Op-Ed: What’s really important in life

(The following homily was delivered Saturday, Jan. 5)

As we celebrate Epiphany Sunday, we find Herod threatened by the newborn Christ. Herod’s whole identity was wrapped around his titles, his possessions, and his position in society. Herod allowed these things to define who he was, the basis for his self-worth. Herod therefore saw Jesus as a threat to his very being. Yet Herod’s singular focus on his titles, possessions, and position was in fact his greatest threat. Jesus offered Herod and everyone else a life of peace and meaning.

If Herod truly knew who he was and whose he was, he would have welcomed Jesus into the world. But Herod let fear rule his life, seeing life as a zero sum game: if someone rises, then someone else must fall. Herod, like many people in the world today, saw everything in terms of either winning or losing, a competition to be won at any cost.

As we begin a new year, it’s an opportune time for each of us to look at how we see life and how we see ourselves. Are we defined by our titles, possessions, and positions in society, or is there more to who we really are? None of those things can define who we really are, and none of them will come with us when we one day leave this world. When all of our titles, possessions, and positions are stripped away, who or what will be left?

An epiphany is defined as “a sudden, intuitive perception of, or insight into, the reality or essential meaning of something.” Epiphanies occur throughout our lives and allow us to see clearly for a brief moment what’s really important. While epiphanies help us see truth, what we do with them is entirely up to us. To appreciate our epiphanies, we must be open to the hand of God working in our lives. We must be seekers like the Magi: seeking God, seeking truth, seeking meaning, seeking a better way to live. We must remember that only love lasts, and love is all we’ll be able to take with us when we one day leave this world: the love that we’ve received, and the love that we’ve given.

Jesus calls us to epiphanies that can help make the realities of life clear to us: the reality that fear can paralyze us into making our life a self-made prison, the reality that love is the antidote to fear, and the reality that faith is the key to gaining the courage necessary to allow love to overcome our fears. Until we’re willing to refuse to let our titles, possessions and positions define us, we’ll never truly know who we are, and perhaps even more importantly, who we’re meant to become.

I used to keep a card on my desk at work written by Max DePree that read: “In the end, it’s important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” None of us is meant to live life without passion, without that excitement that gets us out of bed each day to pursue our hopes and dreams. Like the Magi, we’re called to offer our gifts to Christ by offering them to the world. Each of us, without exception, has gifts and talents to offer, but we must first come to recognize them: What are we good at? What is it that we do well that we simply take for granted? What is it that we do that makes us lose track of time? It’s never too late to regain our passion for life.

All of this reminds us of the parable of the talents found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, where the fearful servant buried his talents. How many of our talents have we buried away in exchange for not having to embrace needed change in our lives? Part of our life’s work is to find and share the buried treasure in each of our lives while not allowing the fear of failure or the fear of change to deter us. To give up on ourselves, to declare that it’s too late in our lives for change, is to give up on God, and that’s one of the greatest tragedies that can befall us. When we learn to recognize and use our gifts for the benefit of those around us, we become a gift to others. And that’s the point: to become a gift to others, and God calls us to this epiphany every day of our lives.
Deacon Tony Conti
Our Lady of Fatima Parish