Christmas / Epiphany / C / 2019
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
We come to the Feast of the Epiphany—a beautiful feast of light, color, and drama—that gives us the opportunity to look at a phenomenon today that is very common: people who say that they are "spiritual" but not "religious." I’m sure that all of us have a friend or a family member who is "spiritual" but not a part of any religious institution.
And it’s not surprising, given the number of popular writers and speakers who say that belonging to any religious group is divisive, only leading to fights and wars and even violence. It is better to be "spiritual," taking what is good from all religions and simply living a good life—not getting involved with an "institution."
Those who are "spiritual" describe themselves as "seekers" rather than believers. And they "seek" God in all sorts of places: in nature, in art, in work, in service. And this is good! For, in fact, God dwells in all things—the spark of the divine, the "hints and guesses." We find aspects of "God" wherever we look.
But here’s the thing, and the problem: in none of these general spiritualities is one addressed by a personal and living God. We are always doing the seeking, we are always doing the speaking. God is perceived as a distant, abstract force—something called "Truth" or "The Good"—that makes our search more like a science project than a spiritual journey.
And we decide what and who we are seeking—a god who makes no appeal or demand on us. The god of our "spirituality" turns into the god of our own making.
It’s like coming to know a person from the outside—you see someone, and you size them up, and you make certain judgments about them. Then they speak—and you find a different person, a person you didn’t know, a person who revealed themselves to you.
Here’s the bottom line: the biblical conviction is that God is not a distant force but a person who reveals his mind and purpose to us—who seeks us! We don’t need to seek because our loving God has found us! This is the God of revelation, the God that has spoken to us—the God who answers our deepest wants and desires.
In other words, "spirituality" will only take us so far. It must give way to something much richer, deeper, transcendent, and revealed.
And that brings us back to the Magi and the feast we call "the Epiphany"—the manifestation, the revelation of God to the nations—the Gentiles and to all of us.
The Magi are like those we call "spiritual" today—they are seekers, star gazers, looking for the Truth in the heavenly bodies. But their observations will only take them so far.
How far did they get? The star only leads the Magi to Jerusalem—where they must consult the sacred books—the Scripture, God’s revelation to us. From the scripture the Magi discover precisely where they will find the new-born king.
Israel, then, is God’s chosen instrument, a light to the nations, a "lighthouse" leading all people to God—including these Magi.
It is fine to be "spiritual," but only revelation and faith will take us to the One we seek, to Jesus Christ—wonder counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, prince of peace.