- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

The following sermon was recently preached by the Rev. Aidan Shea, abbot of St. Anselm’s Benedictine Abbey in the District.

The great solemnities of the church’s liturgical year, like great works of literature, art and music, have in common one characteristic: They make one discontent with oneself and, at the same time, inspire one to become more vulnerable, more exposed to the mystery of God. One becomes more what one most is: a woman or man made in the image and likeness of God.

Certainly, the solemnity of the Epiphany makes me very unresigned to being who I am at present and resolved to change what I can change so that the Epiphany is not just a liturgical moment in my life, but in fact, a way of being. T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi,” read out loud and slowly, is a rich and consoling prelude to the Epiphany. So, too, is Gian Carlo Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” an opera.

The Amahl story is simple. Three men on a journey seek lodging for the night at the home of a poor family. The widowed mother has only one child, a handicapped boy who can walk only with the help of a crutch. The child, Amahl, becomes aware of where the three men — the Magi — are going and what they are carrying with them to give to the One called the King of the Jews. He, too, wants to offer a gift to this king, the child Jesus.

When Amahl realizes he has nothing appropriate to give, he decides to give the wise men his crutch. “Who knows, he may need it,” he says. “And [the crutch], I made it myself.” Moving forward to give up the crutch, he realizes he is walking. With the permission of his mother, he goes to Bethlehem with the wise men.

What is the meaning of the Epiphany when seen through the lens of Amahl? To me, it is that we should believe in God, who has given us life, even if life has limitations, perhaps serious limitations. We can make our lives a thanksgiving and a sharing of whatever we have, a sharing of ourselves, a sharing of the love that is God. What we do to or for others, we do to or for God.

Scripture teaches us that God is love. If we abide in God, we abide in love. If we abide in love, we share love. Familiar to each of us is the feeling that love brings. What we often forget is that very feeling is the presence of God. The way of love is open to everyone, no matter the limitations.

The way of the intellect, the way of volition, these are more difficult and are not open to everyone. We learn from Jesus that the greatest commandment is love. We learn from Jesus and from life that the greatest commandment leads to the greatest discovery: the presence of God in human life.

Epiphanies are manifestations that fill the world. They are “revelatory moments” — moments of utter silence, moments of stark awareness, moments of insight when suddenly we see into the nature of things and feel the presence of the divine, of God.

James Joyce wrote that an epiphany is the “moment in which the soul of the commonest object … seems to us radiant.” The sudden revelation is of a person, or a place, or a situation. Epiphanies abound, each leading us in our search for God. We have only to look around, to look within.

In our life experiences, we meet the reality of God just as surely as we meet what is not of God. The solemnity is about searching, our searching. We are the locus of the Epiphany, for in our daily life we reveal — or not — the spirit of God.

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