Reflection on the Solemnity of the Epiphany, Jan. 8, 2023
My heart aches – I’m sure yours does too – when I hear about the persecution of one ethnic or political group by another. Front and center today: Russian attacks on Ukrainians and others. But don’t forget the Hutu against the Tutsi in Rwanda; Chinese repression of the Uyghur Muslims. In our own country, an uptick in hate crimes against Blacks, Jews, Asian-Americans and members of the LGBTQ+ community shows what can happen when an us vs. them mentality turns toxic.
America’s two-party system, designed to balance power in service of the common good, seems to have reached an all-time-low point of dysfunction with seemingly few Republicans willing to cross the aisle and work with Democrats, and vice versa.
Closer to home, many remember a time when their Irish, German, Italian, Polish (or…fill in the blanks) parents forbade them to date someone who ”wasn’t like us.” Interracial marriages, though much more common now, still raise eyebrows and evoke prejudice in some circles. Coming to terms with differences among races, especially as they have become embedded in our social structures, remains one of the most pressing challenges of our time.
Since earliest times, we humans have segregated ourselves into tribes: Israelites vs. Philistines, Greeks vs. Romans, Montagues vs. Capulets (or the West Side Story version, Sharks vs. Jets), Union vs. Confederate, Army vs. Navy, Mets vs. Yankees. Why? I suppose, for protection, support, comfort, security. But in shielding ourselves from those whom we judge to be different, we cut ourselves off from a whole universe of experience, a world of perspectives that could broaden our own.
During my growing-up years my parish was the Church of the Epiphany in Manhattan. A magnificent stained-glass image of the Three Wise Men greeted me whenever I walked into the church. I was fascinated by the story: their ornate clothing, their strange gifts, their intuitive sense that this baby was different from all others, their willingness to listen to a dream that told them to find another way home.
Later I learned that Epiphany means “manifestation,” and that the feast celebrates the fact that Jesus’ coming was for all tribes and tongues and peoples and nations, not just the people into whose midst he was born. To the medieval mind, the Magi represented the three Gentile (= non-Jewish) cultures then known in the world: Asian, Persian and Ethiopian. And in Jesus’ world, his new creation, they were welcome; they belonged.
These Wise Ones of various cultures have valuable lessons to teach us. For one, they knew something important about journeys. As Richard Rohr, OFM writes: “A good journey begins with knowing where you are and being willing to go somewhere else.”
A theologian friend of mine once wondered, “God delights in diversity. Why do we humans have such a hard time with it?” Why, indeed? Maybe this New Year I can learn to be a bit more welcoming, a bit less suspicious or judgmental of one who looks, speaks, acts different from me, a bit less invested in my “tribe,” a bit more willing to “go somewhere else,” to take another route and open myself more fully to the “universal communion” about which Pope Francis speaks.
Maybe in 2023 I can grow more open to the God who is “in all things…disguised as our life”
Get this first epiphany right–God perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed in the actual, and all the rest of the year will not surprise or disappoint you…If God can be manifest in a baby in a poor stable for the unwanted, then we better be ready for God just about anywhere and in anybody…Now God is in all things. We can no longer separate, exclude or avoid anybody or anything, especially under the guise of religion. We all, like the Magi, must now kneel and kiss the ground, throwing our own kingships to the wind…Afterwards, we are out of control, going back home by a different route, yet realigned correctly with what-is. Reality is still the best ally of God, and God always comes disguised as our life.
– from “Epiphany: You Can’t Go Home Again”, by Richard Rohr, OFM
– Sr. Regina Bechtle, SC