How well do you think you know your Catholic faith?
Like… if I were to give you all a pop quiz on the Catechism right now — do you think you could pass?
Now maybe you think you’re pretty smart — After all, you’re subscribed to Word on Fire’s YouTube page. You’ve listened to Catechism-in-a-Year podcast with Fr Mike Schmitz talking ridiculously fast. You’ve read the latest Scott Hahn book. You’re up to date on all the latest crazy Church politics from your favorite Catholic news source. So perhaps, when you hear there’s gonna be a pop-quiz on Catholic stuff, maybe you’d be pretty psyched about that.
Bring it on, Fr Anthony — Let’s go!
But I suspect those folks would probably be in the minority. I think most Catholics would probably feel pretty freaked out… pretty uncomfortable if they were suddenly put on the spot like that.
I heard a talk recently where the speaker said that one of the top excuses people give him for why they don’t feel qualified to evangelize — why they don’t believe they have what it takes to go out there and share their faith with the people in their lives — is that they don’t feel like they “know enough” about their faith.
They think they’re not “smart enough” or “educated enough” to share their faith…
But here’s the truth:
Knowing a lot about Catholicism… knowing a bunch things about the Church or about theology or the liturgy… is radically different than KNOWING HIM.
Now of course, learning about your faith is a good thing. Bible studies are fantastic. Fr Mike Schmitz’s ‘Catechism in a Year’ is a MASSIVE gift to the universal Church, even if he does talk ridiculously fast….
But if you somehow managed to come to know everything there was to know about Catholic stuff…
…If you took every single Jeff Cavins Great Adventure Bible Study class and memorized the entire Catechism from cover to cover… if you could ratchet off the names of all 266 popes, the 73 books of the Bible (in order), the 21 ecumenical councils AND their theological implications, the corporal AND spiritual works of mercy, the gifts AND fruits of the Holy Spirit, the 7 principles of Catholic Social Teaching, the 37 Doctors of the Church…
If you consumed ALL the Catholic media and content, and crammed ALL that info into your brain, but you didn’t KNOW Jesus…like AS A REAL PERSON…then it would all be worth precisely NOTHING.
It would be a total and tragic WASTE…
Jeff Cavins, in his book “The Activated Disciple,” makes this piercing observation:
“There’s a big difference,” he says “between being a fan of Jesus — and being a follower.”
Now THAT’S a question we could all ask ourselves and the Lord sometime in prayer: Am I a big fan of Jesus? His sayings? His stories? Or… am I one of His followers? Is Catholicism like my #1 hobby? My preferred “club” that I happen to be a part of…?
Or… am I an active, intentional disciple of Christ? Do I know Him?
I’m posing all of this because today’s great Feast Day — the Feast of the Epiphany — introduces us to some new characters in the Christmas saga.
Today, we meet the “Magi from the east.” And these guys really are “wise men”… I mean they are the hyper-intellectuals of their day! As Dr. John Bergsma points out, “the magi are representatives of the scholars and academics, those who give their lives to learning, to the acquisition of wisdom.”
Consider this for a moment:
The Magi did a great deal of calculating, estimating, philosophizing, and thinking before setting out for their long journey from Persia.
They did their homework!!!! They had compiled their sources painstakingly. They knew what the ancient prophecies said. They understood the movement of the stars in the sky…
But all that scholarly work — all that intellectual effort — did what? What was its end?
It brought the Magi to the feet of Jesus: “On entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.” And “they prostrated themselves and did him homage… They opened their treasures and offered their gifts… gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
It was only in that living, personal encounter… that manifestation of the Lord’s Real, True, Face-to-Face Presence that the Magi found what all their academic research could never ultimately offer them. This encounter changed the Magi forever: “They departed for their country by another way,” we heard in the Gospel… because nobody can leave the Presence of Jesus unchanged.
Here’s the deal:
The Magi couldn’t have a personal relationship with their philosophy and science. They couldn’t have a friendship with ancient prophecies, or with constellations. They couldn’t have a conversation with the star hanging in the night sky that guided their way to the Holy Family.
But they could come to adore and worship the Lord Jesus.
They could know Him. …And be known by Him.
That’s what the Lord is offering you. That’s what it means to be a disciple.
Learning about your faith is a VERY good thing. Being interested and motivated to know and understand what and why the Church teaches what it does is awesome.
But at some point or another, you need an EPIPHANY.
You need a breakthrough ENCOUNTER with the Living God that humbles you and brings you to your knees in prayer.
That word “epiphany” comes from the Greek which means “to reveal” or “to manifest.”
If you break the word down into its parts, you have “epi-” which means “upon, near, or over” and “phany-” which means “appearance… a manifestation… a revelation.”
So “epiphany” literally means an “appearance upon” or a “revelation over.”
That’s what each of us really truly needs — and I think it’s what we all thirst for, don’t we? — We want God to “appear” — to “REVEAL himself” upon, near, over our lives!!!
In other words, we want God to SHOW UP. To make Himself known! To speak with us. To be close to us.
But let’s face it: A lot of the time, we feel like we’re sort of in the dark. I talk so many people, and they tell me: “Father, I don’t know where God is in my life. I can’t feel Him. I can’t hear Him. He seems so silent. So absent.”
If that’s you — if you don’t believe you can hear God’s voice — if you feel like He’s been uncomfortably quiet for too long — I just want to preach today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah to you. Let these words pierce your soul and your heart:
“See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but UPON YOU the LORD shines!”
Do you hear that? Upon YOU — the Lord appears! Upon YOU — the Lord MANIFESTS His GLORY… His PRESENCE!!!!
The Light of Revelation! Supernatural revelation! A new star has dawned! A LIGHT appears! A Light for all the nations!
This light is bright. It exposes everything. The good, the bad, and the ugly in our lives. “The light shines into the darkness and the darkness has not comprehended it.”
But this Light has a name: It’s Jesus.
“It was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” St Paul tells us in the second reading.
Something NEW has happened. God is now close to us. That’s what the Magi came to discover — Jesus is Emmanuel… God with us!
He is not absent. He’s speaking to you through this liturgy. Through the Scriptures. Through this faith community. Through the Holy Eucharist — His BODY AND BLOOD that we are about to share.
What an EPIPHANY!
Jesus appears — manifests Himself — on THIS altar.
That’s better than any Bible study.
Better than any homily.
Any Catholic YouTuber.
Jesus is inviting you to ENCOUNTER Him.
He wants you to know the Truth. The real Truth. The solid Truth. The Truth that never changes. He wants you to choose God — choose LIGHT rather than darkness. Holiness rather than self-indulgence. He wants you to commit to your vocation. To renounce sin. To reorient your entire life back to Him.
He is giving you grace right now to do that. To know Him. To kneel down and worship Him alongside the Magi.
What’s your choice gonna be?
Are you gonna be a big fan of Jesus?
Or will you be His follower? His disciple?