The Prayer for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit:
O Lord Jesus Christ, Who, before ascending into heaven, didst promise to send the Holy Ghost to finish Thy work in the souls of Thy Apostles and Disciples, deign to grant the same Holy Spirit to me, that He may perfect in my soul the work of Thy grace and Thy love.
Grant me the Spirit of Wisdom that I may despise the perishable things of this world and aspire only after the things that are eternal,
the Spirit of Understanding to enlighten my mind with the light of Thy divine truth,
the Spirit of Counsel that I may ever choose the surest way of pleasing God and gaining Heaven,
the Spirit of Fortitude that I may bear my cross with Thee, and that I may overcome with courage all the obstacles that oppose my salvation,
the Spirit of Knowledge that I may know God and know myself and grow perfect in the science of the Saints,
the Spirit of Piety that I may find the service of God sweet and amiable,
the Spirit of Fear that I may be filled with a loving reverence towards God, and may dread in any way to displease Him.
Mark me, dear Lord, with the sign of Thy true disciples and animate me in all things with Thy Spirit. Amen.
There is a wonderful richness to the Epiphany season. Everything is “charged with the grandeur of God” , it seems; “signs and wonders” abound. Epiphany is the season of miracles and in today’s gospel we are given a richness of miracles, not just one but two miracles, a double healing, the healing of the leper and the healing of the centurion’s servant. Jesus “puts forth his hand”. Jesus speaks. He is the healer.
Epiphany season abounds in miracles. They belong to the larger purpose of the Epiphany season as the season of teaching. In other words, the miracles of Jesus teach us something about God and something about the divine will and purpose for our humanity. The miracles belong to the making visible of the glory of God. They are not for our entertainment but for our enlightenment.
A miracle is, of course, a sign and a wonder. The healing miracles are a wonder. They awaken awe and wonder in us. Consider what we see in the miracles of healing. Simply the signs of the glory of God in the effects of what is said and done. Notice, too, the close connection between word and deed, between what is said and what is done. The miracles of the gospel are all about the word in action, the word of Christ written in the very fabric of our humanity, redeemed and restored to wholeness. The wonder, really, is the wonder of Christ, the wonder of God with us.
Christ heals a leper. Christ heals the paralyzed servant of the centurion. Christ speaks and Christ acts. There is healing. And important things are being taught to us about Jesus as God and about the nature of human redemption. These two healings, so closely juxtaposed, are within and beyond the spiritual boundaries of Israel, we might say. Through the history and meaning of Israel, the glory of God is not only made known to the world but is shown to be for the world. The leper, on the one hand, is healed within the context of the religious culture of Israel and is held to the requirements of the Law. “Go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.”
The centurion, on the other hand, is from outside Israel. But Jesus responds to his request, saying “I will come and heal him”. But his own amazement to the centurion’s simple and direct response, “speak the word only”, shows us something more. Here is the wonder of faith which coming out of Israel transcends Israel. “I have not found”, Jesus says, “so great faith, no not in Israel”. And for both the leper and the centurion, Christ is the wonder. There is an epiphany and in the wonder of Christ we see something greater, namely God’s delight in us through our taking hold of his word.
Christ is the wonder before he puts forth his hand, before he speaks. Yet, the healing miracles are, surprisingly, only part of the glory. They are the making visible of the glory that is present in Jesus Christ. He is the glory. And he is the glory that is somehow made known not just in his effects but in his person.
The leper came and worshipped him, saying, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean”. It is a petition, though expressed almost in the form of an imperious demand. It is a petition which finds its deeper heart of meaning in things like “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, and, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will but thine be done”. These are the words of the one who says “I have come to do the will of him who sent me”. Such words carry us into the glory of the Son with the Father in the bond of the Holy Spirit. The leper somehow knows the presence of the glory of God in Christ Jesus. His petition is his response to what he knows. The healing act which follows both confirms and illumines the glory. “Jesus put forth his hand and touched him saying, ‘I will, be thou clean’”. A window in Israel is opened to behold the glory of heaven on earth.
The glory is made visible in the will that has declared itself. That will is the love that made the heaven and the earth and all that therein is, “the love that moves the sun and the other stars” , as Dante puts it.
The centurion also came and besought him with the simple statement about his servant’s condition. It, too, is a petition, straightforward and direct, though far less imperious. He, too, senses and knows something of the glory of Christ even before Jesus speaks and acts. The brief dialogue between Jesus and the centurion illumines that glory. Jesus says, “I will come and heal him”. But the centurion immediately replies with the most amazing and exquisite words of humility and faith imaginable, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof; but speak the word only and my servant shall be healed”. Such is the light of the glory of Christ shining in us and shining out into the world!
But the glory is made visible not just in the healing but in the words which precede it. “If thou wilt”, the leper says. “Speak the word only”, the centurion says. Jesus says to the leper, “I will; be thou clean”. Jesus says to the centurion,“I will come and heal him”, before being ‘blown away’ with amazement at the man’s statement of faith that is far more than anything that he has found in Israel. Vistas of glory in these simple scenes. Vistas of glory simply in what is said.
The Gospels do not show us the process by which the leper and the centurion come to such an insight into the presence of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. It is, of course, an operation of grace. They show us, perhaps, how as Evangelists, they have come to such a knowledge through the recollection of these events. They show us these things so that we, too, may come to know and grow into the greater knowledge of the glory of the Lord. Such is the mission of the Epiphany.
But something first has to be made known. It is made known in Christ. The light that irradiates the world illumines the souls of those seeking grace. It is there in the idea of the reality of Jesus Christ, God’s Word and Son, made known and proclaimed. Such is the mission of the Church, here and everywhere and at all times.
The light of Epiphany opens us out to the glory of God in Jesus Christ. The hand that is “put forth” is the hand of glory; the voice that speaks is the voice of glory. It goes forth to effect our healing, our salvation. But our healing, our salvation, is about nothing more than the effect of God’s glory upon our lives. Christ is the glory. He puts forth his hand; he speaks his word and only so are we healed. We enter into the glory of his presence, here and now, in the Word proclaimed and the Sacraments celebrated. “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof; but speak the word only and my servant shall be healed”.
Such words evoke Christ’s wonder but as well his judgment, a judgment upon Israel and upon us, for if we do not receive the word that is spoken in our midst then we are like “the children of the kingdom” who are “cast out into outer darkness” because we have ignored and denied the light of the word spoken.
The centurion’s words are words of “great faith” and words that challenge us. They have their application for us as a prayer, especially at the time of receiving communion: “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed”. The glory is present and proclaimed. It has only to be received in us. “Speak the word only” is the condition of our participation in Christ’s glory.
“Speak the word only”
RevFr Ed Bakker
 Hopkins, Gerard Manley, Hopkins Poems and Prose, “God’s Grandeur”.
 Dante, The Divine Comedy, “Paradiso”, Canto XXXIII, l. 145.
Thursday was Epiphany, which is the twelfth day after Christmas. So Christmas season is officially over and we won't be singing any more carols till next year. It is time to put away the tree, and to look forward. It seems sad to let it go, and we wish sometimes that the joy and good will of Christmas could last all year. Yet we know that somehow that wouldn't work. We have to move on from even the best of times. And what about the Christmas message? In the story of Jesus' birth, we heard about how God came down from heaven and visited us in the most personal and easily understandable way. We are rightly shy about trying to understand why God has done what he has done, but if we think about it, it is hard to imagine a better way in which God could have given his message of his love and peace to the world than through the birth of Jesus in the manger. If you had to think up a living picture of God reaching down to us, one that would be able to reach every culture and nation, every level of intelligence and education, every age, every personality, could you come up with a more universal sign for the world than a human baby? We have all been babies and most of us have been up close to them! Babies evoke in us a love and a sense of worth and even wonder that make them a perfect picture of God's love among us. It is no wonder that the Christmas story has the most universal appeal of any part of the Christian faith. And yet perhaps we have to move on from this part of our faith as well. The Christmas story has the power to convey to us the real and close intimacy of God's love for us like nothing else. But perhaps even this message is not the whole of the Christian faith.
These are the kind of questions that our Scripture readings for today address. And the gospel goes right to the heart of the matter in the most wonderful way because it shows the baby Jesus growing up. Mary and Joseph go up to Jerusalem to take part in the Passover feast. When the feast is over they join the caravan that is going back to Nazareth and they think that Jesus is somewhere among the crowd. It was only after a day's journey that they discovered that he wasn't there. They went back and searched for him frantically. They found him in the Temple, questioning and being questioned by the religious teachers of the day. Understandably upset, Mary speaks to him in what I've always thought is a very gentle way: "Son, why have you treated us so? behold your father and I have been searching for you in great distress." But Jesus gives an answer which begins to show that along with the normal character of a twelve year old boy, he is something more. "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"
There are many questions about all this, but notice how perfectly it speaks to our moving forward from Christmas and the Christmas message. Here is the baby Jesus, but he is not a baby any more. Here is the Saviour, but not in the easily accessible form of an infant any more. He still brings the message of God's love and peace for us, but he is no longer lying in a cradle, to be silently adored. He is talking and discussing with the religious teachers. He is upsetting the course of day to day life, worrying his parents, straining the bonds of loving affection, so that he can seek the wisdom of God in the Scriptures. This is a more challenging, less immediate view of the Saviour but it is one that we have to embrace as we move forward from Christmas. I had a friend who said that when one of his daughters was about 9 months old he found their relationship so perfect that he wished he had a pill that would keep her at that age forever! And there is something in every parent that would like to keep their children in that wonderful lovable childhood state. That is an emotion that parents know we have to let go of in order to let something bigger and better happen. And perhaps there is something in us as well that would like to hold on to the Christian faith in its simplest form - as profound and yet simple as the Christ-child in the manger. But this too is something that we have to let go of in order to let something bigger and better happen.
The minister in my church when I was growing up was a man named Fr.John Redmayne.He was a very mild priestly kind of person. But one thing would make him quite angry. People would come up to him at the end of the service and shake his hand and say, "Do you know, I got more out of the children's talk than out of the sermon." I suppose he tried to be gracious at the time, but he used to say, "Adults need an adult faith, and especially in the modern world." The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews must have been experiencing the same frustration when he wrote: "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food." It is really all there in the contrast between the Christmas gospel and the gospel for this Sunday. Who would not in a way prefer to think about the Christ-child, innocent and perfect in the manger, than the twelve year old Christ, discussing with the religious teachers and amazing them with his answers? How much easier it is to love the softly breathing baby, than the dawning adolescent, who leaves his parents not knowing where to find him, and then tells them that they should have sought him where his true home is. But the baby and the adolescent are the same Christ. And we will not be true to the message of Christmas if we do not go on to relate to him in a more thoughtful, a more questioning, a more mature and informed way.
In the old paintings of Jesus and the saints, their heads are surrounded by a halo, a circle of light. It was a way of getting across the idea of the holiness that shines through the person. In the paintings of Jesus, he would look very different in pictures of his birth, and his adulthood. But the halo that would be around his head would be the same as a baby and as an adult and that says something very true about him. His holiness remained the same, but as a man he grew up and that meant leaving behind the tender lovableness of a baby, so that he could think and question and learn and become wise. In our Christian walk, we need to keep returning to the tender simplicity of the Christmas message and that is why we celebrate Christmas each year. But we also need to move forward when the time is come, and think and question and learn and become wise. The Christmas message is all about God coming to us, becoming one of us, sharing our lives as they are. But if we take that message for granted, if we try to hold on to it without changing we will lose it. Just as Joseph and Mary found themselves without Jesus and had to go looking for him, we sometimes find that by holding on to our simple ideas about him we have lost touch with him. We then need to take our place beside him in God's house, questioning and learning, so that we may come to maturity in our Christian walk.