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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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Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. All were canonized by St. John Paul II. 
<p>Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. </p><p>The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. </p><p>Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. </p><p>Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. </p><p>The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. </p><p>By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. </p><p>During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.</p> American Catholic Blog To replace our sins with virtues may seem like a daunting task, but fortunately we can follow the example of the saints who have 
successfully defeated these sins in their lifetimes. They provide us with a way forward so that we, too, can live holy, virtuous lives.

 
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