The Encounter with Christ – Epiphany – The 11th Day of igNation’s 12 Days of Christmas


T.S. Eliot writes of being “no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation” toward the end of The Journey of the Magi. Once we have encountered Christ, something must change in our lives. The old normal no longer works.

We have seen the Christ and like the wise ones of old we can no longer go home by the familiar route. They were warned in a dream. Our own warning may come from all kinds of sources, such as the memory of actual living persons whom we have encountered.

There is one Epiphany, but there are an infinite number of epiphanies. Each of us encounters Christ in ways that are unique to us. Some discover Christ alive for them in their work with the poor. For others, it comes through a life-altering experience of a foreign culture.

Some experience an epiphany through their work with the dying. Many young people experience an epiphany in an immersion program in a foreign culture or a foreign situation in their own culture.

The Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) in the USA has an informal motto: ruined for life. The point is that once a young person devotes a year or two of life to an intense experience of volunteer social justice work, they are ruined for life. In other words, their eyes and hearts have been opened to some of the harsh and painful realities that people live with, and those volunteers are now unable to resume life as usual, life as if their eyes have not been opened. Many former volunteers make career choices based on their JVC experience.

We hear the Prophet Isaiah speak today: “Rise up in splendour, Jerusalem!  Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. … Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow.” Isaiah was prophesying about the Messiah.

But, “your heart shall throb and overflow” describes well the newfound energy and zeal of many who have had their eyes opened in a new way in an epiphany experience.

“When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.” That’s how St. Matthew describes the wise men from the East and how they searched for the child who has been born king of the Jews. Their overwhelming joy came from the discovery of the child that they had searched for with intent. They knelt down and paid him homage.

The Magi searched by following a star. Others of us search in other ways, for instance, trusting in the mysterious unfolding trajectory of life, looking for patterns of God’s action in our lives. Some spend a lifetime searching, trusting in St. Augustine’s reminder that our hearts are restless until they rest in God.

Call to mind Anna the Prophetess, an elderly Jewish woman in Luke’s Gospel. She had waited a lifetime. The other figure at the presentation in the temple is Simeon. He also waited a long time and is now able to proclaim, “Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace.” His eyes have finally seen what was long-promised.

A touching Christmas opera is Amahl and the Night Visitors, composed by Gian Carlo Menotti. He took his inspiration from Hieronymus Bosch‘s The Adoration of the Magi. Here are the words of the piece Love Alone.

The Child we seek

doesn’t need our gold.

On love, on love alone

he will build his kingdom.

His pierced hand will hold no sceptre,

his haloed head will wear no crown;

his might will not be built on your toil.

Swifter than lightning

he will soon walk among us.

He will bring us new life

and receive our death,

and the keys to his city

belong to the poor.

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

  • Peter Bisson, SJ
    Posted at 10:25h, 06 January Reply

    Thank you Philip!

    • Terry Kruger
      Posted at 19:29h, 06 January Reply

      Very moving Phil. Your writing has been a series of “mini epiphanies” for your readers. Thank you.

  • Susan Tomenson
    Posted at 22:13h, 06 January Reply

    Thanks, Philip, for such a deep reflection on “The Journey of the Magi”.

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