Father Howard Hansen’s Reflections
for The Epiphany of the Lord
The Epiphany of the Lord
January 2, Mt. 2:1-12
Today’s Gospel from St. Matthew on this Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord does not give us any of the details of Jesus’ birth but rather focuses on where he was born, in Bethlehem of Judea. The great King David had been anointed King in Bethlehem and Jesus’ being born there shows his decent from David.
The “Magi” in today’s Gospel are the first visitors to the newborn Jesus. Even though some of the Christmas carols indicate otherwise, these Magi were not kings or wise men. Here they appear to have been astrologers who interpret the movement of the stars. Whether these Magi are historically real or made up creations of St. Matthew is open for discussion. Some believe the star they followed to be Halley’s comet, which appeared in 12-11BC. Matthew may have created this idea of the star to reinforce a popular belief that royal births were indicated by astrological happenings. In any event, the Magi are pictured as Gentiles who accept Jesus as the Messiah and, like the disciples, gave him their very lives.
The word Epiphany means a manifestation, showing or revealing. With his birth, Jesus manifested himself to the world. He came to make all things new for those who accepted him. For me, there is little difference between Epiphany and Conversion or Repentance (making that U turn in our lives). They go together like strawberries and cream. The Magi saw and believed. The disciples encountered and experienced Jesus and followed him immediately. And, I believe, it is also like that for you and me.
Each of us has his/her own moment of Epiphany when Jesus manifests himself to us in a very real way and invites us to follow him. For me this happened when I was 44 years old and my drinking problem had reached its pinnacle. That Saturday evening I tried to say a parish Mass while highly inebriated and messed things all up, when a little old lady challenged me with her confronting words, “Shame on you, shame on you!” Later I realized that little old lady was Christ manifesting himself to me letting me know that he wanted me to quit playing games and be the person and priest he had made me to be. Thank God, I listened to him and began to follow him as my way, truth and life. Things have been just wonderful in my life since that day 36 years ago.
How about you? When was your Epiphany, your encounter with Jesus that caused you to listen to him and follow him? When did you “leave everything” to follow him in earnest?
Lord Jesus, we thank you for your manifestation of yourself to us and the invitation to follow you. We thank you, too, for the strength needed to continue in your way, truth and life.
Monday after Epiphany, Most Holy Name of Jesus
Jan. 3, Mt. 4: 12-17, 23-25
On this Monday after the Epiphany the Church celebrates the optional memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus. Through the efforts of a Franciscan Friar, Bernadine of Siena, the Holy Name of Jesus (Yaweh is salvation) was promoted through the monogram of the Holy Name, IHS, and the addition of the name Jesus to the prayer Hail Mary. The letters IHS are an abbreviation of Jesous, the Greek word for Jesus. St. Bernadine of Siena lived in the 15th century. In 1530, Pope Clement V approved an Office for the Holy Name in the Liturgy of the Hours for the Franciscans and in 1721, Pope Innocent III approved this feast for the universal Church.
The name Jesus for most of us is identified with Christ, the name of the 2nd Person of the Blessed Trinity and our Incarnate Redeemer. And indeed it is a very Holy Name. The following prayer is attributed to St. Bernadine of Siena: “Glorious name, gracious name, name of love and power! Through you sins are forgiven, through you enemies are vanquished, through you the sick are freed from their illnesses, through you those suffering in trials are made strong and cheerful. You bring honor to those who believe, you teach those who preach, you give strength to the toilers, you sustain the weary.”
Holy Name of Jesus, we call on you for help.
Tuesday after Epiphany
Jan. 4, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
Elizabeth Seton is the first native born American to be canonized a Saint by the Catholic Church. Born in 1774 in New York City, she was baptized in the Episcopal Church and remained an Episcopalian until her conversion to the Catholic Faith in 1805. In 1794 she married William Seton and they had 5 children. While on a trip to Italy around 1804, William died unexpectedly. Elizabeth then joined the Catholic Faith and in 1808 established the first Catholic School in Baltimore. She and two other young women began plans for a Sisterhood and in 1809 she was professed. From this time on she was called Mother Seton. Their Rule was based on one written by St. Francis de Paul. By 1818 the Sisters built two orphanages and another school. Mother Seton contracted tuberculosis and died in 1821 at the age of 46. She was canonized on September 14, 1975.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us.
Wednesday after Epiphany
Jan. 5, Mark 6: 45-52
“They (the disciples) were completely astounded. They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.”
Just what exactly is the meaning of the words: hardness of heart? We see these words rather often in the Scriptures. There is a fine article by Andrew Wommack on the Web about hardness of heart. He equates it with being shocked or angered or surprised at a miracle. It is being cold, insensitive, unfeeling, unyielding. A hardened heart dulls a person’s ability to perceive and understand.
Today’s Gospel takes place right after Mark’s rendition of the miracle of the loaves and fishes (Mark 8: 1-10). In Mark 8: 17, the words hardness of heart are used again: “Do you not understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened?” And then Jesus goes on to explain what he means by hardness of heart in v. 18: “Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? And do you not remember …….?”
So — hardness of heart in a nutshell is not understanding or comprehending something that is really clear — it is having eyes and not seeing what is going on around us, it is having ears and not hearing what is being said. It is like the state of being spiritually deaf and blind of which we have spoken before.
There is a hymn in the hymnbooks that is short and easy to sing and therefore we hear it often. It is titled: Open My Eyes, Lord. This is a short prayer we should all say often.
Jesus, please help us all to see and understand more clearly your marvelous ways and all the wonderful things you do for us every day. Help us not to be insensitive to what is going on around us.
Thursday after Epiphany
Jan. 6, Luke 4: 14-22
In today’s Gospel reading from St. Luke, Jesus returns to his home town of Nazareth. He made himself available to the people and taught in their synagogues. He did the reading, most probably chosen by himself, on the sabbath day and we cannot read these words from Isaiah without visioning the Lord, the one who was reading them. It is Jesus who has been anointed to bring glad tidings to the poor, it is Jesus who has come to proclaim liberty to those who are captives of the darkness of sin, it is Jesus who gives light to our eyes so we may see and who frees those who are oppressed and burdened with the things of this world.
Jesus is telling the people then and us now to look to him for relief from our problems and troubles, to look to him for the awakening of our spiritual lives and to be free from the bonds of greed, violence, rage, lust and the other torments of the world of darkness. Jesus is the light, the way, the truth.
There are many times for all of us when things get to be too much to bear and we run in the wrong direction for help. We run away from Jesus to our other idols. I really do not understand why we do this, but we do. When life gets a bit overwhelming, that is exactly the time to run toward Jesus, into his arms, and let him help us.
Friday after Epiphany
Jan. 7, Luke 5: 12-16
Today’s Gospel about the “man full of leprosy” puts yesterday’s Gospel into action for us. The man had an overwhelming problem indeed. Leprosy was (and is) a terrible disease. In 1995 the World Health Organization reported 2 to 3 million people disabled because of leprosy at that time. Leprosy can now be cured but in Biblical times there was no cure. Those who contracted this horrible disease were banished from the regular community of peoples and were forced to live in designated areas outside the towns. Whenever they ventured out on the roads to go somewhere, they had to ring a bell to warn people they were around.
The leper in the Gospel knew this only too well and he also knew where to take his problem. He had obviously heard of the healing power of Jesus and when he saw him he fell prostrate and pleaded with him, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” What a beautiful prayer! And Jesus touched him and the leprosy left the man immediately!
Hopefully, we can remember to make the leper’s prayer our prayer when we are in difficulty in any way. Take the problem to Jesus with the prayer, “Lord, if you wish, you can help me.”
Saturday after Epiphany
Jan. 8, John 3: 22-30
“He must increase; I must decrease.”
In the Gospel today both Jesus and John the Baptist are baptizing in the same locale. The Gospel stresses the supportive role of John the Baptist. “I am not the Christ, but I was sent before him,” John the Baptist will soon begin to fade from the picture.
The words quoted above are words of great humility and until all of us repeat the same words and mean them, we aren’t going to go too far spiritually. We have commented before about how selfish and self-oriented we are as children. It is quite literally all about me. And maybe, just maybe, that’s the way it has to be at the beginning of our lives to insure our survival. But it cannot stay that way! And this is the point we sometimes miss.
Sooner or later we discover we live in society and it must be all about us and not about me alone. And spiritually it must be all about Jesus who is our way, truth and life. He must increase and I must decrease.
Lord, draw us closer to each other and to you. Life is not all about me!