A Final Letter on the Epiphany
This past week, for the first time in almost a year, I took the subway into Manhattan to run an errand. Wondering how things might be different I was recalling scenes from dystopian novels I had read over the years. In one a destroyed city had a subway that ran all the time, its doors didn’t close nor did it stop. You just jumped aboard as it passed through a station or jumped off when you arrived! Another had a theatrical group who wandered from settlement to settlement doing Shakespeare’s plays for the few survivors of a worldwide pandemic. And I remembered the ‘Postman’, where a survivor from a horrific war donned a postman’s uniform and carried a bag of mail that he found in an abandoned post office vehicle. He visited the scattered outposts of survivors where he was welcomed and revered, everyone hoping that he carried for them a letter from another living person. What a powerful symbol of our desire for human connectedness.
St. Proclus of Constantinople from the Eastern Church describes the difference between Christmas and the ‘greater feast, Epiphany’: at Christmas God is clothed in the royal garments of our human body, but at Epiphany God puts off his garments and his love flows forth to cover all mankind. At Christmas Our Lord is on the earth, in the manger of Bethlehem; in the Epiphany, when Our Lord is baptized, the waters of the Jordan blend with all other waters carrying God’s blessing to the peoples of the world. St. Proclus makes the Epiphany a very active event.
As I walked through Manhattan, I looked for signs of change. Were there less people working in the city or were there more people on the corners asking for assistance? Were the impressive buildings with interesting signs and facades, masking an urban financial crisis or being hollowed out by problems of worldwide proportions?
I ended up in the post office. Was I looking for a ‘postman’? When I asked for a book of 20 stamps, the woman at the window asked what picture I would like – ‘there is one with a flag or others, let me show you’. She passed me one that had pictures of wildlife. ‘That is good’, I said, ‘I like that one’. ‘Now I don’t want to force you, but that is the one I like the best’. She told me about the squirrel she had watched on her windowsill eating its lunch. I told her about an eagle that frequents the monastery garden and sits at the tiptop of a pine tree preparing to collect his evening meal. She told of her love for nature and how good it is. We exchanged names. I felt so good when I left that post office and can’t wait to need stamps again!
We meet John the Baptist in a desolate place, we meet the groom’s best man. He’s overjoyed to hear the voice of the one who must increase, and his joy is complete! Happy John invites you to listen to what makes him so happy. How out of character. This is Epiphany time. The next page in the book of readings is Ash Wednesday. We don’t know how our ordinary world and daily routines may change. Like my postman friend carry the surprise of hope and joy ever so humbly through our human contact. Like John manifest God’s love even in the decreases, helping our brothers and sisters to increase.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jamaica, New York.