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Archives: January 2014
Take, O take me as I am;
Summon out what I shall be;
Set your seal upon my heart
And live in me.
These simple and direct words are a very short song by composer John L. Bell. It is one of the best known and often-used songs from the Iona Community in Scotland. The Iona community is an ancient Christian community on the small island of Iona in the Inner Hebrides Islands of western Scotland. I first heard this song many years ago and was struck by both its simplicity and its profundity.
For the past several years, I have used this song on an irregular basis as way of centering myself for prayer. It calms me and helps me focus. Recently, though — not intentionally, and certainly without any awareness on my part — I discovered that I had changed the last phrase. Instead of “Set your seal upon my heart and live in me.” I had unwittingly changed it to: “Set your seal upon my heart and let me be.” I was surprised and embarrassed when I realized my error, but at the same time it occurred to me that there must be an unconscious reason for the change. I decided that I needed to take this issue to prayer.
In my prayer over the course of the next few days, it became clear to me that the issue I didn’t want to deal with was forgiveness. It isn’t appropriate for me to go into the specifics, but clearly I didn’t want to forgive and by changing the last words of the refrain, I was telling God that I wanted to be left alone in the hardness of my own unforgiving heart.
I suspect there are times for all of us when, for whatever reason, we want God to just “let us be.” Like me, the issue could be forgiveness. Perhaps, though, it has to do with being more generous, more caring, or being less self-centered and more aware of the needs of others. It is not that we are great sinners. Rather, we get into comfortable ruts and don’t want to make the effort to get out of them. We want to be left alone.
Fortunately for us, at these times God continues to offer God’s grace to us. To be sure, God never forces God’s grace on us. Yet at the same time God is always offering us God’s grace and inviting us to get out of our ruts, grow beyond our complacency, re-group, and kick start our efforts to let God live in us. The challenge for us is to recognize when we have grown complacent and then open ourselves up to the grace God wants to give us.
The past few weeks, I have made a conscious effort to ask God to set “God’s seal upon my heart and live in me.” I’m hoping and praying that God will answer my prayer.
Readings: Isaiah 60: 1-6 Ephesians 3: 2-3a; 5-6 Matthew 2: 1-12
This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany. The word epiphany means a revelation or manifestation. Today’s Feast celebrates the manifestation/revelation of Christ to the world. This manifestation is represented by the visit of the magi (The magi were foreigners, not Jews.) from the East to the newborn Christ child. In our Gospel this weekend, we are told that these foreign visitors said: “we saw his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.” King Herod, though, “called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said ‘Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.’” Once the magi found the child, “they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod they departed for their country by another way.”
This story is both well known and important. Through the centuries, however, details have been added to it that were not part of the original. Thus, if you read the text carefully, you will note that the magi are never identified as males or as “kings,” and their number is never specified (We presume there were three because there were three gifts.) Additionally, the three “kings” we sing of comes from verbal tradition and not from the scriptures.
Despite the discrepancies between the text of this Gospel and the details that have accrued to it over the centuries, its message is summed up in our second reading today from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians: “the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.”
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It is the section that Christians believe contains the prophecy of the visit of the magi. “Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Does knowing that details have been added to this Gospel change its meaning for you?
- If Jesus is the savior of all people for all time, why do some people want to limit the offer of salvation to a select few?
- Has there been a time when you have experience an “epiphany” of God in your life?