Epiphany: Man's search for meaning

During the sharing at the Legion of Mary's Patrician meeting last week someone wondered how long did it take the magi from the East to look for the child Jesus, the new born King of the Jews. My guess is nine months.  As soon as the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and bear a son, the star appeared and that was the start of the long and arduous journey of the magi from the East. The story of the magi searching for the child Jesus reminds me of one’s search for the meaning of life. Those who believe that one’s search for the why of life is very important will do everything in their power to find it. Just like the magi in our gospel story. They travelled from afar to a foreign country to look for what is very important in their lives, the Messiah. We could just imagine the hardships and the danger that they went through while looking for Jesus. But that did not deter them from doing so because finding the Christ is the fulfillment of their heart’s desire.

 

When we search for something that is really important, nothing will prevent us from looking for it. We may be going through life’s hardships due to financial, health and relationship issues. But even under those difficult circumstances, we can still find what we are looking for, the meaning of life. When I was in college seminary in the 70’s, a favorite book of the seminarians was Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.” In this book, Victor Frankl chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate and is describing his psychotherapeutic method of finding a reason to live. According to Frankl the book intends to answer the question “How was everyday life in a concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner?” Frankl concludes that the meaning of life is found in every moment of living; life never ceases to have meaning, even in suffering and death. In a group therapy session during a mass fasting inflicted on the camp’s inmates trying to protect an anonymous fellow inmate from fatal punishment by the camp’s authorities, Frank offered the thought that for everyone in a dire condition there is someone looking down, a friend, a family member, or even God, who would not expect to be disappointed. Frankl concludes from his experience that a prisoner’s psychological reactions are not solely the result of the conditions of his life, but also from the freedom of choice he always has even in severe suffering. The inner hold a prisoner has on his spiritual self relies on having a faith in the future and that once a prisoner loses that faith, he is doomed.

 

When we struggle to find meaning in life someone is looking down on us with love. That someone who loves us no matter what is God personified in Jesus. If we find life meaningless because of broken relationships, health problems, financial stress, we only need to look up constantly. This is what the magi did. They fixed their eyes on the star above and it led them to what they were looking for. The good news that we hear today on the Feast of Epiphany is that the meaning of life that we are looking for is manifested in the person of Jesus. Life’s meaning is not something that is hidden but is revealed to all those who seek it. And we get all the help that we need. Our suffering is not an excuse nor does it blind us to understand why we are here on earth. As a human being Jesus was not spared from the usual heartaches and headaches that we all have. He accepted pain, suffering and death for the sake of others and by doing so showed us what we should aspire for. St. Augustine reminds us what it is when he said, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you.” Ultimately, we find the meaning of life in the word of God that is revealed to us through Jesus. This is what Epiphany means.

 

In his book Victor Fankl describes how in the midst of inhuman condition at the concentration camp he saw the truth for the first time in his life, as expressed in songs by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth is that love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. He says that he grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. How a man who have nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right, the honorable way, in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in his life, Frankl was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”

 

When we think that Frankl is referring to his wife in the contemplation of his beloved, and yet he is able to find the ultimate meaning of life, how much more if we put God as our beloved. We discover that we have a reason to live and that life is worth living because we are all God’s beloved. We all share the same dignity as God’s children rich or poor, the powerful or the powerless, young or old, regardless of age, gender and color. This is what we celebrate today. Epiphany reveals to us the meaning of life. And just like the magi we should offer gifts, the gift of ourselves to Jesus, our Lord and Savior