Many years ago when I was 18 I spent some time working in Dublin mostly tiling bathrooms. I used to regularly pass a wayside pulpit on the corner of a protestant church near Parnell Square. I’m sure it has long been replaced but one of the pieces posted up that caught my young eye I remember so well related to todays feast of Epiphany, ‘The fool says in his heart there is no God but wise men still seek him.’
This feast of the Epiphany is all about our search for God expressed in the journey to Bethlehem of the three Wise Men. Our finite minds are so limited that even the greatest intellects fall short in their search, so much so that learned professors are often atheists while lowly peasants don’t have to believe, they just know their God. At 18 I was close to being and atheist and I came to the conclusion that if there is a God it will only be by Him revealing himself to me that I will ever get to know Him. By my finite mind alone I am never going to figure out the infinite. If there is a God He has to be greater than my doubts about Him, or so I reasoned. So my faith journey began with a simple act of trust without even knowing who or what I was trusting in or even if there was something to trust. That was a long time ago and seems a far cry from today where most of the time I live with a deep awareness of the Divine Presence.
Epiphany is a strange sounding word of Greek origin. It simply means revelation, and it’s like seeing something or someone more clearly then we ever have before, where our eyes are opened to a beauty that was there all along. Sometimes it comes as a sudden awareness and it takes our breath away. Someone we thought we knew inside out suddenly gob-smacks us into seeing them in a completely different light and we can no longer take them for granted. Occasionally its only when someone dies or is no longer part of our lives that we see them for who they really are.
The ultimate place of wonderment comes from within our own heart. Most of the time we think we know ourselves for better or for worse but there are times when we get glimpses of something so much greater. We can call it our true Self or the God within, whatever language we care to use. The psalmist says ‘I give you thanks that I am fearfully wonderfully made’. St John said ‘We are already the children of God but what we are to be in the future is not yet fully revealed.’ But we do get glimpses of it.
He also says ‘When I see the heavens the work of your hands, the moon and stars which you have arranged, what is man that thou dost care for him, mortal man that you keep him in mind? Then he goes on to say ‘Yet you have made him little less than a god and with glory and honor have crowned him.’
All the facts we read about the universe, and its size, defy our imagination and make us see how limited out intellect really is. Even to think that we have never actually seen a sunset. As we look at the sun about to set it has actually happened eight minutes earlier, so long does it take for the light to reach us. Yet our inner world is even more extraordinary because it’s the place where God dwells. What a shame that the vast majority live and die without any sense of their own greatness and the wonder of themselves. Even to ask the question, are we comfortable with our own magnificence, can be very revealing as to how we’re not.
Moments of epiphany are where mystery rules and we need constant contact with mystery if life’s richness is not to become diluted. After their visit to Bethlehem the three Wise Men have their dream that warns them to avoid Herod. Some people can’t cope with mystery. Their attitude is all too limited, with values that are purely materialistic. As the Wise Men avoided Herod, so must we steer clear of him under whatever name or form he may appear. There are people who are toxic to our faith life simply because they are too negative and not open to Spirit. To talk about deeper realities to someone who has a closed mind is as the scriptures says ‘like throwing your pearls to swine.’ For them life is about living till your heart stops and then you go six feet under and that’s it, they may even tell you to stop fooling yourself and to face reality. These are the ones who trample on caterpillars and think butterflies are for the birds. Clearly, besides mystery, we also need our dreams. As believers we know that the realities of faith are infinitely greater than the realities of the senses and that no eye has seen or no ear has heard what things God has in store for those who love him. The fool may say in his heart there is no God but the message of today’s Epiphany feast is that wise men, and women, still seek him and can ultimately only be found by Him.