperation with his grace, and so on. It is through this encounter and relationship with Christ that the human quest for happiness and fulfilment is given shape and direction, and by grace, can be shaped towards the goal of human life, which is God himself. 

What I have said should be reasonably familiar to us as Christians. And yet somehow we, who have heard the Good News of salvation, still get caught in the same kind of struggles as non-Christians, and we often show little or no sign that we have had that encounter with Christ, or any evidence that we are truly in relationship with him. Our lives, rather than heading in the direction shaped for us by grace, where our horizons are set by God, remain within the confines of our own attempts at self-improvement and rather shallow ambitions. 

One key thing about our celebration of the Epiphany is that it should bring us back to an encounter with the Child in the manger - and so back to the object of our faith. And having encountered him again, and worshipped him, as the wise men did, we should go on our way by a different path, with lives lived in and through a growing relationship with him. 


Isaiah 60:1-6  |  Eph 3:2-3. 5-6  |  Matthew 2:1-12

Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. of the Magi depicted in the church of Sant'Appollinaris Nuovo in Ravenna. 

Preaching by Robert Gay O.P.

Robert Gay O.P.Fr Robert Gay is Prior of the Priory of the Holy Spirit, Oxford, and he is also a lector in moral theology at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford. 
robert.gay@english.op.org

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