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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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Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi: Mystical ecstasy is the elevation of the spirit to God in such a way that the person is aware of this union with God while both internal and external senses are detached from the sensible world. Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi was so generously given this special gift of God that she is called the "ecstatic saint." 
<p>She was born into a noble family in Florence in 1566. The normal course would have been for Catherine de' Pazzi to have married wealth and enjoyed comfort, but she chose to follow her own path. At nine she learned to meditate from the family confessor. She made her first Communion at the then-early age of 10 and made a vow of virginity one month later. When 16, she entered the Carmelite convent in Florence because she could receive Communion daily there. </p><p>Catherine had taken the name Mary Magdalene and had been a novice for a year when she became critically ill. Death seemed near so her superiors let her make her profession of vows from a cot in the chapel in a private ceremony. Immediately after, she fell into an ecstasy that lasted about two hours. This was repeated after Communion on the following 40 mornings. These ecstasies were rich experiences of union with God and contained marvelous insights into divine truths. </p><p>As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, her confessor asked Mary Magdalene to dictate her experiences to sister secretaries. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three books record ecstasies from May of 1584 through Pentecost week the following year. This week was a preparation for a severe five-year trial. The fourth book records that trial and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal. Another book, <i>Admonitions</i>, is a collection of her sayings arising from her experiences in the formation of women religious. </p><p>The extraordinary was ordinary for this saint. She read the thoughts of others and predicted future events. During her lifetime, she appeared to several persons in distant places and cured a number of sick people. </p><p>It would be easy to dwell on the ecstasies and pretend that Mary Magdalene only had spiritual highs. This is far from true. It seems that God permitted her this special closeness to prepare her for the five years of desolation that followed when she experienced spiritual dryness. She was plunged into a state of darkness in which she saw nothing but what was horrible in herself and all around her. She had violent temptations and endured great physical suffering. She died in 1607 at 41, and was canonized in 1669.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, keep me in your care. Guard me in my actions. Teach me to love, and help me to turn to you throughout the day. The world is filled with temptations. As I move through my day, keep me close. May those I encounter feel your loving presence. Lord, be the work of my hands and my heart. Amen.

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