Sunday, January 31, 2016

Between Rodents and Rambutan


4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Picture: cc Peter Trimming

Sisters and brothers, some months ago, some time last year, the rambutan tree in the garden behind our church started bearing fruit. Have you ever seen ripe rambutan hanging from a tree. They’re quite enticing. Unfortunately, however, we didn’t get much of a chance to taste the fruit. Do you know why? The squirrels beat us to it.

Which is frustrating enough. But what made things worse was the way in which the squirrels did it. You see, they didn’t bother to pluck the fruit and carry them away. They simply hollowed out the juicy parts. And left the empty skins still hanging on the tree. So that, at a glance, it looked like the fruit was still there. Waiting for us to pluck them. Cheeky little devils! Those squirrels. Fooling us into mistaking empty skins for ripe rambutan.

Hollowed out husks, in place of juicy fruit. That’s the image that comes to mind as I reflect on our Mass readings today. Nice to look at on the outside. But completely empty on the inside. Isn’t this something like what the second reading is talking about? If I have the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing. What do gongs and cymbals have in common? They’re both hollow. They can be very loud and noisy. But also utterly empty.

The same can be said of a human life without the love of God. I may go through the motions of busying myself with many things. Even with apparently pious and holy activities. I can even let them take my body to burn it. But without love, it will do me no good whatever. Like what those squirrels did with the rambutan, all my anxious activity, my frantic rushing about, often just leaves me hollow. It fills up my time. But not my heart. I remain terribly empty. Always craving to be filled.

Isn’t this why there are those of us who try so desperately to fill the emptiness with other things. Yet more busyness. More activity. Like shopping, or the internet. Perhaps even sinful habits. Which then makes us feel guilty. Bad about ourselves. Even more hollow. More empty. And the cycle continues. Outwardly, we may look fruitful. But inwardly, if we were to be honest with ourselves, we realise the sad truth. An empty skin. A hollowed-out husk. That’s all there is. And what a pity. Surely, this is no way live a human life.

But if just making myself busy doesn’t help, then what does? How and from where do I find the love to fill the empty space within my heart? The readings provide us with an answer by inviting us to ponder the experience of two people.

In the first reading, God calls the prophet Jeremiah for a difficult mission. At a time when the Babylonian empire is growing in strength. And posing a serious threat to the kingdom of Judah. At a time when many voices are calling for political alliances to be forged. And military action to be taken. Against Babylon. God sends Jeremiah to persuade the people to submit. To let themselves be conquered. Even to allow their precious Temple to be destroyed. And they themselves to be sent into exile.

A difficult mission, to say the least. Is it any wonder that the people refuse the message. And turn against the messenger. Yet God believes that Jeremiah is up to the task. Why? Because God will not leave Jeremiah empty, but full. Not hollow, but solid. I… will make you into a fortified city, a pillar of iron, and a wall of bronze to confront all this land…. They will fight against you but shall not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you… In calling him, God also fills Jeremiah. Giving him strength to face the trials to come.

We see something similar in the experience of Jesus in the gospel. Like Jeremiah, Jesus too is called by God, and sent on a difficult mission. We saw this already in the reading last week. The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor… And this is the unpopular message that Jesus is called to proclaim. The news that God wishes to save not just Jews, but also gentiles. Not just an exclusive group. But everyone. Especially those most in need. Regardless of race, language, or religion.

And it is because Jesus stubbornly chooses to proclaim this message of universal salvation that the people in the synagogue suddenly turn against him. At first, the reading tells us that Jesus won the approval of all. But then, instead of keeping quiet. And going along with the people, Jesus chooses instead to uncover their prejudice. To talk about how no prophet is ever accepted in his own country… And the people react by becoming so enraged that they want to kill him.

Again, we may ask what it is that gives Jesus the courage to proclaim this unpopular message. Even in the face of stiff opposition. Clearly, like Jeremiah, Jesus is not hollow, but solid. Not empty, but full. Full of the power of the spirit poured out on him at his baptism. Full of the same purposeful love of God that Paul writes about in the second reading. Difficult though his mission is, like Jeremiah, Jesus lives an incredibly fruitful life. Because he is filled with God’s love. Empowered by God’s Spirit.

And isn’t this the same love that we need so much today? A love without which we remain only empty husks. Hollowed-out shells. Consuming and consuming. But forever remaining hungry. Doing and doing. But forever feeling unfulfilled. What we need is the love that God provides. A love that has the power to truly fill us. To give our hearts new courage. And our lives new purpose. A love that we can then be sent to share with others. Especially those most in need.

Sisters and brothers, whether we care to admit it or not, life in this modern world of ours is often infested with mischievous squirrels. Hyperactive little things, tempting us to allow ourselves to be hollowed out. To permit our lives to be emptied of meaning. The good news, however, is that, in the midst of all this, God continues to call us. To fill us. To send us out.

What must we do, my dear friends, to guard ourselves against the squirrels? And to open ourselves to God today?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Reversing Immunity


3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Picture: cc John Tornow

Sisters and brothers, does coffee have any effect on you? We all know the power of caffeine. We know it has the ability to wake us up. To energise us. And yet, don’t we also know of people on whom this power seems to have little or no effect? Just the other day, I met someone who told me that he can drink up to four or five cups of coffee a day and feel nothing. We know the reason for this. Very likely, he has developed a tolerance for, an immunity to, caffeine. By consuming too much of it. But experts say that it is actually possible to reverse this tolerance. To get over the immunity. By fasting from caffeine for a certain period of time. So that the body can regain its initial sensitivity. Can enjoy, once again, the power of caffeine.

Power, immunity, and reversal. 3 key elements in the story of caffeine. I mention them only because I think there’s something similar in our Mass readings today. Of course, our readings are not about caffeine. We are not trying to make you drink more coffee. The readings are, instead, about the Word of God. But, like caffeine, the story of the Word of God is also about power, and immunity, and reversal.

The responsorial psalm gives us a very impressive description of the powerful effects of God’s Word. Not unlike caffeine, the Word has the power to wake us up. We’re told that it revives the soul… gives wisdom to the simple… gladdens the heart… gives light to the eyes. And the psalm response tells us how God’s Word comes to have such marvellous effects on us: It’s because your words, Lord, are Spirit and life. And if God’s Word is life itself. Then experiencing its power is truly a matter of death and life.

The first reading shows us just what the power of God’s Word looks like in the concrete. What happens to people when they listen to God’s Word being proclaimed. First, we’re told about how the people respond by expressing their deep reverence for the Word. They stand. They raise their hands in praise. They prostrate themselves in worship. They express agreement by saying Amen! Amen! And, what is perhaps more impressive than anything else–especially to modern people like us, who are so easily distracted by the slightest thing–is how closely and attentively the people listen to the Word.

The reading tells us that the Word of God is proclaimed to them from early morning to noon. That’s a good 3 or 4 hours at least! And, even though the assembly includes children old enough to understand, there is no sign of restlessness or boredom. No mention of people texting or tweeting. Or rushing off to move their improperly parked cars. Everyone just keeps quiet. And listens. Closely and attentively. How do we know this? Because we’re told that they were all in tears as they listened to the words of the Law! And, not only does the Word make them cry, it also moves them to share with others. With those who have nothing prepared ready. Such is the power of the Word of God.

And yet, this wasn’t always the case. The powerful effects of God’s Word were not always so keenly felt. In order for that to happen, certain obstacles had to be overcome. Immunities had to be reversed. The first of these is ignorance. In the first reading, many of the people have actually not been following God’s ways for quite some time. One reason for this is that they had forgotten God’s commandments. While they were living faraway in exile. How is this ignorance reversed?

After having been allowed to return to their homeland. And after having started rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. The people stumble upon a Book of the Law. They read it. And learn again, what they had once forgotten. That is what is actually happening in the first reading today. Ignorance is being reversed by learning. By re-learning. By recalling what has been forgotten.

But that’s not all. It’s not just a matter of ignorance. Of not knowing. For we can know the Word of God, and still not keep it. One reason for this is incomprehension. We may know the Word. But only in theory. We fail to appreciate its practical implications for our life. We see this also in the first reading. When the people are moved to tears by the proclamation of the Word, very likely they are sad, because they realise how much they have fallen short. And yet, the Word is not meant to make them feel bad about themselves. It is rather meant to energise. To inspire. To move them to rejoice. But in order for the people to see this, they need help. They need guidance. Wise advise provided by their leaders. Do not be sad: the joy of the Lord is your stronghold. Incomprehension is reversed by guidance.

We see this also in the second reading. The Corinthian Christians are blessed with many different spiritual gifts. But, instead of bringing people closer, these gifts tear people apart. People use them to compete with, instead of to care for, one another. They are unable to enjoy the unifying power of God’s Word, because they fail to translate their theoretical knowledge into practical understanding. They lack comprehension. They need guidance. Someone to help them reverse their immunity to the Word. Someone like Paul. Now you together are Christ’s body; but each of you is a different part of it. Ignorance is reversed by learning. Incomprehension by guidance.

There is one more reason why people might become immune to the power of God’s Word. And it’s found in the gospel. Not just in today’s gospel. But especially in its continuation next week. Jesus stands up in the synagogue in his hometown, and proclaims the Word of God. After which, he preaches a one-sentence homily: This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen. What Jesus is saying is really quite amazing. That, precisely as he reads from the scriptures, the power of God’s Word is already taking effect. God is bringing good news to the poor. Proclaiming liberty to captives and to the blind new sight. Setting the downtrodden free…

And yet, as we will see in next week’s reading. Not only will the people not be able to appreciate this power. They will reject Jesus. Even try to kill him. Why? Because they are prejudiced. They cling to their own narrow ideas of who can be saved. Only Jews and not foreigners. In the language of St. Ignatius, they are bound by inordinate attachments. And this can only be reversed by letting go of their prejudice. So as to cling to God. St. Ignatius calls this holy indifference.

Ignorance is reversed by learning. Incomprehension by guidance. Inordinate attachment by indifference. This is how the power of God’s Word can be felt once again by those who may have become immune. A power that wakes us up. A power that fills us with joy. A power that binds us to God and to one another. A power that motivates us to share God’s love with a waiting world. A power that is a matter of life and death.

Sisters and brothers, it’s actually quite okay if caffeine has lost its effect on us. But what a great tragedy it would be if we were to remain immune to the life-giving power of God’s Word.

How is God continuing to reverse this immunity today?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Gathering The Scattered


2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Picture: cc KaCey97078

Sisters and brothers, I have a vague memory of an incident from my days in primary school that still brings a smile to my face whenever I think of it. We were in class. The teacher was teaching. Suddenly we heard a very loud clattering sound. Which drowned out whatever it was the teacher was saying. Actually, it wasn’t just one sound. But many. And the clattering went on for quite a long time. Can you guess what had happened?

During the recess period earlier, one of our classmates had experienced great success at the playground. It was the season for marbles. And this little guy had won a great many of them. Which he then proceeded to stuff into one of his pockets. Unfortunately, the pocket must have sprung a leak. And all the marbles happily escaped. Bouncing up and down repeatedly, all over the hard concrete floor. Much to the amusement of the rest of the class. The teacher, however, wasn’t so amused. Our poor classmate had all his hard-won treasures confiscated that day. I can only imagine how terribly embarrassed he must have been. To, quite literally, lose his marbles in such a very public way. How helpless he must have felt to witness the scattering of the things he had worked so hard to gather together.

Of course, these days, no one plays with marbles anymore. At least not here in Singapore, I don’t think. And yet, don’t we know the feeling of having things escape from our grasp? Of watching helplessly as important parts of our lives get scattered about before us? Things that we may try very hard to gather up, and to keep together. But which, despite our best efforts, just somehow continue to elude us. Things like important relationships, for example. Within the family. Or in school. Or at the workplace. Or even here in church. And what about our own inner lives? Do you ever feel as though you were losing your grip on yourself? As though the different parts of your life were slowly slipping through your finger tips? What can we do when this happens? How do we gather back together again the things that insist on being scattered?

This, my dear friends, is what I think our readings are all about on this 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Each reading speaks of a marvellous transformation brought about by God. The most obvious is probably the one in the gospel. Here Jesus transforms water into wine. But why? The gospel tells us that this is not just a miracle. A work of power. But a sign. It points to something deeper. What is it? What is the significance for us of the Lord transforming ordinary water into wine?

The first reading helps to guide us towards an answer. Here, God promises to transform not water into wine. But a forsaken and abandoned nation, once again, into the people of God. God promises to gather back to himself the people who have allowed themselves to be scattered. Scattered not only by foreign enemies. But scattered, above all, by their own rebelliousness. Their own refusal to obey God. Their own insistence on worshipping false gods. In the first reading, God promises to do what my primary school classmate could not. Gather together again precious objects scattered all over a hard concrete floor.

Isn’t this the deeper significance of the miracle at Cana? And isn’t this why it is so fitting that it should have taken place at a wedding? For what is a wedding, if not the joining together of those who were once apart? Not just individuals. But also families. And circles of friends. A gathering of what was once scattered. Now joined together. And joined not just to one another. But also, most important of all, joined in, by, and to God. Isn’t this what God promises to do for Israel? To take her as his bride. Like a young man marrying a virgin, so will the one who built you wed you, and as the bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so will your God rejoice in you. This incredible promise that God makes to Israel, and to us, finds its fulfilment in Jesus. This is the deeper meaning of the miracle at Cana. The gathering up of scattered lives, in the incredible love of God, made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Which is why the second reading is so appropriate. Even though it isn’t chosen to match the others. For here too, Paul speaks of a similar transformation. The Christian community at Corinth is blessed with many gifts and talents. Unfortunately, these blessings are being turned into a curse. Made to breed conflict and division. Instead of unity and peace. They scatter the people. Instead of gathering them together. Why? For the simple reason that the gifts are being used for self-promotion. And ego-inflation.

To counter this tendency. To gather again all that has been scattered. Paul reminds the Corinthians of the true Source and Goal of what they have received. There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them… for a good purpose. To allow our lives to flow from, to revolve around, and to be directed towards, the same Spirit. The same Lord. The same God. This, my dear friends, is the secret to true unity in diversity. This is how God gathers back together again all that has been scattered.

And it’s important that we remember exactly how God does this. By revealing the great glory of God. In the raising of the only begotten Son of God. High up on the Cross. The curse that results from self-promotion is reversed by self-emptying. As Jesus himself will say in a later chapter of John’s gospel: And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself (12:32). Gathering back together again, all that has been scattered. Individuals. Families. Communities. Nations. Religions. The whole of creation. We allow our scattered selves to be gathered together again, the more we gaze unflinchingly at the Lord’s sacrifice for us on the Cross.

Which is why it is probably no accident that tomorrow, we will begin The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. A time when we Christians pray more intensely for unity among ourselves. That we who profess a common faith in Christ. But who remain so scandalously scattered into so many different pieces. May once again allow ourselves to be gathered back together in the unity of the Spirit.

And this is something that we Christians need not just for ourselves. But also, more importantly, for the rest of the world. A world torn apart and terrorised by violence and conflict. By selfishness and sin. A world of many scattered pieces. Yearning to be gathered together again. A world into which we are sent, as witnesses to the possibility of true unity in diversity. A world into which we are sent, as water that has been transformed into wine. Filled with the Spirit’s power to draw and to keep together all that would otherwise remain apart.

My dear friends, it can be a very distressing experience to lose your marbles. What can we do to allow God to continue gathering all that has been scattered today?

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Ministry of Consolation


Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (C)
(Catechetical Sunday)

Picture: cc Nathan

Sisters and brothers, have you ever noticed this tendency among some little children? A certain behaviour that I for one find very interesting. As you know, little children cry for many different reasons. And one common reason is because they are looking for their mothers. So imagine a child crying for its absent mother. When she finally comes back, do you think the child will stop crying? Well, you’d expect it to stop, right? Since the one it was crying for has already returned. But don’t we often see children continue to cry, even after their mothers are back? And, what’s perhaps even more interesting, is that they sometimes cry even louder when they see their mother. Why do you think that’s so?

I’m no child psychologist, but if I were to hazard a guess, I think there are three possible reasons why a child continues to cry. The first is blindness. Or a lack of awareness. The child is too engrossed in its own grief, and fear, and self-pity. It is crying so hard and so loudly, it doesn’t even notice that it’s mother has actually come back. The second possible reason is protest. At first, the child cries for its mother. But then, after the mother returns, it continues to cry as a form of complaint. As a way of scolding its mother for having left it alone.

And, finally, the third possible reason is something that’s best expressed by a local Malay word. Which I’m not sure how exactly to translate. The word is manja. And it means something like attention-seeking. Or wishing to be pampered. If the child stops crying as soon as the mother returns, she may very quickly go back to her own business. So the child cries a little longer. Why? To get the mother to shower it with TLC. Tender loving care. To get her to hug and kiss the child. Reassure it of her presence. Remind it of her love. Perhaps even promise never to leave it alone again. There there. Mommy is here. Mommy loves you. Mommy won’t go away anymore…

Blindness, protest, and manja. Three possible reasons why a child keeps crying. And the loving mother’s response to all this is the same. She cuddles and consoles. Reminds and reassures. Promises not to leave again. And she keeps doing this. Until the message finally gets through. Until the child stops crying. I wonder if something like this isn’t true also of the Christmas Season, which comes to an end today. Isn’t this what we find in our Mass readings for this feast of the Baptism of the Lord?

In our readings today, we find people needing to be consoled. People who experience a deep longing. Who yearn for the presence of God. Isn’t this why the first reading begins with God calling the prophet to console my people, console them? And the gospel speaks of how, among the people of Jesus’ day, a feeling of expectancy had grown? Whether they care to admit it or not, the people in our readings are all crying out for God.

And can’t we identify with them? Don’t we ourselves experience a deep longing for God? In many and various ways, don’t we too cry out for consolation? Isn’t our longing sometimes so desperate that, like those people in the gospel, we too seem  willing to settle for less than God. We too tend to mistake God’s messengers for God Himself. Even our indulgence in sinful habits is itself a warped way of looking for God. Of looking for love in all the wrong places. As someone once said, even the one who knocks on the door of a prostitute is looking for God. And we could say the same of pornography and gambling. Alcohol and drugs. Even shopping and overwork. In many different ways we are all crying out for our mothers. Desperately waiting for God to come back and console us.

And yet, isn’t God already here? As Christians, don’t we believe that, in Christ, God has already come among us? Isn’t this what we celebrate at Christmas? The coming of Emmanuel. God-with-us. God, who promises never to leave us. God, who binds us to Himself in Christ. With a bond that can never be broken. Why then do we continue to cry? Perhaps it’s for the same reasons why little children cry even after their mothers have returned. Blindness, protest, and manja. We cry because we allow our grief and sorrow to blind us to God’s presence and action in our lives. We cry because we are angry at God for having left us in the first place. We cry because we just want to experience some TLC from God. And to our blindness, and protest, and manja, God responds in the same way a loving mother does. God keeps cuddling and consoling us. Keeps reminding and reassuring us. Promising us of God’s ongoing presence and action in our lives.

Isn’t this what the Christmas Season is about? It is a time for us to allow God to console us. To pacify us. To address our grief and our fears. Our anger and our sorrow. And isn’t this the deeper meaning of this feast of the Baptism of the Lord? Why does Jesus allow himself to be immersed in the waters of the Jordan? Not to have his sins forgiven. For he has no sins to confess. But to express his deep solidarity with us all. The river into which he enters is the flowing stream of our human reality. With all its joys and sorrows. Its fears and desires.

Which is why it is no accident that our readings pair up the scene of our Lord’s descent into the Jordan with the image of a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering the lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast. Much like a mother cuddling her crying child. In the Lord’s Baptism, our God is really consoling his people. Comforting you and me. Reassuring us of God’s presence and action among us. Promising never to leave us.

The second reading goes even further. It reminds us of God’s motivation for consoling us. It was not because he was concerned with any righteous actions we might have done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own compassion that he saved us. Like any loving mother, and unlike Santa Claus, God consoles us not because we are or have been good. But because God is loving and compassionate. Kind and merciful.

But that’s not all. there is one more important aspect to Christmas. For, in addition to Jesus, our readings today present us with another person for us to ponder. Someone that we’ve already met in the weeks of Advent. John the Baptist. He is not the Christ. He is not the mother of the child. But he too is called to console those who cry. The blind, the protesting, and the manja alike. John’s role is to help prepare them to receive God’s consolation. Like a domestic helper. Or a concerned friend or relative or babysitter. John consoles not by drawing the child to himself. But by directing it to its mother. Someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am… he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

And isn’t this the role that all of us Christians are called to play. A role that catechists fulfil in their own a special way. More than just teachers of doctrine, we are all called to be ministers of consolation. First to allow ourselves to be consoled by Christ. And then to share this same consolation with others.

Sisters and brothers, as we leave the Christmas Season, and enter into Ordinary Time, how are you being invited to share in the ministry of consolation today?

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Inner Beauty


Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

Picture: cc Mark Lee

Sisters and brothers, do you know how to make a woman hate you for the rest of her life? Especially if you’re a man? Well, I can think of two ways. The first is to wait for that critical moment, after she has dressed and made-up herself for a party, and asks you how she looks. And then to tell her, with a straight face, that you think she has inner beauty… Another way, of course, is to announce to the whole world that she has just won the title of Miss Universe. And then, 5 seconds later, to say you’re sorry. You made a mistake. She actually came in second…

Inner beauty. And second place. Two sure-fire ways to turn a female friend into a life-long foe. But why, my dear friends? Why do you think these methods are so effective? Isn’t it because all of us–even the men–all of us, want to be beautiful. We want others to consider us attractive. Never mind that we may already be married. Or going steady. Or otherwise unavailable. There’s still a part of us that yearns for beauty.

And this is quite natural. Nothing wrong with it. Except that we often have too narrow a view of what beauty means. Whether we care to admit it or not, for many of us, beauty has to do only with external appearance. With cosmetics. As you know, in our world today, beauty is a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s got to do with the food we eat. The fashion we wear. The fragrances we spray. The lotions we apply. The exercises we perform. Even the surgical procedures we undergo. Beauty is big business. And, very often, that business remains only skin deep.

Even so, there is a part of us that yearns for something more. Something that goes deeper than the skin and the hair. The shoes and the bags. Something that endures. Even after time and gravity have robbed us of the cosmetic blessings of youth. Deep down, we all long for true inner beauty.

Isn’t this why we prayed the way we did in the opening prayer just now? We asked God to grant that we, who know you already by faith, may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory. We asked God to let us see God’s beauty. Why? One reason is because to see God’s beauty is also to share in it ourselves. To become beautiful as God is beautiful. Not just cosmetically. Externally. Fleetingly. But completely. Integrally. Eternally. What does this mean? How does it happen? What must we do? These are the questions our Mass readings help us to ponder on this solemn feast of the Epiphany of the Lord.

In the first reading, God tells Jerusalem to arise and shine out, for the glory of the Lord is rising on you. The beauty of God shines upon the Holy City. The People of God. Shines in the midst of deep darkness. And it’s interesting to see what happens as a result. When God’s glory shines on Jerusalem, she is filled with God’s light. She becomes beautiful. With God’s beauty. How do we know this? Because many people are attracted to her. Not just her own sons and daughters, who have been living faraway in exile. But all the nations come to your light and kings to your dawning brightness. All nations are drawn to her beauty.

A beauty that goes far beyond external appearances. Far beyond cosmetics. The reading tells us that, when God shines upon her, Jerusalem will grow radiant, your heart throbbing and full. Unlike painted faces and powdered noses. Pedicures and manicures. The beauty that Jerusalem enjoys is not plastered onto her from without. It radiates from within. From the fullness of her heart.

In the first reading, God promises to make Jerusalem breathtakingly beautiful. With a beauty radiating from deep within. A beauty that belongs not to her. But to God. It is God’s beauty. God’s glory. Shining upon her. Within her. Through her. So that she might attract all nations to herself. And, through her, to God. What she has to do is to arise. To shine out.

And, when she does this, she helps not just herself. But everyone else as well. Especially those who do not know God. Attracted to her inner beauty, these people will themselves be made beautiful. They themselves become attractive. Drawing even more people to God. And so the cycle continues. Beauty begets beauty begets beauty… All that we need to do is to keep arising. To keep shining out. In the light and in the beauty of God. But what does this mean? And are there any obstacles?

We find answers to these questions in the gospel. Where the promise made in the first reading is fulfilled. In the newborn baby Jesus, the beauty of the God’s glory shines upon our world. And it attracts wise men. Who come to Jerusalem from the east. Why do they come? If not because they are drawn by beauty? Not just the beauty of a star, shining in the night sky. But also the beauty of what the star signifies. The beauty of God’s glory shining upon a world engulfed in darkness. The beauty of God’s love illuminating the night of selfishness and sin. A love so strong that it willingly enters our world as a poor defenceless baby.

Foreigners though they are, the wise men see the light for what it is. They arise. And they shine out. In contrast, it is those who should know better who resist the light. Even though King Herod and the chief priests and scribes of Judaea know very well that God’s beauty has come. They refuse to arise. They refuse to shine. Herod even wants to have the child killed. To snuff out the light. Why? Why is the king and his priests so allergic to true inner beauty? Isn’t it because they are more concerned with keeping up appearances? With the preservation of oppressive political power. And of empty religious rituals. Clinging tightly to the cosmetics of life, they fail to shine out with the beauty of God.

They fail to do what, in the second reading, Paul says he is called to do. I have been entrusted by God with the grace he meant for you It means that pagans now share the same inheritance… the same promise has been made to them… What is this grace? This inheritance? This promise? Isn’t it the same promise made in the first reading? And fulfilled in the gospel? The promise of light. Of glory. Of true inner beauty. The promise entrusted to us. For us to share with the rest of the world.

And isn’t this, my dear friends, the challenge that the Epiphany presents to us today? In Christ, the light of God’s beauty is already shining upon us. Among us. Within us. What we have to do is to keep arising. And to keep shining out. To let go of mere cosmetics. In order to cling to Christ. To loosen our grip on the things that pass away. In order to cling to the One who truly endures. The One who is Beauty ever ancient and ever new.

I’m reminded of these words from an old praise song, sung by The Maranatha! Singers:

In your time, in your time.
You make all things beautiful in your time.
Lord, my life to you I bring.
May each song I have to sing,
Be to you a lovely thing in your time.

Sisters and brothers, what must we do to allow God to continue making of us and of our world something truly beautiful today?
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