Overdoing It – Pastor’s Reflection (January 7, 2018)
I put together this bulletin’s “Week of Grace” before writing this essay, and it occurred to me that the Epiphany antiphon I placed there merited some commentary. I reproduce it below for your convenience.
Today the Church has been joined to her heavenly bridegroom since Christ has purged her of her sins in the River Jordan: the Magi hasten to the royal wedding feast and offer gifts: the wedding guests rejoice since Christ has changed water into wine, alleluia.
To borrow a culinary concept, all the elements of this text marry each other in the image of the wedding. In this lies the coherence of the words, and of their interpretation of today’s mystery. Bottom line, this text says, “if you really want to recognize Christ, think about getting married.” What an absence of analysis! The antiphon does not spell out Christ’s identity as Son of Mary and Divine Son of God, His Eternal Word. Neither does it delve into his teaching. Finding out who Christ is, and what He teaches comes after recognizing him. Think about how this matches human life. You fall in love, and then, maybe, you figure out why.
The Scriptures themselves back this up. When the Magi arrive at Bethlehem, they conduct no methodical interview of Mary and Joseph to ascertain if the child in the manger corresponds to their divination. They simply fall down in homage and present their gifts. When Jesus stands before John the Baptist to be washed in the Jordan, his cousin asks for no ID. The Father does not say, “This is my beloved Son,” until John has already said, “I should be baptized by you.” At the Wedding at Cana, the followers of Jesus believe in him because he changes water into wine, but that sign does not say outright who Jesus is, or what he teaches. The nuptial work of the Holy Spirit precipitates each of these recognitions, so that the Lord is recognized before he can be explained. From the recognition, flow doctrine and its authority.
In the weeks ahead we will see the same pattern in the calling of the disciples. They encounter Jesus, he calls them, and they follow. He gives no manifesto, no platform, only a summons, and it is obeyed.
In all these encounters we find the immediacy, the urgency, and the intimacy of falling in love. Imprudence and extravagance mark each of these episodes. The gifts of the Magi are as over the top as their journey is long. John the Baptist subsumes his own ministry in deference to Jesus, and the disciples place their whole future into his hands. Even Jesus himself creates vastly too much wine at Cana.
Quite simply, Jesus presents himself as the lover of the human race and of each soul, and this is not a romantic image, but the law for the authentic spread of the Gospel. As Jesus presents himself to the Magi, to John the Baptist, to the wedding party at Cana, and to his disciples, so he also presents himself to us, and enables us to present him to others.
So often Christians forget the recognition, the falling in love with Christ that grounds and orients the practice of the faith. Without this, our starting point lies in the moral life and the discipline of the life of faith. Both of these are very happy things if they retain their connection to the recognition. But when this is absent evangelization looks like telling the world to behave, and since we do not succeed in the behavior department ourselves the effort falls flat.
Rather, I must start by telling people that the Risen Lord has come to meet me at the very point of my incompleteness. He has made my barrenness fruitful, connected me in my isolation, and accepted me beyond my achievements. After sin upon sin upon sin, he remains my friend, the one who does not give up on me. In response to this I embrace the disciplines of the Christian life, for the recognition of my soul’s best friend shows them to be intimacies.
Here lies a whole new perspective on going to Mass, pursuing justice, practicing temperance, and deploying energy.
Think about it. Is there someone you know who might be ready for this encounter. If you invite someone else to share the fulfillment you find in Christ, the wedding happiness in your own heart is sure to grow.