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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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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog When we suffer, we don’t just come to understand the pain of Christ’s cross more, we come to understand the depth of God’s love for us: that he would endure such pain for us—in our place. We have a God who endured death so we would never have to do so.

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