In the Jesuit Novitiate in Novaliches, there used to hang along its main corridor on the ground floor a framed poster with the caption, “Dreams are like the stars. We may never reach them, but they are always there to guide us.”
The image of the star is one of the main symbols of the feast we celebrate today, the Feast of the Epiphany, or the Feast of the Three Kings, as it was known years ago. Like the star that guided the three kings, our own stars, our dreams are meant to guide us to Christ and make him the center of our life.
The term epiphany is often associated with the Christian faith and has been defined as the divine manifestation in Christ the Son of God, specifically the manifestation of his divinity to the gentiles. In a broader, nonreligious sense, the epiphany is what we could call a eureka moment, or what Fr. Tom Green, SJ, used to call the “aha!” moment.
In Sharon Daloz Park’s book, “Big Questions, Worthy Dreams,” from which I quoted in last week’s article, she has a chapter on meaning and faith. She discusses faith as a “human universal,” that is, it is natural to all persons. This perspective of faith she describes as the natural search for meaning and something or someone to trust and hope in.
When we started our principals, supervisors and teachers’ formation program for public schools back in 2006, I was asked why I emphasized that our formation program was undoubtedly spiritual, but not religious. I pointed out that the nature of our formation program was to re-animate or re-inspire the teachers by reconnecting them to the human spirit. We believed that this reconnecting with the human spirit will naturally lead most people to a personal relationship with his/her God.
Without downplaying the importance of community and dogma, developing a personal relationship with God is what I invite you to reflect on this Sunday, the Feast of the Epiphany. Spend time today to reflect on the “aha” moment in your life when things fell into place and made sense, when your life had meaning and a sense of mission beyond mere existence.
This Sunday’s Gospel presents to us two “characters” in search of the child Jesus. The three magi and Herod who sought the same child because of the same prophesies, but the reason each had for finding the child were diametrically opposed. The former wanted to pay him homage and offer him gifts. The latter wanted to harm the child, in fact kill him.
I believe there is a little bit of both characters in us. We all are in search of the “child,” and like the three magi we have our stars, our dreams to guide us; but also like Herod we know not of the star, but only know of the child as threat to our own ambitions and persons.
When we entered the seminary, one of the points our novice masters told us was that there is no such thing as a pure motivation. While it is true that we start off with some sense of a noble desire to serve when we entered the seminary, we were told to also be aware of our impure motivations that get hidden amidst the nice and noble things.
True enough, as we went through formation, the impurities started to appear as we became honest with ourselves and had the humility to accept our impurities. Carl Jung and other Jungian psychologists would refer to this as the shadow of our personality. Jay Conger, in his book “The Charismatic Leader,” calls this the dark side of the leader. Ignatian spirituality would refer to this as part of the process of gaining a realistic knowledge of self in the formation journey.
Unmasking our shadow
Half the battle is won when we unmask our shadow, our dark side, when we become aware of our imperfection and sinfulness.
There is a fellow priest who years ago shared with me his story of why he became a priest. I asked him permission to share his story for today’s article. He agreed, but requested that I keep his identity confidential.
When you see and hear of this priest’s ministry, it is fair to say he is a good priest. He is very pastoral and charismatic. His ministry, which is mainly parish work, endears him to the communities he works with. He is a good leader and gets the cooperation and support of his community.
One of his key and admirable qualities as a leader is his ability to form a team and prepare a succession plan as he moves from one community to another. He has taught me a lot in this area. From him I learned that one of the best measures of success at work is if you can pass it on to others and it will continue without you.
This was due to his awareness of his dark side. He discovered as he was going through formation that part of his motivation in becoming a priest was that he knew he was gifted and charismatic, but he also did not trust his sinister side. He knew he could be very self-centered and manipulative.
This an example of the “Herod” in this priest that he unmasked early enough before he could “slaughter the Holy Innocents.”
The awareness and unmasking of our dark side or shadow is very much helped or facilitated by our discovering our star, our dreaming our dream larger than life. It is this dream to which we can dedicate our life that will inspire us to undergo transformation. This is the three magi in us, allowing the star, our dream to guide us and lead us to the child in the manger.
The first important epiphany in our life is to realize there is a greater meaning than the day-to-day run of things. There is meaning beyond existence. There is a dream larger than life to which we can and are willing to offer our self and our life to.
The second important epiphany as we make the choice to dedicate our life to our dream larger than life is to realize that we are not perfect and we offer even our imperfection.
This second epiphany happens almost instantaneously with the third important epiphany, that there is a God who accepts the offering of our imperfect self.
This third epiphany is what we celebrate today. It is renewing our faith in the presence of the divine in our life, of the God who loves us both in our goodness and our sinfulness; the God who is present to and invites both saints and sinners. This is the God who perhaps loves us even more as the sinners that we are, so that with this love we may be purified.
As Fr. Horacio dela Costa put it, “it is to know one is a sinner yet called to be a companion of Christ.” This is the epiphany that we need, sinners though we are, we are called to be companions of Christ.
One of the best parts of being a teacher is how one always tries to find and discover the good in each student. As a teacher, one believes “walang masama, walang bobong bata” (there is no bad, no dumb kid). We just need to let kids believe in themselves and the good that is in them.
Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make a person believe in him/herself, the goodness that is inherent in him/her; that God loves him/her. This is the epiphany we celebrate today. God has revealed himself as a God who is good, who is present—providentially, lovingly present.