On the Roman calendar and in many dioceses around the world, today is the feast of the Epiphany; in much of Canada, the Church celebrates the feast of Brother André Bessette whereas in much of the United States, it is simply the Friday before the Epiphany, which is transferred to the following Sunday. As a result, on this day people may hear a variety of different readings in Mass depending on where they are in the world.
The readings for this day, regardless of where we are in the world, invite us to enter more deeply into the mystery of the God who reveals himself to us in Jesus Christ. At the Epiphany (Mt 2:1-12), the science of the “wise men” (who represent the best science of their day) leads them to look for the child who embodies the logos that their wisdom points to. Their science is proved to be correct insofar as it does lead them to the right place after a bit of searching, but this truth is far different from what they expect. They find it to be a poor little baby who is not honored in his own land, whose ruler is so threatened by the child that he will use the wise men’s science not to pay homage to the Word (Logos) made flesh, but rather to attempt to destroy that logos, even at the cost of the destruction of his own people. The wise men’s science, then, naturally leads to God, but God infinitely surpasses it in the epiphany that fulfills it, which the science can by no means anticipate. For that matter, that same science can be perverted in an attempt to destroy that to which it leads, which is what Herod does. Finally, it is also worth noting that the shepherds, who had none of the wise men’s science, were also led to adore the Logos that the science pointed to… and they got there much sooner and with much less of a fuss. God can work as he wishes. We have an obligation to search for God through our science, but we must never confine God to the categories that we create through it.
We can also reflect on this same “epiphany” in readings for the Friday before Epiphany. The baptism of Jesus that we hear about in Mark 1 is also an epiphany, but one that is prepared not by “science” but by the baptism of John. This baptism was a baptism of repentance meant to lead God’s chosen people back to him: John could not have foreseen that the Logos himself would come to be baptized. And yet, through Jesus’ baptism, his true identity—the meaning of his most holy name—is revealed in a Trinitarian fulfillment that far surpasses what John could have foreseen. These realities recall an old Jesuit dicum that Pope Francis uses to describe Ignatius’ vision: “non coerceri a maximo, sed contineri a minimo divinum est” (“not to be limited by the greatest and yet to be contained in the tiniest—this is the divine”). This is the epiphany we discover in our readings today, and it expresses the way that Jesus is Lord of both our science and our religion.