Mass of the Feast of the Epiphany
6 January 2016
St. Louis Convent, Monaghan 11.45am.
My dear sisters,
Today’s feast traditionally closes the twelve days of Christmas. It is, in a sense, the feast of a star which gives light and directs people.
It is the feast of a sign, a sign of God’s care and love for his people. This sign has drawn and inspired people since the beginning of our time and still does. If you visited Massachusetts General Hospital and made your way to the tenth floor you will find a glass display case with various plaques and artefacts. One of these signs or symbols had a particular fascination for me when I heard the story behind it.
Six year old Tony was born with an eye problem. He was now almost totally blind. His doctor had read in the New England Journal of Medicine of a new surgical procedure which was being carried out at Massachusetts General that might help. He sent on the boy’s Medical Record and in due time a decision was made to try the surgery. Tony had a teddy bear which he kept with him at all times. This teddy bear had begun to show signs of wear. One eye was missing, one ear was chewed off, and the stuffing was oozing out through several holes. Tony’s Dad offered to buy him a new one but he didn’t want a new one, so the old one went with him to Boston and remained close all through the X-rays, tests and consultations. In fact the boy and his teddy bear were not separated until the anaesthetic was given for the surgery itself.
With the surgery completed, Tony was heavily bandaged and had to remain still for a couple of days. Each day the surgeon was in and out to check on him and to encourage him. Finally came the day for removing the bandages. For the first time in six years Tony could see. Though his vision was blurred at first, it gradually clarified and for the first time Tony could look into the faces of his parents.
Before long, it was time for Tony to be discharged and to go home. On that final morning the surgeon signed the necessary discharge papers and gave Tony a big hug and said “Listen, I own stock in you. I expect to get letters from you regularly. Do you understand?” Then Tony did something totally unexpected. He said to his surgeon friend, “I want you to have this,” and he handed him his teddy bear. The surgeon’s first impulse was to say “Oh no, I can’t take that.” But something stopped him. With a flash of intuition the surgeon understood what Tony was trying to do. He wanted to give his dear surgeon friend the most precious gift at his disposal, so full was his heart with love and gratitude. The wise surgeon accepted the teddy bear with a hug and a thank you, assuring Tony that he would take mighty good care of his friend.
For over ten years that teddy bear sat in that glass case on the tenth floor, one eye missing, one ear chewed off and stuffing oozing out of several holes. In front of the teddy bear was the surgeon’s card; just beneath his name he had written this caption, ‘This is the highest fee I have ever received for professional services rendered.”
If we turn our own eyes to the newspapers, magazines, tv programmes and films which attempt to describe and analyse the world we live in, we get a less than happy or pretty picture. We find people grasping for power and wealth, motivated by greed rather than giving; and worshipping self rather than God and his glory. We find people fleeing from the countries of the East to escape modern forms of slavery, injustice and corruption. Lives are wiped out in a calculated way by religious extremists using the most effective weapons of destruction which include chemical warfare which leaves a cruel blight on lives of future generations. It seems a dark world of crime and death and now we are told that the forces of nature are buckling under our abuse, mismanagement and greed. It is as if nature is turning on us, not able to take the treatment we give it, and we find innocent victims of bad decisions wading through flooded homes and damaged land and premises. We are so deeply entrenched in our ways that we find it difficult to change and accept the discipline and sacrifices that will be demanded to bring harmony and healing.
We still need the teddy bear, we still need the guidance of the star. Jesus came into the world, lived among us, showed us the light but the darkness held sway to the point of preventing the light from establishing a directing role in the affairs of mankind.
Marion Mill was born into wealth and prestige literally in a Hungarian Castle. Her first spoon was not silver but solid gold. She went to school in Vienna and became an actress. She fell in love with a young law student called Otto. They married and went to live in Hollywood. He became interested in movies, gave up his practice and became the famed film director Otto Preminger. Marion’s beauty, wit and charm got her everything but she could not handle the fast life. She slipped into drugs, alcohol and sexual affairs and divorced Otto. She attempted suicide three times before moving back to Vienna.
Like Tony and his parents, she met a doctor and went to him for counselling. It happened to be the famous Dr Albert Schweitzer, and when he went back to his mission to the poorest in darkest Africa she went with him. In fact she spent the rest of her life as a hospital servant. She wrote a book called “All I want is everything”. The title was inspired by Schweitzer who once said to her, “there are two kinds of people. There are the helpers and the non-helpers.” Marion replied. “I thank God that he has allowed me to become a helper and in helping, I found everything.”
The light is never totally extinguished despite the pressure on it. Jesus came and he is still with us. It needs our attention and our co-operation, from each one of us. Really, we should be the light.
+Liam S. MacDaid
6 January 2016