They all got the same news, but their reactions were very different – very different indeed.
“Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.”
There are moments when heaven breaks through: when the angel Gabriel appeared to Zachariah; when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary; when the angel of God appeared to Joseph; when the angel appeared to the shepherds; when the night sky was filled with angels singing, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of goodwill,” and when the lowly shepherds found the baby just as they were told and all were amazed!
It also happened when the wise ones from the East saw “his star at its rising.”
Research shows that for an increasing number of people in United States and in the nations of the northern hemisphere, such news, such seeming occurrences are fake. They don’t really believe it. It may be some “nice story” that may make one feel good in the dark of December, but it is just another story that fewer and fewer people bother to read or listen to. Religion is useless.
This saddens me deeply. Remember, they all got the same news, but their reactions were very different.
Quite honestly, I didn’t see it coming. I was still too exhausted from Christmas, but it happened nonetheless.
It was Sunday night the 5 PM Life Teen Mass. After the pain and loss of 10 miscarriages, Rachel and Rex Yabut presented baby Zelie for baptism. Barely able to hold the shell in my two weak hands so as to pour the water from the baptismal font, I looked into her eyes as I prayed the words of baptism and saw a glimpse of heaven. “Your light will come Jerusalem!”
It happened again on Wednesday on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Joshua Glass was a catechumenate who was in preparation for the Easter sacraments when he got his orders to Kuwait and would be leaving that Friday for six months. He desired to be baptized before he left. What better day to do it.
As he stood in the baptismal font facing the assembly, Andrew Casad, our Steward for RCIA, filled the pitcher with water, lifted it up into my hands and helping me poured the water over his head three times as I pronounced those beautiful words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of some and of the Holy Spirit.”
Yet it didn’t really happen to me until Andrew poured the sacred chrism in abundance on Josh’s head and I, with very weak arm and hand spread it lavishly and prayed, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Then, heaven broke through as I looked into Josh’s eyes. Luminous. Transcendent. Overwhelming.
“Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow.”
I was sitting on the hard pew for over an hour on Friday night listening to the incredibly beautiful organ music played by the young artist Lukas Hassler at the downtown church. I do not remember which piece he was playing at the time, but as I looked up at the crystal stars hanging above the sanctuary, I thought of the Magi.
Suddenly, in an instant, I glimpsed heaven once again. Tears welled up in my eyes. I looked around and I saw people wrapped in attention and immersed in beauty. Did they glimpse heaven as well? I sure hope so.
“Brothers and sisters: you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that has been given to me for your benefit.” These words of St. Paul to the Ephesians are the words I wish to speak to you today.
The Magi and King Herod received the same news yet reacted to it in very, very different ways.
For the Magi, it was a wondrous sign. It made their hearts throb and overflow with anticipation. The star they saw radiant in the night sky made their hearts and minds radiant with hope. So they set out. They could not stay put. They had to follow no matter what. What passion! What the zeal!
For King Herod the sign was a threat. He became filled with fear. His mind could only see darkness. He set out on the path of deception and in the end distraction. He was caught in the heart of darkness. The storm clouds of his inner terror blocked out all possibility of seeing the light of the star.
What about us? As Catholics, we are called to follow the light of Jesus Christ, to be his disciples, to be radiant with joy and to be attentive when heaven breaks through.
I don’t know about you, but there are long stretches in my life of the ordinary, the mundane, the “business as usual” approach to daily life and the feeling of “same old, same old” and I do not catch glimpses of heaven breaking through.
Yet that does not mean it doesn’t happen. It means that I am mostly inattentive, not paying attention and lacking enough faith to believe that God wants to encounter me at every moment, with every person, in every thought and action. But I don’t. I miss God’s presence all the other. That’s one of the big differences between me and the saints. They got it, and most of the time I miss it.
Yet, God never gives up. God is always present. God longs for you and me to be encountered by him at this holy Mass today, right now and when we come to receive the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Father’s dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
We need Sunday. We need the Mass. We need the Sacraments. We need to read, to reflect upon and to pray with sacred Scripture. We need time to allow God to be God in our lives, to disrupt our ordinariness on a daily basis so that God can guide us.
Then like Mary, we need to ponder all these things in our hearts in prayer. It is only then in reflection and wonder that somehow the words of the prophet Isaiah become manifest in the ordinariness of our lives. “Rise up in splendor, Jim! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.”
I think this quote I read sums it up best: “when love overwhelms us, we practically glow-in-the-dark.”
Let us go forth from this holy Eucharist radiant, with our hearts throbbing with joy and overflowing, glowing in the dark with the love of God.