Epiphany of the Lord

Ordinarily, we are not easily swayed by weak and naïve arguments, especially from people we don’t know all that well. By nature, we are skeptics. I know I am, and it’s unusual in my line of work to be skeptical. But church work also naturally attracts the wildly strange, delusional, mystical, and stubbornly unconventional. I will want evidence. I will want proof. Without tangible proof, it will be difficult to overcome doubt, or I am forced to surrender trust. But surrendering trust doesn’t come easily. A person might begin to trust if they are assured their trust is deserved. And arriving at trust will rely on evidence from past experience. For instance, I might be open to trust this time if in previous occasions it has proven effective, and no one let me down. So it’s really that first time that’s the tricky one. How can I trust if I’ve never trusted before? And just as I take great risk that first time placing my trust in another person, so I take even greater risk that first time placing my trust in God. But it does build from there. Do you remember the first time you put your trust in God? Probably not. Still it gets easier after you’ve done it a few times. And building on that trust requires you take the time to pause and reflect on those occasions, and ultimately what they might mean.

When I was growing up, I thought I would be a teacher. My mom taught science in public high school. And in my totally biased opinion, after witnessing her in action many times, I thought she was an excellent teacher. I convinced myself I would be good at it, although I was completely intimidated to stand in front of and address people. But I figured I could fake it. I told myself it was something I could do. And I did teach in a classroom a total of 5 years over a 10 year period. Wouldn’t do it again. But there were moments I truly enjoyed teaching. The rest of the time, I was terrified out of my wits.

But teaching gave me confidence to explore a vocation to the priesthood. Or was it the other way around? I’m not sure. I admired a couple of young priests during my years in Catholic school, and it dawned on me I could do what they did. I had a general interest in serving the church, so I joined a religious community of priests and brothers whose work was education and youth ministry. And as I gained confidence standing in front of and addressing people, as I pursued the academic and pastoral training needed for candidates to the priesthood, I grew into the role. I found life a little challenging in religious community, okay a lot challenging, so after some painful discernment I made a switch to parish ministry. But all that previous education and experience did not go to waste. Although it might look like I know what I’m doing, I can assure you I’m still terrified out of my wits half the time. I just pray you can’t tell which half.

Probably the most important factor in placing trust in God is the conviction that God desires our good. Why does God do anything God does and has ever done? We read in the book of Genesis that God created humanity in his own image and likeness. We bear God’s own image. And on top of that God also shared with us his own Spirit, the Breath of Life. Then we read in the gospel of John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.[1]” We are made in God’s image, and infused with God’s Spirit. And now, motivated by love alone, God offers us eternal life. But rebellious and selfish, we continue to resist God. However St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, “[God] who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us.Who will condemn? It is Christ [Jesus] who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.[2]

Now general truths are not as convincing or compelling as intimate and personal truths. Otherwise, we wouldn’t need further evidence or proof. But evidence and proof abound all around us, if only we pay attention. If we are willing to surrender trust in God, the rest will fall into place and eventually make sense. But until we can accept that God desires our highest good, we will always be suspicious and resistant to his grace.

Why was King Herod reluctant to believe the word of the wise men, that a newborn king of the Jews lived right under his nose? Perhaps he was fearful he might have to bow to this new king. And all Jerusalem was troubled along with him. And yet the chief priests and scribes found evidence in their own prophetic literature that this was God’s doing, the same God who freed them from slavery, who formed them into a people and a nation, and who promised he would send them a savior. Maybe Herod didn’t much like that the news came from foreigners, foreigners who historically didn’t have Israel’s best interest at heart, foreigners bearing gifts but nothing for him. Herod, his advisers, and all Jerusalem saw no upside to any of this. And they missed a most awesome and wonderful thing God was accomplishing right in their midst.

I have been a priest now for some 26 years. And it has taken me some time to finally feel unthreatened by human suffering and misery. As a priest, I am constantly called upon to speak words of comfort and to share the consolation of the church’s sacraments. In those early years of ministry, I was convinced people always expected me to say something, and that it would be profound. Instead, I have since learned to acknowledge my own lack of faith, and to shut up, and to let God do the speaking. One not so easy thing I had to learn is that God is often not in any hurry. God moves quietly and patiently and in mysterious ways. I just need to listen for his cues.

St. Paul reminds us in today’s second reading from his letter to the Ephesians an awesome truth St. John already proclaimed, that God desired from eternity to save all people, and that the Gentiles (those who are not genetically descendants of Abraham) would be coheirs, members of the same body, and partners with Israel in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel[3]. So if God makes no distinction between cultures, languages, races, and peoples, we who look to God, who profess faith in Jesus Christ, and who rely on the fulfillment of God’s promises might seriously consider adjusting our attitudes and behaviors to more consistently match that truth. God is patient. Take your time. But hurry up and quit stalling. You’re missing an awful lot.

If God was revealing himself in your life right now, where would you find him? Every once in a while, we catch a glimpse of God at work in the world and in our lives. Some people can come to quick conclusions about the meaning of majestic sunsets and mountain views, the birth of their children and grandchildren, or even a mildly rough episode of chemotherapy to recognize an unlikely blessing of God’s goodness and compassion. St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary; to one without faith, no explanation is possible.” God is doing wonderful things in our midst as we speak. The longer you hold out, the more you will miss.

Rolo B Castillo © 2019

[1]John 3: 16

[2]Romans 8: 33-34

[3]Ephesians 3: 6