SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
In recent years, a new service has begun to be offered, in which, through the use of cheek swabs, companies will isolate your DNA, and analyze your ancestral history. Some of them advertise on television -‘Ancestry.com,’ ’23 and Me,’ ‘FamilyTree.com.’
In one ad, a year or so ago, a husband and wife appear, and report that they used the advertised service, only to learn that the husband, who had grown up thinking he was Italian, was stunned after the test to learn that most of his heritage was actually ‘Eastern European.’ He seemed to be thrilled to know.
My thought was, ‘This poor fellow needs to learn a little geography,’ insofar as the adjective, ‘eastern European,’ covers more than a dozen countries that cover more than a million square miles. Perhaps the desire to know more about one’s ancestry is a symptom of a more ‘rootless’ society, where family history and ancestry are not ‘passed along,’ by parents and grandparents as they were in my family.
People are naturally curious, I suppose, about where their fore-bearers came from, and when and how they got here. I suppose they feel that answers to these questions will help them to know, a little bit better who they are.
I’m not so sure. As far as I can tell, the family influences that shaped who I am came mostly from my parents and grandparents, and a lot less from the great-great-great grandparents who first came from Europe, and whose names I hardly know.
Today’s gospel passage comes from the very first chapter of the Gospel of St. John. Within its brief seven verses, we are offered three different names or titles for Jesus. The first is offered by St. John the Baptist, who is standing nearby with two of his disciples as Jesus walks by: “Behold, the Lamb of God,” he says. This name is familiar to anyone who attends our eucharist from the “Invitation to Communion.”
Next, the two disciples of John the Baptist follow Jesus, and when he turns and asks them, “What are you looking for?” they seem to dodge the question by asking, “Rabbi” which means ‘Teacher,’ “where are you staying?”
Finally, Andrew, one of the two who had followed Jesus, finds his brother, Simon, and tells him, “We have found the Messiah,” which is translated, ‘Christ.’
• Lamb of God,
• Rabbi, which means ‘Teacher,’
• and Messiah, which means ‘Christ,’ or ‘anointed One.’
Three names or titles, still in use, still appropriate, even today.
But when Andrew brings Simon to meet Jesus, the tables are turned, and Jesus identifies Simon. “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon, son of John; you will be called Cephas’ which is translated Peter.”
One scholar points out that here, “The initiative is entirely with Jesus. He tells Simon who he is, where he comes from, and who he will be in the future.”
It is the chronic human quest, lasting all of our lives. The quest to resolve the questions, ‘Who am I?’ ‘Where did I come from?’ and ‘Who am I meant to be?’
These questions are seldom conscious - at least after we have left adolescence. But they linger there, under the surface, throughout our lives. And they are never finally answered, once and for all.
For to be human is to change, and we are never finished being human, never finished changing, until we breathe our last.
‘Who am I?’ Do you think that you could answer? Then consider your five-year-old self, and tell me how the ‘you’ you are right now is the same as, and different than that former self. And how did the changes happen?
‘Where do I come from?’ You might tell me the town you were born in, your parents’ names and occupations, your nationality. But if that’s what makes you who you are, why aren’t your brothers and sisters exactly the same as you? Who am I meant to be? You can tell me your vocation, the dreams you have already fulfilled, the name of your spouse, whose love is the satisfaction of all of your hopes and longings. But every dream you still have for tomorrow reveals a ‘you-ness’ that you’ve not yet taken in.
Consult him who has watched your journey from before you crossed the horizon into the history of this world, up until this very moment. Confer with him who has already saved your place at his heavenly banquet table. Listen for the voices of your ancestors already there. And then pray that Christ reveal to you what remains to be done.
Sisters, brothers,, called by Christ, let us meet him at the altar, where he will give us a glimpse once more, of where we have come from, and who we are, and who, finally, we are meant to be. – Fr. Brian
THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY
One of the historical figures of our past is Christopher Columbus. He had a dream of finding a Western trade route to India. When he first proposed his plan and looked for backers and investors, they all turned him down and told him that what he wanted to do was impossible. Even after he received the support of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, many people told him that he was foolish to undertake such a dangerous quest. I can imagine that family and friends might have come to him before he left to tell him not to go – that the earth was flat and that he would sail off the edge or that he would be devoured by sea monsters or attacked by pirates or drowned in a storm or die of hunger and thirst on the high seas. Yet he persisted in his quest, even in the face of many obstacles and hardships and discovered the New World.
Today on the Feast of the Epiphany, we hear in our Gospel story about some other adventurers with a quest. The Magi were convinced that if they followed the new star they had discovered in the sky, they would find a newborn king. I’m sure that as they explained their quest to others, there were some who told them that they were foolish to attempt such a journey. How could they leave family and friends, home and work to travel across desert, mountains and uncharted lands to face unknown dangers to follow a star to a supposed king in a faraway land. And yet they persevered in their quest. They followed the star. They found the newborn king of the Jews. And in the process they found a whole new sense of purpose and meaning in their lives.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany – a feast that holds out to us a vision of a quest to seek someone who will make life better for us, a quest for the living God. Now there are some in our world today who do not believe in our quest, who tell us that there is no God, that religion is meaningless. There are those who tell us that to take up our cross daily, to sacrifice, to endure suffering, hardship and challenge for the sake of the Gospel is foolish. There are those who tell us that what life is all about is to indulge ourselves, to do our own thing without thought of others. We each also have our own inclinations to play it safe, to take no risks, to avoid rocking the boat.
Yet in the face of all this, we are asked today if there is any of the Magi in us? Can we find in ourselves any of the searcher, the adventurer, the dreamer or the visionary? Our faith tells us that Jesus comes to those who seek, to those who do not quit, to those who are willing to pay the cost, to seek him no matter how weary, frustrated or discouraged we might be. For each of us there is a journey, a special vocation or mission in life that God invites us to take. For each of us there is a star that would lead us to Bethlehem and the Christ child if only we have the courage to undertake the quest.
Sir William Murray, a Scottish mountain climber, once said, “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no one could have dreamed would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. I would paraphrase this last line to read: Boldness has genius, power and the grace of God in it.
Is there a bit of the Magi in us? Do we have a spiritual quest that we feel drawn to undertake? Then let us be bold and begin it. And like the Magi, may we bring with us on our quest the gold of our love and care for the poor, the homeless and the hungry, the sweet frankincense of our hope and compassion for those who are lonely, alienated, discouraged or depressed, and the consoling myrrh of our faith to the sick, the dying and the grieving. The Epiphany is an invitation to each of us to begin a journey of adventure and risk, of the unknown and the unconventional, and most importantly of searching for God in our own lives and then finding ways to bring him to others. – Fr. Paul