Abbot Damien Toilolo, O.S.B.
For several months now, I have been corresponding to a former student of mine, who is unfortunately in federal prison because of bad decisions he made. I have shared with him some of my life as a monk and a priest, since he only knew me as his teacher: Mr. Toilolo. I remember I mentioned to him something about the Epiphany, and he responded “What’s ‘epiphany’?” His response got me thinking:
What does all this “Epiphany”, manifestation of God, God revealing Himself, ‘really’ mean to someone who is in prison? What does it mean to the teenager whom I know who just lost his mother 2 days ago to cancer, or to the person I know who is very close to being homeless because he can’t find a job, although he has 3 college degrees? We talk about gold and frankincense; we sing about the 3 Kings and following ‘yonder star’; and we have beautiful flowers with a beautiful nativity set…But what does the message of Epiphany mean for people in prison or to those who are mourning?
It means the same as it means for us: it’s a message of hope. Ultimately, Epiphany has very little to do with our life now; it doesn’t necessarily make our life better. It has to do with a promise God made: the promise of heaven. The opportunity that we can now go to heaven is here and is ours for the taking, if we want…. because of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. Epiphany reminds us that no matter where we are in life, whether we’re living in the house on the hill, or in a cardboard box under the freeway, Epiphany is about a promise of heaven for all people.
Still, so many people don’t know about this Good News, even after 2000 years; and so they live without hope. This is where we come in. God still reveals himself to the world, but it’s not through the Magi; it’s through us.
What are we doing with this information we have about God revealing Himself? What are we doing with this mystery of the Epiphany? What are we doing with this Good News of heaven?
In today’s society, although we know it takes a village to raise a child, more and more, we have become a people who are ‘minding our own business’, because we’re afraid that if we try to do good for someone, they might turn on us; we might get sued or even shot. So, we believe it’s better if we just mind our own business. That kind of thinking is understandable, and it’s ok for people outside the church… not for people inside the church…. not for the baptized… not for the people of the church…….not for the people who are the Church.
We, who are here singing about the three kings and sitting in a decorated chapel praising God, we, the Church have a responsibility to be light for those who have no light in their life; we have a responsibility to be hope for those who have no hope. Why do we have this responsibility?—because of our baptism; because God Himself has given us the Light to share. He has given us the message of hope to share. In other words, God continues to reveal Himself to the world every day through us, His Church.
And so as His Church, we come here together in this chapel to be strengthened by the Eucharist who is Jesus. We come here to be encouraged by the Word of God who is Jesus. We come here to be supported by the fellowship of believers who make up the Body of Christ, who is Jesus. But the irony is and what we tend to forget is that: Jesus is also out there. “Out there” is where we spend most of our time. We are here for only one hour during the whole week. We’re ‘out there’ the other 167 hours. But this hour is the most important hour of our week. It is here where we receive our sustenance for our own personal life, and also the spirit of discernment to be more able to find God in our brothers and sisters who are not here.
On this feast of Epiphany, though God revealed Himself to us, He still remains hidden from us…hidden in the poor and suffering. And it is the Eucharist we receive that will give us the eyes to see Him in our brothers and sisters who are poor, who are in prison, in the hospital, under the freeway… and the courage and compassion to be hope for these, our brothers and sisters.