Cornelia called the Epiphany “our great feast of the year.” Early on she began the tradition of honoring this feast in a distinctive way through a three-day retreat and an annual Epiphany letter to her sisters. Cornelia also chose the Feast of the Epiphany to mark the annual renewal of vows for Sisters of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus.
Why did Cornelia choose to honor the Feast of the Epiphany as “our great feast of the year?” How could this choice help us understand her beloved incarnational charism that is central to her spirituality and all Holy Child ministries, especially Mayfield Senior School?
Let’s start with the idea of epiphany. What a beautiful word! Its origins are Ancient Greek, where it comes from the verb to bring light, to reveal. It has evolved to mean an experience of revelation: an aha moment, the light bulb going off in your head. It is a new, surprising, and sudden understanding, a recognition of the truth after which one is never the same—changed forever.
Take a moment and think of an epiphany that you have experienced.
These are often memorable experiences bringing great joy. Often an aha moment comes to us after hard work and diligent searching. When this moment is revealed, it’s like an answer to a prayer and carries the power of new understanding. The revelation can change us in a profound and enduring way. We have removed an obstacle and we can move forward, closer to our goal.
Just like the Magi—they were seeking diligently; they had come through an arduous journey searching for the Messiah, the newborn King of the Jews. When they found Him, they threw themselves on the ground knowing that they and the world had been changed forever.
I think this is the essence of Cornelia’s spirituality and how she lived her life in relation to her understanding of the Divine. Our mission statement, and those of all Holy Child ministries, beautifully sum up this understanding: We are called to believe and to help others believe that God lives and acts in them and the world, to rejoice in the Divine presence.
For Cornelia that was the goal—to recognize, feel and act upon the all-encompassing belief in God’s infinite love. It is a love so huge, so powerful, so wonderful, so awesome that He came to us as one of us. This Holy Child was born in humble poverty and pain, a helpless tiny baby. God made this sacrifice to come among us to serve as a model and help us understand and recognize what love is all about. God also became human to help us understand and believe that He is always with us and in us, working through us. We are never abandoned, we are never alone, we are always cherished. The proof is that we have been given the most precious gift imaginable in the form of a newborn baby.
The Magi saw and recognized this gift. Cornelia’s legacy challenges all of us, as she did herself, to recognize this gift every day. She calls on us to seek and find this blessing in ourselves so that we can share it. And she urges us to discover it in others so we can honor it.
As I reflected on this message, I found a beautiful prayer in a Holy Child Associates Newsletter from November 2004, written appropriately by Sr. Elizabeth Strub ’47, SHCJ. Sister asked us to imagine what Epiphany could mean to us year-round.
Epiphany: God see-able, touch-able, do-able in Jesus, right up to today.
Epiphany: God mixed in with this mixed-up world.
Epiphany: God both creator and creature, the integrity and dignity of each person and of all creation.
Epiphany: God who shows up in unexpected places— Bethlehem, Nazareth, inner cities, slums, prisons.
Epiphany: God vulnerable, small, needy, limited, culturally challenged, mostly ignored but staying anyway.
Epiphany: God living through my living, loving through my loving.
Epiphany: God squeezed into one time, one place, one race, one life-span and revealed in everyone’s.
Epiphany: God destination of Magi, consort of fools, companion even to my own foolishness.
Epiphany: God who awes by being ordinary.
Epiphany: God who once upon a time became one of us and still is one of us.
Epiphany: Jesus then, now, and always the living, breathing image of God for all to see.
Inspired by those profound words, let us seek to honor our beloved Cornelia by honoring her chosen “Great Feast” throughout the year and by living the prayer she wrote for us in her own Epiphany letter of 1854—165 years ago.
Let us all be diligent in giving proofs of love this year, and as you step on through the muddy streets, love God with your feet; and when your hands toil, love Him with your hands; and when you teach children, love Him with His little ones; and thus may you be blessed in your actions with an abundance of Divine Love, and purified and prepared in this world to enjoy an eternity of Love.