Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunday Sermon

January 29, 2012

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

(Special memorial for Connie Wilson Barsby)

We live in a generation where everything isn’t really taken at face value. As recent as 75 years ago, one would not hear nearly as much question over the validity of the Bible as one would today. For us Catholics, a Bible has 73 books between its leather flaps. The younger generation today would ask how one can possibly believe that 73 books, mostly written by different authors over a span of a few hundred years could possibly be the inspired Word of God. However, to have 73 books written by about forty authors, from kings and nobles to fishermen and soldiers, in three languages and on three continents, be of the same mind as it is the case with the Bible, is just not humanly possible. Why, the editorial writers in our newspapers can't even agree when they come from the same culture and similar educational backgrounds.
As we consider the inspiration of the Bible, it is understandable for some to think that it is unacceptable to consider the Bible inspired just because some man or some organization declares it is inspired. We all know that men make mistakes and the organizations run by men are equally fallible. Just because someone desires that the Bible be inspired by God does not necessarily make it so.
Interestingly however, the Bible invites close scrutiny of its claim to be a book written by God. It acknowledges that there are hustlers in the world and that we must be careful regarding who we can believe. From I John we read: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world". Anyone can claim to receive a message from God, but the claim alone is not proof of inspiration.
However, we would expect that any work of God would claim God as its author. There are an endless number of books in the world, yet for most we do not need to consider whether they are inspired by God because such books do not claim to be inspired. Let’s face it; is Shakespeare the inspired word of God? Not hardly. To further demonstrate this, the works of Shakespeare have sold thousands of copies over the years; however they have not sold nearly as many copies as that of the Bible! How many people have read the Bible as compared to Shakespeare’s works? Further still, do you hear or see people living by what Shakespeare wrote? In a modern perspective, even the current popularity, the Harry Potter books are not viewed as inspired. There are a few fanatics on the Harry Potter subject, but few, if any, would treat the books as the inspired Word of God.
Christians claim that God is all-powerful and all-knowing. Therefore, a book that was written by such a God would have to be consistent in its message. Uninspired messages contain contradictions in their doctrine. A book by God would be perfectly consistent. In fact, this is offered as a point of proof within the Bible. In Deuteronomy we read: "If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods' -which you have not known-'and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams". Moses stated that a true prophet of God will not deliver a message that contradicts previous messages from God. Hence we read of Jesus telling the Pharisees that he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.
These ancient works cover every major topic dealing with the human condition including: love, hate, death, sin, marriage, civil laws, and relationships with each other as well as with God. Although these works were written independently, they show an amazing congruency and they never seem to contradict each other when given fair scrutiny!
Paul wrote in third chapter of II Timothy "All scripture is inspired by God". Paul believes the Scriptures are "God-breathed"; that is they hold the same authority as if God were to come down and speak to you directly. Every word recorded in the original documents is considered to be chosen by God. We obviously cannot go into a laboratory and test for "God residue" on the text, so to ask for scientific proof is impossible. Similarly, asking for scientific proof that one loves his spouse is absurd. True science is limited to making claims on that which it can disprove through experimentation. Since science does not have any objective standards for measuring "God-ness", it cannot be asked to make a determination on His existence.
The Bible is the most published book in history, with the widest distribution of any published work. It has been translated into more languages than any other book. It is the most sold book in history. It was the first book published with moveable type. It is still the #1 best seller of any book. This in itself speaks volumes. If it were not the inspired Word of God, then how does one explain its popularity and longevity? Surely, God is behind this. It has been published for a few hundred years and the original manuscripts before that were, in some cases, a thousand years old. And through all this, the message and words have only changed to match the language. Such meticulous care for mere words would be a ludicrous waste of time, if it were not really the inspired Word of God. Surely something is behind this for 2.1 billion people to profess Christianity as their professed faith. That’s one third of the world’s population! Nearly 57% or 1.2 billion of all Christians are Catholics, or one fifth of the world’s population. I doubt seriously we could get all these people to profess a belief in a religion based on books of scripture if there was not something behind it all.
The Bible has an incredible amount of manuscript evidence to authenticate its message as it was originally written. Of every ancient literary or historical work, none can come remotely close to the huge amount of manuscript evidence for the New Testament. There are over 5,300 manuscripts or parts of manuscripts we can examine today. If you count all the early copies of translations of the New Testament, the number skyrockets to over 24,000. The Old Testament, unfortunately, does not share the wealth of manuscript evidence that the New Testament possesses. However, because of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other discoveries, along with ancient Hebrew sources that quote from the Old Testament, we are assured that it is in the same form as it was in Jesus' day. The Dead Sea Scrolls themselves included almost the entire Old Testament canon and they date from 250B.C. to 100A.D. Also, the copies of the Septuagint, which was a Greek version of the Old Testament written about 250B.C., shows the text we have today has been nearly perfectly preserved.
Archaeology has also borne out the reliability of the Bible. Everywhere the archaeologist searches, he uncovers discoveries that bolster, not refute support of the Bible as being a true account of history. Archaeological digs have uncovered a stele (a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected for funerals or commemorative purposes, most usually decorated with the names and titles of the deceased or living — inscribed, carved in relief and/or painted onto the slab) dedicated to Pontius Pilate and even found the remains of a crucified man, with the nail still in the bones of the hand. The Hittites were a group considered in the last century to be a mythical people only mentioned in the Bible. It wasn't until A.J. Sayce brought forth evidence of their existence in 1876 that the Hittites were generally accepted as historically true. In fact, the archaeological evidence for the validity of the Bible is so overwhelming that Donald J. Wiseman stated over 25,000 sites mentioned in the Bible have been found.
Further, there is no valid reason to believe that the men who wrote the Bible were lying or trying to deceive. The New Testament particularly shows that the character of the writers was beyond reproach. Each of them suffered and was executed because they would not recant their position that the teachings of the Bible are true and accurate. If their testimony was made up for gain or folly, surely someone would have renounced his stand to save his life, but it did not happen. All the apostles and the writers believed unwaveringly that the Bible was absolute fact. Let’s face it; you do not see people willingly dying to prove Superman is real, or that the comic books of him are inspired words of God!
Given that, we can then rest assured that the Old Testament writings were equally true. The Apostles refused to recant their teachings of Jesus’ life; hence we have support that Jesus did exist, with archaeological evidence to boot. This same Jesus during His life, by His teachings and example, confirmed the inspired Word in the Old Testament writings.
Let’s think about this for a moment. Imagine a classroom of thirty students at the high-school level. The teacher has decided on the class writing a novel for a class project. Each student will independently be assigned one chapter and they will then gather the papers together to assemble the finished work. The topic chosen is "Why God is important in man's life," but there is no outline and there are no rules as to what that statement means. Because the students are all the same age and live in the same area at the same point in time, they have a tremendous advantage over the Biblical writers, yet still to expect a congruent work is ridiculous. The thirty chapters would have far too obvious differences, unlike that of the Bible. The fact that the Bible is a unified message shows that its origin comes from beyond man.
Because the Bible claims it is the word of God, it requires of itself a stricter assessment. The Old Testament is filled with the authoritative phrase "Thus sayeth the LORD”. The fact that men recognized it from the time it was first penned as authoritative gives it a measure of strength. The laws that were required of the Jews were very arduous. Because they chose to accept them as commandments from God before any significant length of time had elapsed to mythicalize them shows that the people believed with their lives that these documents were from God. Jesus Himself validates the Old Testament by regarding it as the word of God and authoritative in all things.
And so, in today’s passage, Paul addresses the issue of unnecessary anxieties in the Christian life. He does this in the context of what was a major concern for the Corinthian believers, namely, the issue of asceticism. In today’s modern terms, people find Paul’s directive downright impossible, which explains the decline of vocations of Monks, Nuns and Priests throughout the world. But, in reality, Paul isn’t really speaking of it in the terms most would immediately assume.
Paul is not opposed to the ascetic single life, but he ends up arguing against sexual abstinence in marriage, marriage separation on ascetic/spiritual grounds, and even the ascetic single life itself, because an authentic Christian life is not dependent on ones marital, or single state. Given the inclination toward spiritual asceticism in the Corinthian congregation, as against a background of societal promiscuity, Paul's advice is "better marry than burn." There are, of course, good grounds for the ascetic life, although in general terms the better principle is "stay as you are." As far as Paul is concerned, given the impending crisis, "there is no point in making any significant change in one's ordinary way of life". Paul moves past the issue of the relative worth of either the single or married life to the more important issue of pursuing eternal verities. Paul then tackles the issue of damaging "anxieties" in the Christian life. Anxieties could be from many different things in life, not just marriage.
This passage is notoriously difficult to interpret. Yet it is clear that in chapter 7 Paul is making the point that an unmarried state is not intrinsically better than a married state, as though sexual intercourse was somehow less than holy, as some may seem to teach. The "doing" rather than "receiving" ethos of the "nomists" in the group Paul is writing to, has obviously produced an unhelpful aesthetic approach to sexual relations. Paul, in his typical argumentative style, affirms the ascetic ideal; celibacy is a worthy "gift" to pursue given the impending distress, the difficulties of marriage, and the impermanence of this life. Paul thus ends up promoting a realistic compromise - "better marry than burn." (Or at least it was realistic in that period of time.) Overall life was created by God, and thus we are better to keep the distractions down so as we can better focus on God.
At face value Paul seems to be affirming the single life with its increased opportunities for service to the Lord, as opposed to the married life with its inevitable family distractions. With this approach there is bad "anxiety" or the troubles of the world experienced by married people and good "anxiety” or the increased opportunities of the unmarried to please the Lord.
So, Paul encourages the Corinthians to set aside all their anxieties, and this with particular reference to the issue of sexual abstinence in marriage, marriage separation on ascetic/spiritual grounds and the ascetic single life, because in the end these things are "not a matter of what is right or wrong, but what is or is not expedient and profitable in particular circumstances". Paul's practical advice to the Corinthians is that they "remain as they are", but if they need to re-gig their personal relationships, then do it - "better marry than burn".
So by now you might be asking what this has to do with what I have to say today? Are our attachments and our distractions keeping us from God? Are our attachments and our distractions keeping us from simply believing? Are we allowing our incessant disbelief, questioned belief or our lack of appropriate time keeping us from spending time with God? Do we not understand God? Do we have doubts that creep in simply because we cannot see Him any more than the Israelites could during their recorded 40 year journey through the desert?
When someone dies, we grieve. This is a natural human reaction and emotional response. God understands. There is nothing to be ashamed of there. God even understands when we lash out at Him for taking that loved one away from us. He also tries, through his ministers here on earth, to help you understand that those who put their trust and faith in Him, will not be alone. Not only will he be there, but so will the many other faithful believers to help support you.
God has never promised an “easy” life, but He has promised that he will be there. As some of you know, on my Bishop’s coat of arms there is a motto written near the bottom. All Bishops have one. My reads, “Is eram tunc ut Portavi vos”. It is Latin for, “it was then I carried you”, from the Footprints in the Sand poem about Jesus. I firmly believe that we sometimes must carry one another. Jesus said that when we help the sick, or visit the people in prison, or put clothes on the backs of the homeless, we are doing so for Him. We are the hands of Jesus. We serve Jesus when we serve each other. It may not be easy. It certainly will not always be painless, but we will serve Him when we serve our brother man.
Sometimes God works in supernatural ways we cannot see, feel or touch. Sometimes miracles happen and we miss them, and sometimes we witness them clearly. God is here. God is there. God is everywhere. The main core of it all is that we simply believe and have faith. We have the Bible written by witnesses of God and His power. We have the Inspired Word of God to support us when life pushes us to the floor. God is not an empty deity statue in the corner of a room; He is an all-powerful, all-knowing God who awaits our call. We do well to not allow our worldly anxieties take us away from God.
When our loved ones die, they only die to this world; not God’s world. They live on in eternity looking down on us and loving us still. They are up there loving us more than we can ever feel from another human being left here with us. We do not know how. We do not understand why. But you see, the Bible isn’t about how heaven goes; it’s about how to go to heaven.
So I want to leave you with something to ponder. It will not necessarily make all your troubles go away or even make you feel better (at least not immediately), but it surely will make you think. It’s called, God’s Plan.
Some things are beyond planning.
And life doesn't always turn out as planned.
You don't plan for a broken heart.
You don't plan for a failed business venture.
You don't plan for an adulterous husband
or a wife who wants you out of her life.
You don't plan for an autistic child.
You don't plan for spinsterhood.
You don't plan for a lump in your breast.

You plan to be young forever.
You plan to climb the corporate ladder.
You plan to be rich and powerful.
You plan to be acclaimed and successful.
You plan to conquer the universe.
You plan to fall in love - and be loved forever.

You don't plan to be sad.
You don't plan to be hurt.
You don't plan to be broke.
You don't plan to be betrayed.
You don't plan to be alone in this world.
You plan to be happy. You don't plan to be shattered.
Sometimes if you work hard enough, you can get what you want.

But MOST times, what you want and what you get
are two different things.

We, mortals, plan. But so does God in the heavens.
Sometimes, it is difficult to understand God's plans especially
when His plans are not in consonance with ours.

Often, when God sends us crisis, we turn to Him in anger.
True, we cannot choose the cross that God wishes us to carry,
but we can carry that cross with courage knowing that God will
never abandon us nor send something we cannot cope with.

Sometimes, God breaks our spirit to save our soul.
Sometimes, He breaks our heart to make us whole.
Sometimes, God allows pain so we can be stronger.
Sometimes, God sends us failure so we can be humble.
Sometimes, God allows illness so we can take better care of
ourselves. Sometimes, God takes everything away from us
so we can learn the value of everything He gave us.

Make plans, but understand that we live by God's grace.

~Author Unknown~

God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sunday Sermon

January 15, 2012

Baptism of our Lord

Just why did our Lord need to be baptized? I suppose we would have to look at the definition of the word “need”. However, let's look at the baptism our Lord little bit differently.
What is love? Is love a myth? Is love a fantasy? Is love a mirage? Is love real? Most everyone here today would agree with me and say that love most certainly is not a myth, fantasy, or mirage. Love is most certainly “real”. No one who knows what love is could say such things, except maybe for those so hard or so hurt.
Atheists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris I am quite sure do not think love is a myth. But their belief in love depends upon what they mean by “real”. Just what would they mean by “real”? Doesn't “real” mean real? Yes, to them love is real - that is a real experience. Love is “really” important. Love has a “real” place in our world and in our culture, and our relationships and even our morality. But would they say that love is actually and factually “real” beyond an experienced reality?
No, they wouldn't. They wouldn't, because they can't. To do so would mean they believed in that which they cannot because they are atheists. Because if they believe in atheism in the manner in which they state, love goes the way of all other things, all aspects of life and all experiences of living. Love is not really “real”. It just “seems real” because it is a human experience. And that experience is its fundamental and factual reality. It is a biochemical sensation type of experience. It is an adaptive artifact from a more primitive era that promotes social order. Nothing more.
If you are a spouse of someone who's atheist, then you are married to someone who believes all of life is only sensory and only material. That means love is nothing more than a biochemical event. Therefore, when your atheist spouse hugs you, you are nothing more than his or her favorite biochemical mass; his or her favorite pile of organic matter; his or her favorite animal species. Now I don't know about any of you, but that hardly sounds romantic, much less like love.
I suppose I could go on and on and use further possible examples. If anyone in this room is even remotely sensitive, we should recoil from such ridiculous examples. The perspectives of these thoughts are so shallow in their conception and even diabolical in its effects to entertain in any serious way even if you are an atheist.
Love is real. Love is inherent in us, a native component of what it means to be human. To deny the actual reality of love, the love within us, the love we want, the love we hope to be, is to define it differently than we really are. It removes our dignity, our nobility, our heroism, our stature and our divine spark. What would remain of us without love? Nothing else would remain except for a shell built on selfishness and self-interest. Love is like a loaf of bread. Without the leaven of love, we cannot rise above our pride, our passions, our senses, our sensuality, our survival, or are self-centeredness. Without love we are nothing but substance. We are left with our selfishness, our desire for survival, and our sensory passions.
But thankfully, the atheists are wrong. Love is real. Love is amazing. Love comes in many forms and fashions. It's lasting and fleeting. It is more than just the emotion and sensation. It is more than an idea or an impulse. It is even more than just a duty your commitment. It is all of these and more. Love is God!
It is because of this love that we exist. It is because of this love that God allows us to live as we do. It is because of this love the God comes in incarnate form. It is because of this love, that He takes upon himself our human form and becomes the second person of the Trinity. He becomes the Son of God.
God doesn't “need” to do anything. God, being all-powerful, all-knowing, all seeing and living for all eternity, did not need to create us or even do anything for us after he did. However, God did do many things for us and continues to do so every day. He loves us so much, that no matter how many times we would turn from him, He continues to love us. He continues see the beauty that He created, no matter how much we attempt to destroy it.
Humans are so atheistic, even to some degree those of us in this sanctuary today. It's hard for us to believe anything that we cannot see or touch. I can’t feel it like I can this pulpit. I can’t smell it. I don't see it. Yet my body reacts in a particular way when love is around.
It is this way with God too. When we open ourselves up to God, there's something far more than a biochemical sensation within our bodies, when because of that opening up of ourselves, the Holy Spirit enters within. God is always trying to get our attention. That is why He came to us as a human man. That is why He went to John the Baptist and was baptized. We needed to see. We needed to feel. We needed to touch. We needed to smell. And that River Jordan was not pleasant smelling either! But in those days we didn't have washing machines; they did not have nice clean baptismal fonts.
God wanted us to know that He existed. God wanted us to know that He loved us. He came in human form for that very reason. We love because God gave us the ability to do so. We love because God gives us emotions. No one on this earth will ever be able to convince me that everything I see, everything I feel, everything I smell, and everything I hear can be explained in scientific experiment. How is it that there is this earth with all its inhabitants and its creations in the middle of the universe of other planets of stone and mass? Coincidence? Evolution? Some test tube experiment from 5000 years ago and poof here we are?
No! We are here because God created us and our planet and everything in and on it. God created mankind with a brain that He allows us to use in a manner referred to as free will. It is because it of this free-will that we have taken God's creation and created things of our own. These clothes we wear; this building in which we are in; this chair is that we sit upon; the cars we drive; the food creations that we eat; and medicines that keep us alive.
Jesus was baptized because God wanted us to see him. Because God wanted to give us an example to follow. God wanted us to have a fighting chance in a world that we've turned to muck. Jesus taught his Apostles to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Ghost. John the Baptist baptized with dirty Jordan water, but by Jesus' command, we baptize with Holy Water and the Holy Spirit. We do this because we need to see, smell, feel and hear God's love coming upon us.
More and more as we go on with the Christian life we learn the strange power of the Spirit over circumstance; seldom sensationally declared, but always present and active. God in his richness and freedom comes into our every situation, overruling the ceaseless stream of events which make up our earthly existence, and through these events, he is molding our souls. The radiation of his love penetrates, modifies, and quickens our lives.
This action is the power of God in our life. Its pressure and action is continuous in and through the texture of our life and it is rarely seen, though some have been given a glimpse like that of Moses and the burning bush. It conditions our whole life from birth to death just as the invisible lines of force within a magnetic field condition all the tiny iron filings scattered on it. But now and then God emerges on the surface and startles us to witness a subtle and ceaseless power and love working within the web events of life.
This sort of evidence of the direct action of God lies very thick in the pages of the old and new Testaments, sometimes intervening in great and crucial events. Sometimes in very homely things like the shortage of wine at the wedding made good in a situation saved. Sometimes in desperate crisis like the storm quelled just in time and the chosen servants of God brought safely through danger. Sometimes in prison doors being opened. “The power of God unto salvation,” St. Paul said, is the essence of the Gospel, a personal energy, a never ceasing presence that intervenes in and overrules events. Nothing is by coincidence; nothing is by chance; but everything is by providence; God working in the created world.
Some of us find all this hard to believe. Some of us find it very strange, or even unimaginative and dull. But even on our tiny human scale, we feel that the Perfect Master of a great industry is one who organizes the whole in the interest of good and profitable work of the well-being of the workers, who gives his subordinates relative freedom and lets the factory run on ordained lines without too much interference in the details. He is always accessible to the personal troubles and desires of his workers, overrides rolls where necessary and is interested in every detail down to the factory cat. Even one human creature can do that without surprising us. But when Christ says the absolute Majesty and the holiness of God can both rule heaven and care for the Sparrow and will intervene to help and save, we think that it is poetry, paradox and stories about superstitions. Sometimes we are simply too stupid and too narrow in our notions to concede the energy of the Immeasurable Holy that enters our world and modifies and changes circumstance.
Beyond our abilities to see and understand, our eternal God is a never ceasing presence transforming daily events; helping us to open up more fully to his transforming grace and become more often an instrument for his purpose which is far more greater and holy the most purposes of our own.
God didn't “need” to come as man, but we “needed” him to do so. From the time of Adam and all through up to now, we human beings have been needing God to come into our lives Sometimes we are too much like the atheists and we lock our doors in an attempt to keep God out because we find it to impossible for God to do as He has done and is He is doing. The mechanics of our brains; of our internal organs; of the many different species of mammals and all of creation; point to something far greater than something that will ever be in a test tube. Love does exist. God does exist. God was baptized in the River Jordan. God is here with us today asking us not only to allow him in, but to invite Him in.
Jesus did not “need” to be baptized; but he knew we needed it. All of Jesus and of his life was previously prophesized. Some human being, many hundreds of years prior put to parchment things that took place in Jesus. We “needed” Jesus’ baptism. We “needed” it, because we are doubting imperfect creations who “need” their Creator. That is what is “real”. That is love. That is God’s love.
Let me leave you with a small teaching by Mother Teresa.
“If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness; your emptiness, that God can fill you with himself.”
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday Sermon

January 8, 2012

Epiphany Sunday

Just what is Epiphany? What can be said about it that one does not already know? Or do we really know? It can be as simple or as complicated as we want it to be. However, I think it easier to start this way. Webster’s defines it as this: “A sudden and striking understanding of something.” I suppose we have epiphanies all the time.
We as humans are quite hard to satisfy. Let’s face it, we are never happy and to truly believe in something that isn’t glaring us in the face, we are not much different from the people of biblical times, we need proof or “signs”. It has always been this way. We only need to take a look in the Old Testament to see that. God’s people were always asking Him for a “sign”. Without proof, we simply don’t believe it or struggle to do so.
Signs played a great part in the lives of the Israelites. Many prophets came to serve as a confirmation for those who are addressed by God. There is no reason to think that the shepherds or the Magi mistrusted Angel and therefore need that kind of sign as confirmation, but yet God does so with a bright star. The Angels brought great joy to the shepherds; and bid them to follow the star and find the Messiah.
A star; a great light. Many churches attribute Epiphany to light. Christ is the light to the world; and by his coming he brings light. Light in the darkness helps us to see. By seeing we have an epiphany.
When we consider the evil, injustice, and misery existing in the world, how can we claim that the ultimate Reality at the heart of the universe is a Spirit of peace, harmony, and infinite love? What evidence can we bring to support such a belief? And how can we adore a God whose creation is marred by cruelty, suffering and sin?
This of course, is the problem of evil; the principle problem for all realistic religions. It is no use to dodge the issue, and still less to pretend that the church has a solution for the problem up her sleeve. Christian spirituality does not explain evil and suffering, which remain a mystery beyond the reach of the mind, but does show us how to deal with them. It insists that something has gone wrong and badly wrong, with the world. The world as we know it does not look like the work a of loving Father that the Gospels call us to worship. Rather, the world is like the work of selfish and undisciplined children who have been given wonderful material in a measure of freedom, and have not used that freedom well.
Yet we see in this model the world in a constant struggle for truth, goodness, and perfection. And all those who give themselves to the struggle; the struggle for the redemption of the world from greed, cruelty, injustice, selfish desire and their results; find themselves supported and reinforced by the Spiritual power which enhances life, and strengthens will, and purifies character. And they come to recognize more and more the power and action of God; a small epiphany. These facts are as real as the other facts that distress and puzzle us; the apparent cruelty, injustice and futility of life. We have to rationalize somehow for the existence of gentleness, purity, self-sacrifice, holiness, and love. How can we account for them unless they are the attributes of God?
Now to accept Christianity as God's supreme self revelation does not mean some elaborate philosophy of the spirit. It means that we accept the Gospel story that touches our lives significantly at every point, because it is in this that God is conveyed. If we are ever to learn all that this record can mean for us, we must never forget that these, beyond all other facts of history, are indwelt, molded, brought into being by the living Spirit of God. And if we feel God in these events, some so strange and homely, inspiring this action and record, then we also accept all these incidents as conveying something of His overruling will and thought, and having something in them for each of us. Nothing in the message of Epiphany is by accident. Everything is there because they convey spiritual truth, and gives us the supernatural. It all speaks to our condition.
The Gospels may not always have the accuracy of a photograph, but they have a higher reality, they are the very word of and charged with God. This is the reason why it has always been recommended and always will be recommended that Christians meditate on the Gospels; it is almost like chewing evangelical cud that is so nourishing to the soul and so inexhaustible as a basis of prayer. In a way every word of the gospel is a sacramental, like some great work of art reviewing greater depths of significance as we grow in the wisdom of a child of humility and love. You see the wisdom that the Magi came away from Bethlehem with.
You know how sometimes in the pitch black night in the country (I know some of you have not always lived in San Diego) the pitch black dark of night and when you look far off you see a glimmer of light and you follow it and it turns out to be simply a candle in the cottage window. But that light was enough to assure you of life ahead, to give you the lead you wanted in the dark. In the same way, when the Magi turned from their complicated calculations in search of heaven and decided to follow a star, they did not arrive at a great mathematical result or revelation of the cosmic mind. They found a poor little family and were brought to their knees, because like the truly wise, they were really humble minded before baby born under most unfortunate circumstances, a mystery of human life, a Little League in a growing thing. What a paradox! The apparently rich Magi coming to the apparently poor child. There they laid down their intellectual treasures; all pure gold to them; and better than that, offered the spirit of adoration, the incense which alone consecrates the intellectual life in quest of truth, and that reverent acceptance of pain, mental suffering and sacrifice, that death to self which, like myrrh, hallows the dedicated life in all its forms.
The most that mankind achieved on his own here surrenders before the unspeakable simplicity of the methods of God. He is the Light of the World - all of it. He does not only want or illuminate spiritual things; he hallows the ox and the lamb, and the sparrows and the flowers. There never was a less highbrow religion or one more deeply in touch with natural life than Christianity. ‘Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, the same should be greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’
The story the Magi shows the new life which has appeared within the rich texture of our normal experience, casting its purifying radiance upon the whole existence of mankind. Cozy religious exclusiveness is condemned in this ministry. It is easy for the pious to join the shepherds and feel in place at the crib, and look out into the surrounding darkness saying, “Look at those extraordinary intellectuals wandering about after a star; they seem to have no religious sense. Look what curious gifts and odd types of self consecration they are bringing; not at all the sort of people one sees in church.” Yet the Child who began by receiving those unexpected pilgrims had a woman on the streets for His most faithful friend, and two thieves for His comrades at last. Looking at these extremes, so deeply significant of the Christian spirit, we can learn something, perhaps, of the height and depth and breadth of that divine generosity into which our narrow and fragmentary lives must be absorbed.
The Epiphany means the free pouring out of limitless light; the Light of the World; not just its careful communication to those whom we hold worthy to receive it. The Magi, after all, took more trouble than the shepherds. They came along their journey, by more perilous paths. The intellectual virtues and longings of men are all blessed in Christ. The Epiphany is here to teach us that God - that Christ is not just for justice such as these. Christ is for the entire world.
God's mysterious and life-giving action is for a purpose that points beyond ourselves. It happens not merely for our sakes; but because His manifestation to the world must be through us. Every real Christian is part of the dust laden air which shall radiate the glowing charity of God; catch and reflect His golden light. You are the light of the world, because you are irradiated by the one Light of the World, the Holy Generosity of God. The holy saints of past lives have learned this; they look right through and pass the outward appearance of mankind's lives, and seek only for the seed of divine life within them, the hidden child of God. “Ye are of God, little children; greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world,” explains St. John. This is the awful truth which rules the inner life of mankind.
Sometimes our epiphanies are not going to be this great. Sometimes our epiphanies will simply be matters of faith. Our own patron saint of our little church here, St. Francis of Assisi, had this to say: “Blessed is he that expects nothing, for he shall not be disappointed. Blessed is he that expects nothing, for he shall enjoy everything.” We need to allow the light of Christ to shine in our lives. We need to allow ourselves to open up to the reality of Christ, so that he will allow his light to shine on us. That little proof; that little sign that He exists for you will come.
It has always been so amazing to me that there are some many people out there that do not believe. We all have our trials and tribulations. We all see the evil, the injustice, and the misery in the world. As Christians we don't claim to be able to explain it or remotely understand it, but we do claim that there is a way of getting through it. We do claim that there is way to help soften it.
This year for Epiphany, let the Christ child shine through you. Open yourself up. Ask God to bring His star - that glorious light - into your soul. Look around you; look at the world that we live in; look at the many comforts we had even in the poorest of homes; look at the engineering feats; look at the medical feats; think of your body and how it lives for a certain number years; think of all these things and more and know that the Christ child does indeed live and shine his light to the world. Epiphany, asks us not only to see that light, but to be that light to the rest of the world.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.