Date: Sunday, January 08, 2023
During a highly anticipated event, before a vast stadium, TV and radio audience, the precious life of one player overshadows the relative importance of a football game. In the Buffalo News, Adam Zyglis captures the significance of the moment in his cartoon on the Opinion Page. He draws two superstar quarterbacks, Joe Burrow and Josh Allen, both wearing the # 3 on their uniforms, standing close together, looking intently ahead. The caption reads: “We are all Hamlin.” Two fiercely competitive athletes are no longer concerned about the outcome of the game but watching, waiting, and praying for Damar Hamlin. After Damar was taken away in an ambulance, Cincinnati Coach, Zac Taylor, walked over to the Bills sidelines to converse with Sean McDermott. Coach Sean McDermott remarked, “I need to be at the hospital with Damar, and I shouldn’t be coaching this came.” The focus had changed for the players, for the coaches, and for the fans. Without embarrassment, almost spontaneously, people prayed publicly to God for the wellbeing of Damar Hamlin and his family. This brush with death and outpouring of human affection will leave an indelible mark on countless people. Josh Allen, later at a press conference, speaking for himself, observed, “Some people will be changed forever.” This happening that enlightens and transforms can be called an “epiphany.”
To “have an epiphany” means to suddenly perceive or understand something important, maybe even life changing. “Epiphany” means “manifestation” or “awakening.” Today is the feast of the Epiphany. St. Matthew recalls Magi in the East arriving in Jerusalem inquiring about the newborn king of Jews. “We saw his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.” In the ancient world it was believed each person has a star that determines one’s destiny. Whatever light the Magi see in the heavens, whether it was a star, the conjunction of planets, a comet, or some other mysterious illumination, it occasions in them inner reflection, an examination of their lives, and it kindles a desire to search for the meaning and source of the light. We imagine the Magi on a journey moving slowly riding on camels although this detail is not mentioned in St. Matthew’s narrative. Here we have the dynamic of an epiphany: awakening, embarking on a journey and conversion. Pope Francis, in his homily for the Epiphany in 2021, speaks of these journeys and transformations. “After a journey, we are no longer the same. There is always something new about those who have made a journey: they have learned new things, encountered new people and situations, and found inner strength amidst the hardships and risks they met along the way. No one worships the Lord without first experiencing the inner growth that comes from embarking on a journey.”
While the spectacular catches our attention, epiphanies occur in seemingly ordinary moments and circumstances. We’ve all have had these “Aha!” moments that wake us up out of our often-unconscious stumbling through life, that instant when we see or hear or experience something that opens our eyes all at once to a reality, we could not perceive just a few moments before. Epiphanies come in many shapes and sizes: the birth of a baby, the smile of a child, a word of encouragement, images of distant galaxies taken by the James Webb telescope, a neighbor stopping by to check on how you are doing. The fundamental hidden reality revealed is the mystery of God. When the Magi arrive in Bethlehem, upon entering the house and seeing the child and Mary, his mother, they prostrate themselves before the mystery of God with us in Jesus Christ.
The gesture of prostrating or kneeling or bowing is an expression of awe and humility. We noticed the response of the football players and coaches when emergency personnel were striving to save the life of Damar Hamlin by compressing his chest, restoring the rhythm of his heart and the flow of oxygen to his brain. They huddled together, bowing their heads, some kneeling, in shock and disbelief, as they encountered an epiphany – the revelation of the mystery of life and death, of love and God. Like the Magi, when we experience such a revelation, we cannot return home by the same route. We are changed.