Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
Having witnessed the miracle of the birth of the Son of God at Christmas, at least through the witness of Sacred Scripture and the lens of liturgy, and having reflected on Jesus as a member of the Holy Family, a model for all of what we might hope to be, today is the day we consider that Jesus, in his kingship, his priesthood and foretold death is the fullness of God’s revelation: the visible form of the invisible God.
To look at Jesus today is to look again. And every time we look again, we will find more. After all, the definition of Mystery isn’t something that we can’t understand. Mystery is something about which we can always understand something more, but can never exhaust the infinite reality of what we behold. So many people throughout history have spent their lives explaining, solving and expressing the Mystery of God, and finally arrive at the realization that, no matter how much we can discover and know, we have only scratched the surface of the depths of God.
The Epiphany of Jesus is the ageless manifestation of God himself in time and space. We can spend our entire lives unpacking the Mystery.
What we can celebrate immediately is that we are changed. His presence in our humanity, because we are so intimately connected with one another, is something that touches each and every one of us, regardless of time and space, because for God there is no time and space. God is everywhere and in all times at once. Suddenly our humanity is charged with a new divine Presence. Even before we get to the sacraments and our understanding of how God orders and shapes our lives through the grace of the sacraments we can understand how our humanity is different. He reveals it himself today, and in his love.
When God made us as humans, he gave us a nature that includes several good habits, or virtues, which order us and make us uniquely human. Philosophers have long called these good habits (as a virtue is the opposite of a vice and a vice is a bad habit) Natural Virtues, or Cardinal Virtues. They are four: Justice, or the intuition of doing right from wrong; temperance, the middle road avoiding any extreme behavior as all things are meant to be used in balance; fortitude, a kind of ability to finish the job set before you; and prudence, or what I would call common sense (which isn’t common). Prudence, a kind of natural or primal wisdom, is the glue that brings the other three into harmony in life situations and allows us to make choices and live our lives according to our human dignity. All according to our nature.
Yet, God had to give us a free will in order to make these choices, and so he allowed sin to enter the world. The Cardinal Virtues, though present in every human person (they are arguably the attributes that actually make us human), through sin became disordered, so order had to be reestablished. Not a kind of enforced order, but a chance for each and every one of us in perfect freedom to make the right decision from moment to moment. Humanity had to be transformed from within. God chose to send his Son to make this happen, by the “putting on” of a new mind and a new heart that has divine, not human origin, so that our intellect and will might be informed, guided, by divine love. His divine Presence, because we are so interconnected, touched each of us, in all times and in all places.
What happened in Jesus (and Mary, by God’s mercy) happens for us in Baptism, as we become adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus, he, the “first fruits.” Mary was created before the order of Baptism to be able to say “yes” freely to God, as we are now able to do, free from the slavery of sin through Baptism by water and Spirit. We are given to put on the mind and heart of Jesus with a new set of good habits, called Supernatural Virtues, or Theological Virtues, the gifts of Baptism: Faith, Hope and Love. These are the new paradigms, or measures, by which we order our acts and “put on” the mind of Christ. To love enemies, to hope in the midst of great doubt and difficulty, to offer our lives through our belief, because we accept and seek God. These are activities in today’s world that seem to be anything but “natural,” yet they form the center of our spirituality and life in God’s family.
All this is revealed today: Christ is made known to the nations—to those who are “outside” the chosen circle of believers. This is us, who celebrate that identity of Christ which we have received, and by which we have been changed. May this image of Christ be strong and generous in all of us as we go from this season of joy into mission, in the ordinary time of daily life.
God bless you,