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Bible Reflections View Comments

Beginning Where We Find Ourselves
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, January 6, 2013
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We hear a lot about spiritual seekers these days. More than at any other time in recent history, we can’t assume that children will follow their parents’ and grandparents’ faith traditions. Increasingly they may come from families that had no shared faith tradition. And so they find themselves searching for meaning in a variety of spiritual practices, whether mainline denominations or eclectic fringe groups.

But all of us, no matter our upbringing, find ourselves seeking the right path at different times in our lives. Our enthusiasm for and involvement in questions of faith and spirituality is often determined by what’s happening in our day-to-day lives. A new baby, the death of a loved one, a new job or extended unemployment, illness, a vacation of a lifetime can all make us feel closer to God—or farther away!

But what we discover if we take our spiritual search seriously is that we will find God, not only at the end of the journey but all the way along the path. The First Reading, from the prophet Isaiah, is the same one read at Midnight Mass on Christmas. Addressed to the people of God enduring the Babylonian Exile, it promises a great light for those walking in darkness and dwelling in a land of gloom. The writers of Sacred Scripture knew that people most often turn to God in times of difficulty and despair. We’re no different.

The story from Matthew’s Gospel about the visit of the Magi forms the basis of this Feast of Epiphany. We’re fascinated by the exotic backdrop of this story. Were these visitors kings, wise men, astrologers, astronomers, philosophers? We don’t know for sure. What we do know is that they were seekers. Their field of study had led them to an awareness of a great event taking place in a distant land, one that was worth a long and arduous journey, the journey of a lifetime.

We can discover in the experience of the magi questions about our own spiritual search. Often we begin our search in ordinary and expected ways. But in the course of asking questions and discovering answers, we suddenly come upon a manifestation of faith in God’s love for us that turns many of our conventional expectations upside down.

The real heart of this feast refers to the manifestation of God’s presence in our human world, the showing forth of the kingdom of heaven. God’s presence in our midst is something we must search for not because it’s hiding but because we can’t always see it.

The magi found the child because they sought him. They arrive in Bethlehem, worship the child and present him with symbolic gifts: gold for kingship, frankincense for divinity, myrrh for the death that he would both endure and conquer.

We each have unique gifts to offer the world, and today’s solemnity of the Epiphany reminds us that we are called, first and foremost, to bring those gifts to the Lord of all who was born in a humble stable in Bethlehem. We do this best by sharing our gifts with those who walk the way with us.

In the spirit of the magi, give a special gift to someone who most brings alive for you the presence of God. It need not be expensive; it might be simply a gift of time and attention. Let them know that you see in them the face of God.


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John Henry Newman: John Henry Newman, the 19th-century's most important English-speaking Roman Catholic theologian, spent the first half of his life as an Anglican and the second half as a Roman Catholic. He was a priest, popular preacher, writer, and eminent theologian in both Churches. <br /><br />Born in London, England, he studied at Oxford's Trinity College, was a tutor at Oriel College and for 17 years was vicar of the university church, St. Mary the Virgin. He eventually published eight volumes of <i>Parochial and Plain Sermons</i> as well as two novels. His poem, "Dream of Gerontius," was set to music by Sir Edward Elgar.<br /> <br />After 1833, Newman was a prominent member of the Oxford Movement, which emphasized the Church's debt to the Church Fathers and challenged any tendency to consider truth as completely subjective.<br /> <br />Historical research made Newman suspect that the Roman Catholic Church was in closest continuity with the Church that Jesus established. In 1845, he was received into full communion as a Catholic. Two years later he was ordained a Catholic priest in Rome and joined the Congregation of the Oratory, founded three centuries earlier by St. Philip Neri. Returning to England, Newman founded Oratory houses in Birmingham and London and for seven years served as rector of the Catholic University of Ireland. <br /><br />Before Newman, Catholic theology tended to ignore history, preferring instead to draw deductions from first principles—much as plane geometry does. After Newman, the lived experience of believers was recognized as a key part of theological reflection.<br /> <br />Newman eventually wrote 40 books and 21,000 letters that survive. Most famous are his book-length <i>Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine</i>, <i>On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine</i>, <i>Apologia Pro Vita Sua</i> (his spiritual autobiography up to 1864) and <i>Essay on the Grammar of Assent</i>. He accepted Vatican I's teaching on papal infallibility while noting its limits, which many people who favored that definition were reluctant to do.<br /><br />When Newman was named a cardinal in 1879, he took as his motto <i>"Cor ad cor loquitur"</i> (Heart speaks to heart). He was buried in Rednal (near Birmingham) 11 years later. After his grave was exhumed in 2008, a new tomb was prepared at the Oratory church in Birmingham.<br /><br />Three years after Newman died, a Newman Club for Catholic students began at the University of Pittsburgh. In time, his name was linked to ministry centers at many public and private colleges and universities in the United States.<br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified Newman on September 19, 2010, at Crofton Park (near Birmingham). The pope noted Newman's emphasis on the vital place of revealed religion in civilized society but also praised his pastoral zeal for the sick, the poor, the bereaved and those in prison. American Catholic Blog God’s job, I think, is to keep lovingly disrupting our lives, and our job is to see if there are fresh opportunities for faith hidden within those disruptions. As a result, God keeps finding fresh ways to shake up our complacencies and challenge us to resist the seductive temptation to play the victim.

 
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