Fr. Joe Nassal shares his reflection for Epiphany 2021.
Please join Fr. Keith, Vicky, Tim, Fr. David Matz, and Gretchen Bailey, for this recording of December 29th’s Tapping the Wine Cellar! We hope you can take some time to explore the readings for the Christmas season using this video as a jumping-off point.
by Fr. David Matz, C.PP.S., Sonnino Mission House, Berkeley
I guess for me, my love for the Epiphany started Way back in my first year of formation with the Precious Blood.
I was working at St. James in the inner-city Kansas City and developed a love for the “authentic” 12 days of Christmas. I knew I was doing something subversive with the culture around me because for others Christmas started on Thanksgiving or before and Advent became a lost season. So, I was one of those, “It’s not Christmas yet!” While going to Christmas parties that started literally, the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
My friends at St. James, helped me to research traditions that were abandoned long ago by my own family, the actual 12 days of Christmas, putting up the living Christmas tree after December 16th. In our family we always tried to keep the tree up until the 12 of January because of the slew of birthdays in my family, beginning with my mother on December 23rd, my oldest and youngest brothers and concluding with my twin Donald’s and my own birthday on January 12th.
So, I prepared. Advent was preparation time, cookies, cakes, lights, decorations, and trees, all preparing for that 12 days. Because with all the work in the Church, I never did get home to the family until the evening of Christmas Day.
Now in community, it made it more special that Gaspar del Bufalo was born on January 6th. So, given my love the Twelfth Night fostered in me by some very dear friends who would soon to become Companions, we began the Epiphany party on January 6th or the Sunday nearby, to not only have a birthday party for Gaspar but to be a light in the darkness at our house on Rockhill Road.
What a party!
It was shortly afterward that I became aware of the blessing of the door on the Epiphany. And an even more spiritual plunge into the mysteries we celebrate on the Epiphany.
Epiphany means to “reveal” a “manifestation” of something divine. We celebrate the three epiphanies of Jesus. The Magi acknowledgment of Jesus as Messiah, Son of God and Savior of the world; the Baptism of Jesus by John, and can you guess it? The miracle of the wine at the wedding at Canaan.
We mark our doors and ask God’s blessing upon all those who dwell within the home and to always maintain a door open to welcome the presence of Christ, most especially in the strangers who knock on our doors. This blessing is done because of the Magi’s visit to Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in Bethlehem. We have conflated the infant narratives to believe they came to the Manger (Luke), but in Matthew’s Gospel, they enter the house where the Holy family was staying. They entered through a door, Gaspar (Caspar), Melchior, and Balthazar, interesting note: we don’t really know the number of Magi, we only know of the three gifts offered: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The blessing of the main portal or door, using chalk, we place the sign: “20 + C + M + B +20.” Caspar and Gaspar are derivatives of the same name. But the “CMB” literally stands for, “May Christ Bless this House.” “Cristus Mansomen Benedicat.” This is an outward sign of our dedication to Christ! That we will honor the presence of Christ in all who dwell in our home, and to all, we welcome into it through its main portal! Christ present in our midst.
I want to conclude these words by Fr. Larry Gillick. “In the darkness of these days in which we live, Epiphany is a feast of dayspring, because God’s light only comes to us thoroughly mingles with the grubby reality of human life. Why else would he become an infant?”
Jesus Christ did not arrive to erase our troubles but to join us in them, to be a quiet light in our darkness, not a blinding replacement for the dark.
So, we must be like the Magi, We must have our own puzzling, sleepless nights and we must search and search and never rest until we see the Light as God chose to reveal it!
That search leads us to take through the doors of our houses and to take the Christlight of compassion, mercy, and love into the darkness of our own world.
Can I end with a story? It’s one of my favorites: One ominously dark night a father asks his young child to go out to the barn to feed the horses. It was dark outside and there was no light illuminating the path to the barn. “Daddy, I can’t go!” Cried the son, “I’m afraid of the dark!” When the dad looked outside, he noticed the ominous darkness. He brought out a lantern, which shown brightly. “Take this lantern,” said the father.
“You see the end of the light?” The son replied, “Yes. I can see to the fence.” “Now walk to the edge of the light, right to the fence.” The son did just what Dad had asked. “Now how far can you see?” The son replied, “I can see to the barn!” Dad said, “Then walk to the barn. Now, what can you see?” The son replied, “I see the horses.” The Dad said, “Good, now feed the horses!”
by Vicky Otto, Companion Director
When I was a parish minister, one of my favorite liturgies was the Mass on New Year’s Day. It was a quiet, reflective, and prayerful time for the community without all the excessive stress we put on the Christmas celebrations. On January 1st, we celebrate the solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. On the eighth day of Christmas, we honor Mary’s role in the plan of salvation for all of us.
The Gospel for the day is familiar, Luke 2:16-21, the visit of the shepherds to the manger that we heard on Christmas Day. There is a line that strikes me in the Gospel. In verse 19, we read, “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” I prefer the words found in other translations of that same verse, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
As I reflected upon these words, I wondered what Mary treasured and what she pondered. I wonder if she treasured the moment because she saw the fruition of Gabriel’s proclamation with confirmation by the story the shepherds were sharing. Or perhaps she was treasuring the moment because she knew that her child was in some sense the Son of God. The lesson Mary shares with us at this moment is that she stayed present in the moment. She knew about the angels that the shepherds were speaking about, but she listened again to their story; she treasured the words that were being said about her Son, and her God and Savior of the world. I imagine if more people had come to the stable, she would have treasured each of their stories. Like all of us, I’m sure she had questions and pondered the future as well. What is extraordinary is that despite these questions and fear of the unknown, she didn’t let them stop her. She continued forward to fulfill her part in the plan for salvation with faith and with trust.
As we come to the end of 2020, what moments do we treasure, and what do we ponder? Many perhaps would say good riddance to 2020, but my hope is that we remember and treasure the moments of grace and love that we experienced throughout this challenging year. We need to treasure the moments of sacrifice and concern that people shared with each other, often with no fanfare or acknowledgment. Maybe we need to ponder that we are not the same people we were at the beginning of 2020 and the pandemic. What’s changed? What might hold us back as we go forward in 2021? My prayer is that as we begin this year, we follow the lessons of our Blessed Mother and stay focused on the gifts of mercy and love that we have been given through the birth of our Savior and continue our journey of discipleship with the same faith and trust that Mary did.
by Tim Deveney, Director of Precious Blood Volunteers
This reading is a story that has some resonance with our lives.
Connection with the story of the Jewish people
Matthew’s account of the Holy Family’s fleeing to Egypt parallels the experience of the Jewish people in exile in Egypt, and also in Babylon.
This story is dark, and unexpectedly so. We celebrate Christmas with “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night,” and other hymns that talk about light, about the victory of life over death, about a savior, the Messiah. In this Gospel, it’s a family being uprooted from their home and lives to get away from a tyrant who is scared of his grip on his power being threatened. A tyrant who will do whatever it takes to preserve his rule. Herod does the unthinkable and has every male child under the age of two killed.
Sitting with those last lines of these verses talking about Rachel weeping for her children. You can feel the pain of those parents and the people who loved them. All the hope that a child brings is snuffed out at the orders of an egotistical, narcissistic, petty, jealous little man like Herod who has way too much power and at the hands of soldiers who are just following orders. If we listen closely we can hear the cries of parents who have had their children taken away from them at the US-Mexico border. We can hear the cries of mothers whose children are no more because of violence. We can hear the wailing of families in places like Syria, Yemen, and Ethiopia whose family members have been killed because of petty little people like Herod.
Listening is what we need to do, but listening for the right voices. We hear a lot of voices, and some of us like to hear our own voice! The characters in this story: Joseph, the wise men, and Herod all listen to voices. Herod is listening to the voices that tell him his power is threatened by a small child and that preserving that power is worth killing for. On the other hand, we have the Wise Men and Joseph who hear God’s voice. The Wise Men hear God’s voice by watching the signs, in this case, a star that has led them to honor a newborn king. I imagine that they don’t fully comprehend what is happening and are probably confounded that this is happening in a backwater like Bethlehem, but they are trusting in their knowledge of signs of something really important. For Joseph, like the Joseph in the Hebrew Scriptures, he hears God’s voice in a dream. As Jesuit Father James Martin notes often Joseph never says a word in the Gospels. He listens for God’s voice. He gives that space in his life to follow what God is calling him to. The voice that calls us to justice, mercy, peace, and truth. The one that calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all of our might. One of the takeaways from this is for us to silence ourselves enough to hear God’s voice amid all of the other voices in our lives. You might be surprised like the Wise Men and hear a message from God in the signs of nature, or in your dreams!