Epiphany’s universal call continues

| Jonathan Liedl | January 15, 2020 | 0 Comments

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Every year, by the grace of God, the gift of Christmas takes hold of me more completely. As my understanding of the Incarnation deepens and my gratitude for all God has done in my life grows, it becomes increasingly impossible to make sense of my life, who I am and what I am doing here, apart from the great love revealed and given in Christ’s incarnation. My life is a question that is incoherent and meaningless apart from the answer that is Jesus.

At the same time, however, I find myself experiencing sadness that, for so much of the world, the opposite dynamic seems to be happening. Christ seems increasingly irrelevant, especially in the post-Christian societies of Europe and North America. Despite the crises that we continue to face, both external ones like the threat of war and internal ones like the epidemic of depression, Jesus and the life-giving love and fulfillment he offers are rejected or ignored. Studies examining rates of adherence among Catholics certainly don’t give one cause for optimism.

In the midst of all this, I can experience a temptation to something like solipsism, a selfish worldview in which I can only be certain about myself. I know Christ is the answer for me and for Catholics like me — but is he really the answer for everyone? Can his love really be received by the people of the world today, so engulfed as we are by radical individualism, materialism and other reductive worldviews that not only cut us off from recognizing Christ as the answer, but from even asking the questions that open ourselves to him in the first place?

With these questions lingering in my heart, I went to Mass at a church just outside the Vatican this past week and had something of an epiphany. Or rather, I experienced an antidote to this bout of yuletide solipsism in a beautiful, vivid image of the Epiphany come alive.

Instead of three Wise Men from the East coming to adore the newborn king, I gathered with brothers and sisters in Christ from seemingly every corner of the world — India, Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe — to worship our God. Instead of offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, we offered to the Lord something far more precious: our very lives, which we laid upon the eucharistic altar, to be taken up with Christ in his self-offering to the Father.

The Magi’s coming at Epiphany has been called the “first calling of the Gentiles.” Struck anew by the universality of the Church during that Mass, I was reminded that the call of Epiphany has continued ever since. The light of Christ has reached people like me, through my Irish, English and German ancestors, and through my involvement in communities like Catholic Studies and Communion and Liberation. But he has also found a home in the hearts of men and women of vastly different countries, cultures and experiences than my own.

This Epiphany reminder revitalized my conviction that Jesus is the fulfillment of every person’s desires, and that his love and truth can be received by the men and women of any place and time, including our own. If God can reach three pagan sages from thousands of miles away by means of an astronomical sign, then he can reach the pagans of our age as well.

God desires that we play our part in this. St. Leo the Great, in a sermon the Church prays in the Office of Readings on Epiphany, suggests the star that led the Wise Men to Bethlehem as a compelling model for evangelization. “The obedience of the star calls us to imitate its humble service: to be servants, as best we can, of the grace that invites all men to find Christ.”

The star that called forth the Magi has several qualities that we can pray to emulate as we evangelize. It was attractive and eye-catching, as we can be when we live lives of purity, conviction and joy. It stayed patiently in the sky, a patience that we must imitate if we aim to share Christ’s love with others and not merely out-argue them.

And the star shone, ultimately, not to bring people only to itself, a selflessness that we must foster by constantly asking Christ to help us bring others to him. We can do so with confidence and freedom, because the success of evangelization and conversion is ultimately not ours, but his.

Liedl is a seminarian in formation for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

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