In today’s Morning Prayer we hear from Psalm 144:
“Lord what is man that you care for him,
mortal man that you keep him in mind;
man, who is merely a breath,
whose life fades like a passing shadow.”
Reading those words (which I’ve read thousands of times) my mind turns, not to the abstract sense of death, but rather to my day, yesterday.
Monday is “get the wheels moving day” in every parish I’ve ever served in. Voicemails from the weekend need to be processed, people begin calling the office with questions and issues that came up Sunday at parish meetings, or in the normal course of parish life. Plus, of course, it’s Monday! After the beauty of Sunday worship there’s always a come-down as mundane Monday strikes again. Monday’s not “bad,” per se… it’s just work. Yesterday seemed particularly disjointed. I couldn’t really dig in at my desk. Interruptions kept coming, as well as unexpected requests. I really felt like my life was but a breath or a passing shadow.
It’s Tuesday and now, and with a good night’s sleep, some hind sight and the help of the Psalmist I’m thinking, “Maybe Monday wasn’t so bad.” Jesus’ own life was like a breath… a passing shadow. He only lived thirty three years. Of those, only three comprised his public ministry, and those were tumultuous. Nonetheless, God deigned to take on our passing shadow life… He embraced it, clutched it close to himself and brought forth from it new Resurrection life. It doesn’t mean that human life is easy or that the tumult doesn’t sometimes exhaust… or even hurt us; Jesus himself cried out on the Cross. But for those of us who look on this life with eyes of faith, there’s a happy ending in store. Amen.
Today, the Church in the US marks Epiphany, that beautiful day when the Magi arrived in Bethlehem to adore the Infant Lord. Libraries of books could (and have) been written expounding on the meaning of the event. For myself, one dimension sticks out this year: Epiphany is a sign on earth that points us to the heavens. ‘makes sense, really for isn’t that what the ministry of Jesus was all about? He came as a man to conduct men to the heavens. Such is also the meaning of each of the miracles. In Gospel Greek, the “miracles,” were called “semeia,” “signs” in English… and a sign never points to itself, it points to a destination yet to be reached… The sign keeps us going on the way. We’ve encountered a number of these signs in the readings lately.
Earlier in the week John the Baptist pointed Andrew to Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Andrew then leads Peter to Christ. Together Andrew and Peter lead Nathaniel. Each becomes a sign pointing to Jesus… and Jesus points us to the Father in Heaven. Friday we read about the Baptism of the Lord, when the Father and the Spirit testified to the Son, “You are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Saturday, Jesus testifies to himself by performing his first miracle at Cana. So many signs, all telling us, “There is something more to this world than meets the eye. Keep going.”
I’ve arrived at my new parish assignment, St. Francis Xavier Parish in Southeast DC. The first three days have been VERY full, exhausting actually. Priests have to move into wholly new surroundings, learn the lights, locks and locations of a new property all while shepherding the life of that new place forward without missing a step. The devil tempted me to despair at several points. Before arriving I found out that the music program had been cut. The day I arrived I discovered that my 3-day-a-week volunteer secretary had decided to retire, the organ doesn’t turn on and… well, you get the idea.
I prayed in chapel first for music. The Church teaches that music is a constitutive part of the mass… it’s not really an option. “Lord,” I said, “you want music at your mass. Help me.” and he did! My friend Luca came forward and announced out of nowhere that he is a classically trained organist / pianist. “Lord,” I said, “I need an electrician to make the organ work.” Sure enough, a parishioner came forward in conversation and revealed that his brother is an electrician! He’ll be here Tuesday. Finally, I asked the Lord for someone to answer the phones in the office, and sure enough, a woman presented herself to volunteer hours at the desk. Finally, just today, I woke up without a voice… a developing sore throat turned into laryngitis just in time for my first Sunday mass. kneeling before the altar, I begged the Lord to make mass happen… and wouldn’t you know it… I got to my chair, opened my mouth and found my voice again! It promptly cut out again after the last mass.
Small signs, perhaps, but for me they’ve done the trick… they’ve kept me walking, sacrificing on the way to heaven. Another thing about these Epiphany signposts is that they tell us “Jesus is here, not there” In a unique way, Christ is fully present in the Catholic Church. That’s a message worth sharing with others. That’s truly Good News. There are so many in my new parish who need the hope of that message, who need an epiphany. So I’m inviting all of the parishioners to work toward that goal… to announce the Good News to everyone we know… but particularly to all the homes of our neighborhood. How we do that will be a subject of discernment over the coming months, but the epiphanies I’ve received so far are enough to convince me that we can do it together in Christ. Happy Epiphany!