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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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Bernard of Clairvaux: Man of the century! Woman of the century! You see such terms applied to so many today—“golfer of the century,” “composer of the century,” “right tackle of the century”—that the line no longer has any punch. But Western Europe's “man of the twelfth century,” without doubt or controversy, has to be Bernard of Clairvaux. Adviser of popes, preacher of the Second Crusade, defender of the faith, healer of a schism, reformer of a monastic Order, Scripture scholar, theologian and eloquent preacher: any one of these titles would distinguish an ordinary man. Yet Bernard was all of these—and he still retained a burning desire to return to the hidden monastic life of his younger days. 
<p>In the year 1111, at the age of 20, Bernard left his home to join the monastic community of Citeaux. His five brothers, two uncles and some 30 young friends followed him into the monastery. Within four years a dying community had recovered enough vitality to establish a new house in the nearby valley of Wormwoods, with Bernard as abbot. The zealous young man was quite demanding, though more on himself than others. A slight breakdown of health taught him to be more patient and understanding. The valley was soon renamed Clairvaux, the valley of light. </p><p>His ability as arbitrator and counselor became widely known. More and more he was lured away from the monastery to settle long-standing disputes. On several of these occasions he apparently stepped on some sensitive toes in Rome. Bernard was completely dedicated to the primacy of the Roman See. But to a letter of warning from Rome, he replied that the good fathers in Rome had enough to do to keep the Church in one piece. If any matters arose that warranted their interest, he would be the first to let them know. </p><p>Shortly thereafter it was Bernard who intervened in a full-blown schism and settled it in favor of the Roman pontiff against the antipope. </p><p>The Holy See prevailed on Bernard to preach the Second Crusade throughout Europe. His eloquence was so overwhelming that a great army was assembled and the success of the crusade seemed assured. The ideals of the men and their leaders, however, were not those of Abbot Bernard, and the project ended as a complete military and moral disaster. </p><p>Bernard felt responsible in some way for the degenerative effects of the crusade. This heavy burden possibly hastened his death, which came August 20, 1153.</p> American Catholic Blog One of the things that we need to remember is that we’re preaching Jesus, not the institutional Church. It’s easy to get caught up in the rules and regulations of the institution and forget that we are saved not by the Church but by the person of Jesus or the Church as the body of Christ.

 
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