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Reflection: Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord

Posted on January 5, 2020, by Maureen McCormack SL

Just a week and one-half ago, we celebrated Christmas — the birth of Christ, our Savior. Now the news of Christ’s birth was beginning to spread from the tiny town of Bethlehem. It reached the Magi who saw his star in the East, and left everything to search for him. They asked: “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We have seen his star in the East and have come with gifts to worship him.” This is the feast we are celebrating today — The Feast of the Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ to a larger population, not just to the Jews, but to the Gentiles. Matthew wanted the Jews to understand that the Gospel is universal and belongs to all nations, to all religious seekers, not just to the chosen people.

And so today we honor these religious seekers. We know their names — Casper, Melchior and Balthazar. We sing about them in our songs. “We three kings from Orient are.” They have traveled a long way to find the new-born king and bring him gifts. “Bearing gifts we traverse afar. Field and fountain, moor and mountains, following yonder star.” Oh, yes. They were following a star. What drew them to that star so that they were willing to leave everything to come and worship Him? “Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright … guide us to your perfect light.” Somehow, something propelled them to follow that star, that inclination, to find the new-born king, to honor him, to bring him gifts, to learn from Mary and Joseph how this event came to pass. They were overjoyed. The long journey was worth it. They would have much to tell when they returned to their home countries.

But wait, there is a darker side to this story. When King Herod learns that a new king has been born in his jurisdiction and may have the power to unseat him, jealousy, fear and a clinging to power overtake him. He responds with unspeakable cruelty — anything that will allow him to maintain his power. When he is told that the new-born king will be born in Bethlehem, he arranges to have all male babies in Bethlehem under the age of two slaughtered — the Holy Innocents whose feast we celebrated December 28. In order to avoid Herod’s murderous rage, Mary and Joseph take the child and flee into Egypt, becoming refugees.

Herod is not an isolated historical figure. Even in our own times, leaders in many countries, including our own, seek to preserve their own power at any cost. This can take the form of killing or poisoning rivals, spreading rumors about perceived opponents, asking a foreign power to help maintain their power, or other schemes we have not yet imagined, to keep them from being replaced by another.

Mary McGlone, a sister of St. Joseph, puts it this way in her reflections in the National Catholic Reporter: “Herod chooses a path that leads to the love of power. Jesus reveals a new way through the power of love.”

What about us? Is there a star that draws us — our star in the heavens — that causes us to leave everything and follow that star, that guiding light, wherever it may lead? Search for it. Find it. It will not disappoint.

We have many examples in our midst of people who give to the poor, who care for the sick, who meet the buses carrying refugees, bringing them food, clothing for colder climates, and a loving and welcoming presence as they continue their journeys. There are those in our midst who seem to notice people’s needs and never cease to bring kindness to every interaction. One of our elevators has this message on the wall: “Be the reason someone smiles today.”

So are there epiphanies, awareness, that come to you as we enter into the year 2020? Some people make New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps you have done so. LeAnn Detherage, with resident supportive services at the Motherhouse, who leads us in weekly mindfulness sessions, suggests instead that we choose a word that will focus our resolve and that will carry us through the year, a resolve that captures for us how we want to be as we enter the year 2020, the beginning of a new decade. Perhaps you will want to do something similar.

May this Epiphany light your way into a future full of hope, gratitude and compassion. Follow your star.

Maureen McCormack SL

Maureen McCormack SL

Maureen, a former president of the Loretto Community, has worked for social justice in a wide variety of areas, including serving on the boards of the Multicultural Mosaic Foundation and of Eco-Justice Ministries, an ecumenical group working with churches on environmental issues. She is one of the founders of U.S. Women's History Month celebrations and has participated in three U.N. World conferences on Women. Maureen resides at Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, Ky.