Sunday, January 06, 2008

Epiphany word, 06 Jan 2008

Epiphany A (06Jan2008) Is 60. 1-6; Ps 72; Eph 3. 2-3a,5-6; Mt 2. 1-12
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
The “Seed of Selfhood”

Liturgies during Christmastime focus us on those with Jesus: Mary and Joseph, of course, and also shepherds and magi. The first visitors were those without status and high standing--the shepherds. One well-known carol flows from those humble folk, featuring another meek and mild child, a little drummer boy. On his visit he presented the infant Jesus with all he had, his signature possession, his drum. The little drummer boy gave what symbolized himself and his unique talent, of which he was a young, good steward.

Today’s solemnity of the Epiphany widens the circle of Jesus’ visitors to include people of lofty pedigree, the magi. Those sky-watching wise men were not Jews and came from afar, drawn, guided and led by a star. Even more important the magi represent us. I suggest two things for our contemplation and consideration: 1) that we see ourselves in them; and 2) how we might begin to be good stewards of ourselves in the new year.

The first, that we pause each day this week to contemplate the magi in order to see ourselves may be obvious. We aren’t Jews, but we inherit our Christianity through them and their worship and their ways of living. We also can say we enjoy some favorable status, or at least we have good standing in our church and in our society. What may seem less obvious is why we’ve come here, and why we come week in and week out during the year. Yes, some of us we were raised to do this. Others of us have returned to church or are recent or even new members of Christ’s body in the world. No matter who we may be, we are drawn here.

Someone, some event, even something we cannot put into words drew us. We’ve followed the attraction. Isaiah prophesied, they all gather and come...sons come from afar...and daughters in the arms of their nurses. The magi gave expression to this interior gravitational pull, which the Light of light lovingly, gently, patiently exerted for their good: "We saw [the new born king of the Jews’] star at its rising and have come to do him homage."

How are we like the magi, drawn, gathered into the presence of our King? What is our desire?--to do him homage? to ask him a favor? to converse with him? to start anew? to discover ourselves? to imitate his life more? to grow in love with and for others?

Pausing daily helps us name our deep desires. Our deep desires tell us about Jesus creating us each moment; they invite us to join him on his mission and how we might begin to be good stewards of ourselves this new year. Invite Jesus to help you care for your soul. “Soul” means one’s self. My 16th-Century spiritual father, St. Ignatius of Loyola, understood that. He made “care of souls” his focused concern, as we Jesuits do to this very day.

A contemporary, Quaker theologian, Parker Palmer, learned at a young age that the human soul is the “seed of selfhood”: “In my grandfather, I actually observed something I could once take only on faith: ‘We are born with a seed of selfhood that contains the spiritual DNA of our uniqueness--an encoded birthright knowledge of who we are, why we are here and how we are related to others. We may abandon that knowledge as the years go by, but it never abandons us.’”*

Jesus, creator of our souls, never abandons us! In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, invite Jesus to sanctify your inmost self as you begin 2008. Allow the magi to help you praise the gravitational pull of Jesus, who draws you into his mystical body with real human flesh, needs, emotions, language and desires. Speak to Jesus in a way you find helps you: the Infant Jesus with his parents; the boy Jesus, growing and learning like you; the prophet; or the man on the cross. In the Light of light seek to know more clearly your unique offering for the good of others and the salvation of your soul. Force nothing, just be with Jesus. Close your 15 minutes by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer, which connects us with the “spiritual DNA” of Jesus. His prayer is the “spiritual DNA” of all Christian worship and stewardship.
* quoted in Context, December 2004, Part A, pp. 6-7.
Wiki-images of the Egan Nativity shepherds and the Visit of the Magi are in the public domain.

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