1-7-2018 The Epiphany of the Lord
Jan 8, 2018
Christmas / Epiphany / B / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, and it gives me the opportunity to speak about a phenomenon that is quite common these days, and that is to say "I am ‘spiritual’ but not ‘religious.’"
Popular speakers on "spirituality" will explain that belonging to a particular religion, or perhaps a Christian denomination, is divisive and only leads to fights and wars and violence. It is better to be spiritual, drawing from all religions and denominations—the universal features behind religion that are good and truthful. Don’t get caught up in the arrogance of saying "you’re right" and "others are wrong," and so on. Just do your best, smile, and be spiritual.
Many people now prefer to be identified as "seekers" rather than "believers." They seek God in all sorts of places—in nature, in art, in work, in service. And this is good—in a sense, we are all seekers, looking for absolute meaning and truth. The fact that God dwells in all things—the spark of the divine, the "hints and guesses"—allows us to find aspects of God wherever we look.
But here’s the thing: in none of these general spiritualties 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 and 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 we are seeking, and whom we find—the god we seek makes no appeal or demand on us. The god of our spirituality turns into the god of our own making.
It is 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 they open up their minds and hearts to you. And you are blown away. You find a different person, and you need to make adjustments in your understanding and appreciation of that person.
Here’s the bottom line: the Biblical conviction is that God is not a distant force but a person who reveals to us his mind and purpose. This God of revelation focuses and orders all the vague spiritual longings of humanity, giving us direction and meaning. Yes, we are seekers, but so is God. Our God seeks us out and acts in history. While we might have some idea of God, God tells us who God is—and we make the adjustments.
This is why mere spirituality is never enough. Spirituality takes us only so far—it must give way to something much richer, higher, deeper.
And that brings us back to the Magi—star gazers, seekers, astrologers, astronomers, seeking the truth by observing the skies. But these observations only get them so far, to Jerusalem, where they must consult with the chief priests and scribes, Bible experts—with Israel, to whom God revealed himself. The sacred books tell the Magi precisely where the child will be, and who the child is. This is Revelation.
The Magi represent all seekers, all religious and spiritual people, who try to make it on their own, with only vague observations of the earth and sky. This will take us only so far. We need Revelation.
God revealed himself to Israel, the chosen people—and it is there we find the truth. Israel was not just one nation among many—it was the chosen vehicle of God’s revelation, a light to the nations, a "lighthouse" leading all people to God.
And thus God gave to Israel the Patriarchs, the covenant, the Law, the prophets, the temple— shaping God’s people for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the child born in Bethlehem, the one whom we seek—and the one who seeks us.
Being spiritual? Maybe. But only Revelation, and faith, will take you to the new born king—and he is our salvation.