Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What's in an Epiphany?

In these days following the Sunday celebration and before the official calendar celebration of the Epiphany, we remember how marvelous a gift the Incarnation is - that we have a God who came down to earth to live as a human being...and all that means for us that the Light of the World came to dwell in the world as flesh.

However, the word "epiphany" is also often used popularly to indicate what Oprah Winfrey calls an "Aha Moment" - a situation where one has a sudden realization of a truth.  The term was first used in that way by James Joyce,  in Stephen Hero and Ulysses - as Stephen Daedalus (the "young man" from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and a main character in all three works) thinks about collecting his own "epiphanies" - scintillating moments of insight - into a book. You can read a good explanation of this literary use of the term here.

I think I had one this weekend.  At our 11:30 English Mass, during the procession with the gifts, three men (two Hispanic and one Anglo who was "drafted" from the pews) came forward, dressed in colorful home-made satin robes and crowns, carrying gold, frankincense and myrrh.  After Mass, they stood in the back of church and handed out foil-wrapped chocolate coins to everyone. While this has been a long-standing tradition at all the Spanish Masses, this year for the first time they brought it to the entire community. I found myself overwhelmed emotionally as they came up, because I had not expected it.  The Hispanic community was sharing with us their traditional cultural expression of the celebration of Tres reyes.

Also over the weekend my pastor shared with me a document to be discussed tonight which he had me email to our parish council, suggesting that the council become who the parish is now (75-80% Hispanic) - and not remain representative of our past as an inner city white parish (all members save one are from the Anglo community and most of them have been in leadership roles for many years.)  Our representation needs to come from both communities, and our meetings may no longer be all in English.  Of course, this will not happen without some courageous action and some discomfort. It is simply a  long-overdue but necessary change needed for the parish to move into the future and to stop clinging to the past.

In discussing this with a friend and fellow council member, I came to the realization that both "communities" have much to learn from one another. The sharing of the cultural and liturgical celebrations and the living enthusiasm and heart for the faith that the three kings represented this weekend is one gift the Hispanic community brings to enliven the parish.  The gifts of wisdom, of years of experience in lay ministries and an understanding of the American church is what we older Anglos bring to the table. All these are needed for us to become more fully who we are as parish.

To make this possible, we will have to "re-birth" the council - and the parish into its current identity. Those who have desperately clung to memories of a past, when the parish had many ministries, parish retreats, Renew groups, and community activities and was full of life in our familiar Anglo ways need to acknowledge the death of most of that as many former parishioners left and the rest of us aged, became tired and overwhelmed - and the new birth among us of a lively parish that manifests itself in large and joyful celebrations of Tres reyes, Las mananitas, Las posadas, Quincinearas, El dia de los ninos, and El dia de los muertos.

THAT is an epiphany. So, tonight that beast (in the words of Willam Butler Yeats) needs to go "slouching toward Bethlehem" in hopes of a new birth - a new manifestation of what it means to be St. John the Baptist Parish Community. This is the cultural revolution that is happening in Catholic parishes all over America.  Tonight, at our parish, we step up to the plate to see if we are open to the challenge to be reborn - to cooperate with God in re-creating our community's identity.

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