Epiphany of the Lord

I have met people who, upon learning I am a priest, want to talk about God. “Where do I find God? Why are terrible things happening to me? What is God trying to say? Why is God punishing me? Does God speak to you, too? How do you pray? Did you always want to be a priest? Don’t you want to get married? What do you believe about God? When will the world end? What does the Catholic church teach? What if the church is wrong? What does the bible say about that? Are you saved? Isn’t God awesome?” I don’t know why people do that. Sometimes I’ll just be browsing at the mall or shopping for groceries. Sometimes I’ll be reading at the airport just before I board a plane. I don’t even need to be doing anything to do with church. They find me all the same. Sometimes I’ll be at home watching TV late at night and I get a call asking if God is trying to tell them something. It’s like I have a neon sign above my head proclaiming “Tell me about God and about your life anytime. I want to hear about it.”

Don’t get me wrong. I usually enjoy hearing people talk about how God works in their lives. It’s just that every now and then I need to figure out how God is working in my own life and what God is trying to tell me. I guess I’m also just a little suspicious when people admit out loud that God might be up to something, because I’m also not as comfortable going around telling people what God revealed to me in a dream. I’m not always sure myself about a lot of things, among them my own sanity. The last thing I need is confirmation of what I had suspected all along, “You’re right. You are crazy.”

But God is breaking into our world a lot more than we realize, more than we are willing to admit. We might expect God to speak to us only in thunder and lightning, or in spectacular events as sometimes happen in Washington and Hollywood, that we miss the silent whisperings of God’s Spirit and the gradual advance of God’s kingdom taking place all the time. We sometimes lament God’s silence and inaction because we want God to do things the way we imagine God should do things. Of course, we never tire of telling God when we pray exactly what God needs to do to make this world a better place. But we are often not as willing to hear what God has to say. We imagine we know just what God wants. And like the people in today’s gospel, many of us miss him entirely.

God is in our midst telling us good news, working great signs and wonders as we go about our lives oblivious to things that don’t affect our bottom line. Those who find God are more likely those who set out in search of him with sincere hearts. People who possess great learning and political power do not necessarily hear God’s voice and see God’s face more clearly. Oftentimes, such learning and power become themselves obstacles to finding God. The magi were learned men familiar with prophecy and astrology. They believed God spoke to them a message through the star that shone brightly in the night sky. They heard the message loud and clear, and they did not hesitate to leave the comforts of home to go in search of a new king.

To modern science they would seem like magicians and witch doctors. But they heard God’s message clearly because their hearts were open to receive it. In contrast, there was Herod, king of the land, whose most sacred duty was to safeguard the welfare of his people. He, too, came to know God’s marvelous design through the magi. Yet his desire to find this newborn king was fueled only by rage and jealousy. With the help of his religious and political advisers, learned in scripture and worldly ways, he sought to silence God’s voice and dismiss God’s wonders. He was not willing to receive good news. His heart was not open to witness God’s salvation come to fulfillment.

But long before any human effort is exerted, long before energy is spent to respond to the invitation to see God’s face or hear God’s voice, God makes the first move, inviting us to participate in his divine plan, implanting the desire within our hearts, directing our senses to be attentive, inspiring our spirits to seek him.

Yet no one seeks God who is not first invited. No one finds God who is not first found by God himself. And like the magi in the gospel story, God sends a star in the night sky to light the way before us. It calls out to us from a great distance. It does not wake us from our sleep, nor force us from our couches. It does not interrupt our busy schedules, nor infringe upon our rights. It does not deprive us of our possessions, nor demand that we do anything against our will. It merely shines in the night sky, bright and unwavering, a silent but powerful invitation to find God, the God who calls us by name, who desires to share our company, who is also eagerly searching for us.

For some years now I have been in dialogue with a group of about 10 local pastors, who decided to come together in the wake of racial unrest in Charlottesville. We have invited more pastors and ministers to the group, but with mixed success. One of the major challenges we encounter is the fear that our efforts will be merely symbolic and not transformational. But I guess unless we attempt something, the status quo will accomplish nothing different. So we continue to discern a path forward. Meanwhile, we extend and share friendship. We pray together. We try to address local challenges together. Discovering what God wants to tell us is not always easy, even for us.

Have you ever noticed a star in your own life, a star shining in the darkness, calling you, inviting you to find the God who is just as eager to find you? Have you chosen to ignore it perhaps, lest your sleep is interrupted, or your busy schedule disturbed? Do you imagine it causing you inconvenience or discomfort, that you choose instead to pull the shades or keep your eyes fixed on the ground? Do you fear to set out because you do not know where the star might lead you? Do you fear the journey ahead may be long and troublesome? Do you fear that the star may disappear while you are far from the comforts of home? Do you fear that you have no gold or frankincense or myrrh to offer? Do you fear that someone else’s gifts might put yours to shame?

When the magi found the child and his mother, they were filled with joy. But because they were instructed by God in a dream, they returned home by a different way. Those who find God will never return the way they came. The journey will be different because the encounter with God will transform us deeply. Do you fear to be transformed? Remember the star shining in the darkness is only an invitation. If we respond to the invitation, we may acquire a greater treasure. The star itself is not the treasure. God is already in the world and in our lives. Every so often, God will send a star to invite us to a deeper encounter. Heed the star that shines in your darkness. Don’t miss out on the wonderful mysteries of God unfolding right before our eyes.

Rolo B Castillo © 2020