From the St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP) - blog for Epiphany

The powerful act of realisation

Epiphany is a powerful word; it’s an instant of revelation, a pivotal moment of realisation when truth becomes manifest. For people of faith, Epiphany takes on added significance as the affirmation of the divinity of the baby Jesus, and the hope embodied in him.

An epiphany begins with a subconscious thought, an inkling, unfocussed and ethereal. Prompted by an external influence, it comes into sharp focus, defining and influencing opinions, actions, and even the path through life.

January 6 marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas, and the message of the Epiphany, the significance of the Magi offering gifts to the infant Christ, holds a deeper meaning for us all during this time of challenge and adversity. The act of giving resonates with us all as we navigate life lived in the shadow of Covid’s malign influence.

Compassion mirrored

Epiphany is a recurring theme in life, art, science and religion. From Hamlet’s realisation that revenge only leads to more misery, to Orson Welles breathing the infamous ‘Rosebud’ as the dying Charles Foster Kane realises the simple things in life outweigh fame and fortune, epiphany strikes a dramatic chord on page and screen alike. Our understanding of the world around us is immeasurably changed by epiphany, for example, Archimedes’ eureka moment in the bath or Albert Einstein’s vivid visualisation of time and space on board a streetcar in Bern, Switzerland. These brief moments in time demonstrate the power of epiphany when the mind relaxes and allows creative thought to pervade the consciousness.

However, epiphany becomes most powerful when viewed through the prism of life; that moment when the offender realises that life doesn’t have to be defined by crime, and that redemption and hope offer more benefit than oppression and incarceration, or the recognition that giving is infinitely more rewarding than receiving.

The significance of the moment when the Magi looked down on the infant Jesus, offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, is mirrored every day across the world in every act of kindness, every gesture of compassion.

As we enter a new year, those acts of kindness and compassion will be more important than ever. The virulent spread of the Omicron variant serves as a stark reminder that the pandemic isn’t over, nor will it be for the foreseeable future, and that means the tragedy of loss, poverty, and isolation will continue to blight our world, dealing the cruellest stroke to those at the fringes of society.

In difficult times, hope is a precious resource, often accompanied by an epiphany, so, though we live in dark times, the realisation that hope for the future relies on moments of revelation should give comfort. The discovery and the refinement of the Covid vaccines, the groundswell of voluntary support, and the generosity of people moved to help those in need in their community all echo an epiphany, be that scientific or spiritual.

A mission born of need

As we celebrate the Epiphany, it is an opportune moment to consider Frédéric Ozanam, the founder of the St Vincent de Paul Society, who knew that every human being deserved to live with dignity, regardless of the conditions in which they exist.

Ozanam’s epiphany came as he walked through the hell that was the slums of Paris in 1832. Witnessing the devastating effects of cholera, which claimed around 1,200 victims each day, the piteous conditions in the slums, and the pervasive sense of helplessness of those unfortunate enough to find themselves there, Ozanam’s desire to help is easily understood.

Today those same Vincentian values exist, thanks to the Society which was created in the wake of Ozanam’s epiphany as he turned his concern for his fellow human being into action. The Society’s mission has changed very little in almost 200 years, and still seeks to “find those in need, to help them in a spirit of justice and to tackle the causes of poverty.” That statement contains a powerful message of hope for anyone in need.

So, as we look forward to the next 12 months, we should all remember those three wise men, or kings, or, as they have also been described as astrologers, who followed a guiding star to a baby to offer gifts and found instead hope for the future.

You can support people in need by donating to the SVP Christmas Kindness Appeal