Vigil of the Epiphany 2022

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

My Brethren in Christ Jesus, blessings, and peace, as we celebrate the Vigil of the Epiphany. As we consider our liturgical calendar, we note that we celebrate Vigils on the Eve of several Holy Days of Obligation, including Easter Sunday, the Ascension of Our Lord, Pentecost, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Christmas, and Epiphany. From the Latin word vigilia, which means watchful, vigil refers specifically to the act of staying awake in the last quarter of night before daybreak. The idea is that we are preparing ourselves for the day about to come, and the preparation is heightened and anticipatory. There is no time to lollygag. With so much at stake, spiritual idleness is a kind of wickedness. For if we do not prepare ourselves with prayer and some kind of abstinence or fasting, we are not going to be ready for the blessings of the high holy day about to come; and our indolence now will lead to a missed opportunity then. The blessings of the high holy day in essence will be like the seeds tossed into the hard ground or into the thickets. Either our hearts will remain too hardened for the blessings to mature in us, or our preoccupations with this our fallen world will pervert those blessings into something worse, frankly, than if we had not been blessed in the first place. Consider as an analogy what St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:29: “He that eatheth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” St. Paul is referring specifically to the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. The Real Presence of Christ Jesus is there in the bread and the wine, even if we do not have faith that that is so; but the Real Presence will not be spiritually efficacious to us, indeed, even more so, will be the occasion to our damnation, if we receive Him while still in a state of grievous sin or faithlessness. We must be prepared to receive Him in the Mass, or we are receiving Him unworthily. Being prepared does not mean being perfect. All men who come forward to the Altar Rail continue even then to fall short of the glory of God, and we do not say that they are all taking Communion to their damnation. Rather, being prepared means being as much as possible earnest in our private prayers and forthright in Confessing our sins to a Priest, or as part of the General Confession, and in receiving Absolution. Analogously, the blessings of a high holy day will not be spiritually efficacious to us if we remain too lackadaisical in receiving them. Given the temptation of sin all around us, and given the extent to which our modern and secular world teaches us that these high holy days are simply not all that important, we need to remain all the more vigilant in preparing ourselves for the blessings that God has in store for us. We must stay watchful when the world tries to lure us back to sleep. The Vigils are our chances to do just that. Be thankful we have the days before that are set aside for us to get things right.

And, indeed, we need these Vigils. In today’s reading from the Epistle to the Galatians, St. Paul refers to the man without Christ Jesus as “differeth nothing from a servant.” He is similar to the mischievous child “in bondage under the elements of the world.” At best, we are learning from our bondage to sin and our judgment under the Law that we really need salvation to make any sense of our lives. At worst, we are so bound to sin that we have given up the possibility of real and everlasting salvation. When this happens, we embrace our own despair, and wallow in our own wretchedness, as the ultimate expression of our narcissism. Whether learning from all our sins, or surrendering unto them, we are children in school or in chains. Assuming that we have not yet completely surrendered to the Hell of our own making, and are endeavoring even now to learn and to grow, then we should embrace the spiritual watchfulness that is associated with a Vigil. We should embrace the additional discipline needed to persevere through the blackest hour and to be ready for the first indication of God’s daybreak. The addition can be as small as saying a Rosary on the Eve of the Holy Day, or lighting a candle and offering a silent prayer for those not so fortunate as ourselves to know the love of Christ in their hearts. The addition can be reading up on the Holy Day about to come, so that we learn a little something more that we can cherish in our hearts and pass on to those who remain outside the faith. Note that there is a connection between preparing and sharing. We prepare ourselves to grow in the faith to the extent we share what we have of the faith with others. The Vigil reminds us that as Christians we are planters. God has handed us the seeds of salvation in Christ Jesus. Our work is to plant those seeds so that more people may come to know the same salvation we are embracing for ourselves. If we are not planting those seeds for others, then we are not truly rooted ourselves in that fertile soil. For to be rooted in Christ Jesus is to do the work He has shown us how to do. St. Paul explains that when we grow and mature in Christ Jesus, we cease to be servants to sin, but are instead adopted Sons of God. God sends forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, and so we cry, “Abba, Father.” This implies the intimacy we shall have with God the Father, but this also implies the obligations that we shall have to our fellow men both inside and outside of the faith. If indeed “thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ,” then like Christ Jesus you are praying and working for your neighbor who is not yet able to cry out, “Abba, Father.” You move forward in faith and in love, because like a Solider for Our Lord you are prepared to leave no one behind. Indeed, you pray that much more for those who insist upon staying behind in the little Hell that they have crafted for themselves. You move into the light of God because you are forever maintaining a Vigil for those still stuck in the darkness.

This is easier said than done. When we maintain a Vigil for those still stuck in the darkness, by definition we are praying for people who most likely are not praying for us. We are extending charity to those who may be so blinded by their sins as to think that they do not need charity, and will be even less inclined to extend it back to us. Even worse, by praying for those stuck in the darkness, we may adopt the condescending attitude of the self-righteous Pharisee. Indeed, if we are not careful, our Vigils may become the occasion for patting ourselves on the back and so ruining our own souls. Consider the words of St. John of Kronstadt: “You are angry with your neighbor. You despise him, do not like to speak peaceably and lovingly to him, because there is something harsh, abrupt, careless, or unpleasant to you in his character, in his speech, or in his manners. Perhaps, because he is much more conscious of his own dignity than is necessary, or because he is much too proud and disrespectful. But you, yourself, your neighbor’s teacher and physician, are more guilty than him. Teacher, teach thyself. Physician, heal thyself. Verily, your own malice toward him is the bitterest of all evils. Having a beam in your own eye, can you pull out the mote from his eye? Evil and faults are corrected by good, by love, kindness, meekness, humility, and patience.” On this Vigil of the Epiphany, let us pray for the same spirit of goodness and kindness, so that indeed we may have that kernel of charity in our hearts that allows for us to remain watchful for the blessings of Christ Jesus and to extend those blessings to every man.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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