This “Along the Way” is the first weekly installment of 2007. I want to wish you and your loved ones a peaceful and blessed new year.
On this first weekend of 2007, we observe the Feast of the Epiphany on which we celebrate the manifestation — the radiant shining forth — of Christ to the whole world.
The Gospel of Matthew highlights this theme by its inclusion of the Magi — the wise men from the east who follow the star and come to pay homage to the newborn babe: “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
Matthew always wants to highlight themes of continuity with and fulfillment of the Jewish tradition when he recounts the words and work of Jesus. That makes his mention of the Magi especially significant. It is his way of saying that, while the Jews are the people chosen by God, the saving mission of Christ would embrace people of all times and all places.
For the past several weeks you have been kind enough to read about the trip Father Joseph Hart and I took to Africa. As I write these words about the manifestation of Christ to all nations on the Feast of the Epiphany, I think once again about those incredible days we spent in Africa visiting dioceses that have sent priests and sisters to study and serve in our diocese.
There has not been a day since our return from that journey that I have not thought about the experience. I have remembered the people we met and the celebrations in which we participated. I have reflected on the many virtues that were so evident among those who so graciously hosted us — hospitality, lively faith, a sense of service to others, a generosity rivaling that of the poor widow in the Gospel, a joy for life and a powerful sense of community.
Writing about the Epiphany draws me to the realization — clearer now than it was to me when I was there — that the deepest gift for me from that trip to Africa was to experience the truth of the Epiphany. What we really experienced was Christ present, Christ visible in the people and the experiences that the Lord opened up for us.
I remain deeply grateful for that gift. In my prayer on this feast I will be thanking the Lord for all of it. But I also will be asking for the grace to be more alert to, and more grateful for, the presence of Christ in the people and experiences that are part of my life every day.
Maintaining such an attitude, I confess, is more easily said than done. Amid the routine, day-in-and-day-out rhythms of life, it is very easy for me to forget that such awareness and such gratitude are not automatic. It is very easy for me to forget that to the degree that any of us have these qualities, we have them by the grace of God. The hardest thing to remember may be the fact that — though graced by the Lord — we are still imperfect and prone to sin. How easy it can be to focus on and fret about the faults of others rather than to rejoice and offer gratitude for their goodness and for the ways in which they make the Lord present among us.
I think I just came up with an additional New Year’s resolution for myself.
Peace to all.