Bishop's Column

Following the light

By Bishop James Conley 

An epiphany is a moment of startling clarity; a moment when the truth is suddenly and blindingly clear to us. An epiphany is the moment when we suddenly see the meaning of something that had been hidden, mysterious, or unclear to us just moments before.

This Sunday, we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, remembering magi—spiritual seekers—who had come to Bethlehem seeking the meaning of a mystery. They had seen a star rising in the east, a star which they believed portended the birth of a great king. They had travelled to Jerusalem, seeking “the newborn king of the Jews,” whom they believed would be a great leader to his people, and to the world.

They must have been surprised when they were sent from Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, to the small village of Bethlehem. They must have been even more surprised when they saw the bright star they had been following in front of them, and then shining brightly above the humble place where the Holy Family was staying.

But they must have had an extraordinary epiphany—a moment of startling clarity. They had been looking for a king, brought to a humble home in a humble city, and yet, they were overjoyed. These three men—rich, powerful, and wise—entered the humble house, prostrated themselves on the ground, gave honor and homage to Jesus, the son of a carpenter, and offered him the great gifts they had been carrying. They must have known that his Kingdom was something more than a kingdom of power in this world, that he represented something greater and more profound than worldly princes and rulers.

They were led by a light in the sky. And when they arrived, they had a moment of divine illumination, in which the Lord revealed to them that Christ was far more than what they had expected.

Sacred Scripture does not tell us what became of the magi. But their lives must have been profoundly changed by the startling epiphany they had in Bethlehem. Perhaps they continued to follow Christ’s life from afar, perhaps they heard that he was the Messiah, perhaps they believed that in his resurrection, he conquered sin and death.

They had an epiphany because they were open to the surprising revelation of the Lord. They found the King they sought in humility, in a poor child in a small town, instead of in the palace where they expected he would be. But they were open, in their own way, to the voice of the Lord, and when he was revealed to them, they knelt down, and honored him.

The star the magi followed is a sign of hope for all of us. A sign that the Lord speaks to us, to reveal himself, at all times—as long as we are listening. A sign that all creation—even the stars in the heavens—point to the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord. A sign that God is calling each one of us to hear his voice, to discover him more deeply, and to do him homage.

We’re all pilgrims, seeking the Lord, as the magi were when they travelled to Jerusalem. And the Lord is calling us all to more intimate unity and knowledge of him. The Lord is drawing us to himself, calling us to know him, and steadfastly waiting for our arrival.

The magi saw the Lord’s sign because they were seeking a sign of the truth. And we, too, should always be seeking him. We should cultivate a heart open to the Lord’s voice, and eyes open to his signs.

We cultivate open hearts and eyes best in the mystery of silence, of wonder, of contemplation. The magi contemplated the stars, looking for signs of the Lord’s presence, and, in a surprising epiphany, they found him. We have the grace of the Lord’s presence in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. How much more will we discover, how much more will we be surprised, if we contemplate the very presence of the Lord’s Eucharistic heart? 

Jesus Christ is the light who illuminates a path for us, who guides our feet, who invites us to follow him, as the magi followed a star from the east. On the Feast of the Epiphany, I pray that you will follow the light of the Lord, and I pray that God might surprise you with an epiphany of his love, his mercy, and his steadfast presence.

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