Andrea Mantegna’s 15th-century Adoration of the Magi. The Epiphany commemorates the Magi’s visit to the Christ Child. CNS photo/courtesy The J. Paul Getty Museum

Sr. Helena Burns: So, what was your Epiphany?

  • December 22, 2021

The Christmas season has so many wonderful feast days along the way, not least of which is Epiphany, the commemoration of the Magi’s visit to the Christ Child.

Traditionally, Epiphany was fixed on Jan. 6, but now it’s a “movable feast,” occurring on Sunday, so that Catholics will be sure to celebrate it along with their weekly Mass-going. Certain Christian ethnic cultures go all out for the feast, often treating it with more solemnity and festivity than Dec. 25. They even give presents on Epiphany instead, in imitation of the Magi bringing their gifts to Baby Jesus.

When I looked up the exact definition of “Epiphany,” I got one of the broadest definitions I think I’ve ever come across, logophile that I am. Some sources downplayed it being a manifestation of “a deity,” making sure to include scientific or philosophical discoveries. Others focused on “insight” and “inspiration,” and other sources stuck with the Christian religious definition. One of the definitions stressed a sudden understanding of the essential meaning of something — a definition I have to say I am partial to. The Magi came, saw and adored. They understood who Jesus was when they encountered Him (certainly with some divine aid)!

So, what (and when) was your Epiphany? When did you come to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? Perhaps you were baptized as a baby, received those supernatural gifts of faith, hope and charity, and simply can’t remember a time when you didn’t believe. But maybe you’ve had a circuitous journey to faith. Maybe you’re still struggling. Whatever and whenever your first inkling of faith, it’s never a done deal or a static state. We are called to grow continually in our relationship with God — the only way we become holy. A better question might be: What (and when) were your multiple Epiphanies? And an even better term here might be “Theophanies” — manifestations of God.

What is your history with God? What, when and how were the strongest moments of your life where God made Himself known to you, or you understood something about God, reality, some truth of the faith in a much more profound way? I’ve kept prayer journals for decades now, and I often retrace my life’s stepping stones with God in order to remember them, strengthen them, refresh them and be grateful for them.

God speaks to us every day in so many ways, but I think we all know when it’s a “big beat,” as we say in screenwriting (an auspicious event in the main character’s life). My biggest beats are as follows: my Baptism as an infant, meeting God at 15 years old, entering the convent, joining the charismatic renewal (shout out to Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Etobicoke!), discovering John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and sharing it with others, being healed physically (and spiritually) from Lyme disease. And God is currently doing a big work in my life that I’m not at liberty to speak about. (We will always have our secrets with “His Majesty,” as St. Teresa of Avila used to call Jesus. We will always have our private affairs that only God is and should be privy to in the recesses of our interior life.)

Are you looking for signs from God? God works primarily through the ordinary. Signs are mostly extraordinary. “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, He has spoken to us through His Son...” (Hebrews 1:1-2). In other words, we now have “the final Word.” We need not look anywhere else but to Jesus, true God and true man, the Way, Truth and Life.

If you’re faithful to a daily prayer regimen, along with Bible reading and study, you will be astounded as you begin to see God’s hand in your life more and more. You will learn how it is that God speaks to you in particular. The way God communicates with us is not simply “one size fits all.” I can tell you how He communicates with me, but everyone has to figure that out for themselves. And this is the most important thing we could ever do in our lives, for we have come from love and are returning to love. We must be as wise as the Magi who spent their lives seeking truth until they found it, or rather Him.

(Sr. Helena Raphael Burns, fsp, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She holds a Masters in Media Literacy Education and studied screenwriting at UCLA.  Twitter: @srhelenaburns)

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