Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord.
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
On this first Sunday of the new year of the Lord 2019, we celebrate the solemnity of the Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ to the nations represented by the Kings. The passage from the Gospel according to St. Matthew that narrates this event, which we have heard this Sunday, does not mention the number of Wise men from the east who come to pay their respects to the newborn King. However, tradition has set the number to three, perhaps because there is mention of three gifts and they are, thus, represented in popular piety.
In our nativity scenes we include three figurines to represent these wise men from the Orient who come to adore Christ. It is also common to include figures of camels.
The celebration of this feast is very popular in Latin America and Spain. There are many traditions associated with this day, including, of course, leaving food and water for the camels mounted by the Kings who are bringing gifts to children, just like they did on that first Christmas day when they brought gold, incense and myrrh to baby Jesus. The carol, We Three Kings, which our parish choir interprets so beautifully, explains the meaning of these gifts.
Although the celebration of Epiphany is not as popular or intense in the USA, it is common that Christmas cards bear a motif showing the Kings be it on the road, following the star or kneeling before the child Jesus, oftentimes with the text: “The wise still seek Him.”
This inscription on Christmas cards is an invitation to think about true wisdom.
If we were asked who is wise, we would probably think immediately about some personality who is notorious because of his or her academic credentials, his or her achievements in science, perhaps somebody who had won the Nobel prize in science. The achievements of the natural sciences and their applications in the field of technology lead many of our contemporaries who are blinded by them to think that the only form of knowledge worthy of being considered scientific or valuable is the one who follows the method of the natural sciences.
However, true wisdom does not seem to be a matter of academic degrees, rather a relentless pursuit of truth, a desire to know reality at its deepest level, an ability to penetrate the mystery of our existence.
To make this assertion does not imply contempt for academic degrees, much less a devaluation of the power of reason, rather acknowledging that true wisdom is not reached through the accumulation of academic degrees or diplomas, but to the extent that one searches for truth, allowing oneself to be surprised by an encounter with it and also by one’s capacity to open one’s heart and mind so that they may be transformed by truth as it is, in its objective form, with its challenges and demands.
That is why in the Old Testament we find the book of Wisdom which highlights the relationship between true wisdom and justice. Also, in chapter 9 of the book of Proverbs we are told that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God and to know sainthood is intelligence.
That is also why these men are also called Wise, because they are capable to recognize the sign that will lead them to an encounter with Him who is Truth incarnate. Their intellectual knowledge is at the service of their quest for truth. They are literally on a journey towards truth.
Intellectual knowledge by itself is insufficient to reach true wisdom, it is necessary to be open to grace. That is why, St. John Paul II stated that faith and reason are like two wings that enable us to soar to the contemplation of truth, or what is the same to grow in wisdom. That is why St. Augustine said that it is necessary to believe in order to understand and to understand in order to believe. It is the reason, why Pope Benedict XVI also taught us that faith separated from reason degenerates into superstition, while reason collapses without the assistance of the knowledge of faith.
The wisest persons in the history of humanity are, then, the saints, because they have understood the deepest reality of the universe and they have lived it intensely. They found the love of God, they found God who is love and allowed this discovery to transform their existence, just as it transformed the Wise men from the Orient. They were surprised by Truth that came out to meet them and set on a journey towards a deeper communion with the treasure they had found. Having found Him, they adored Him. The Wise Men from the East are part of a long list of men and women truly wise who throughout their lives constantly looked for the one God who is near us, who becomes one of us to show us the way towards authentic wisdom and true freedom.
Fr. Roberto M. Cid