Welcome to our Epiphany retreat. In the next few days I will be adding some Epiphany retreat resources. Please use them in whichever way you find most helpful. If you wish to take part in an online Epiphany retreat on Saturday 9 January please contact Sr Judith to register.
This section has some useful tools to help you start your retreat. Here are some ideas for creating sacred space and for praying with scripture. They can be used individually or with others.
In some parts of Ireland there is a custom of celebrating the Epiphany as “women’s Christmas”. It originated as a day when the women left the domestic responsibilities to the men and took Epiphany as a day to celebrate with their friends at the end of the Christmas season.
As we come to the end of a strange and challenging Christmas this idea has something appealing about it. It gives us the opportunity to set step back from our busyness and anxiety. It’s a chance to pause, reflect and draw wisdom from the season that we have celebrated before we take up the responsibilities and concerns of the New Year.
Wisdom is at the heart of the Epiphany. It’s the gift of being able to recognise the presence of God in the midst of our daily lives, however uncertain or messy they may be. Traditionally we focus on the coming of the wise men. They had the wisdom to recognise the significance of the star, to follow it, to recognise Christ when they came to him in unexpected circumstances and to avoid Herod’s scheming. But theirs is not the only wisdom in our Christmas story. In the spirit of women’s Christmas I want to focus on the women in the Christmas story, and the wisdom and insight that they offer us.
Three women are central in the Christmas story, Mary, Elizabeth and Anna. All of them knew challenge and uncertainty in their own lives. They each knew the cost of trusting God’s promise to their people, even when it didn’t look like it was being fulfilled. They each had a wisdom and insight that enabled them to recognise and proclaim God’s coming into the world in Christ.
Begin your retreat by reflecting on the wisdom Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah, offers us.
Elizabeth can seem like a shadowy figure. Almost everything we know about her we hear through someone else. We hear that she is an older woman, the wife of Zechariah the priest, who has not been able to have children and is past the age where that should be possible. We don’t hear anything about her response to her unexpected pregnancy, we are left to imagine her joy and uncertainty at that news. We don’t even know how the news came to her. Yet When her cousin Mary comes to her she immediately recognises that Mary is bearing Christ, the long expected Messiah, and is able to step out of the shadows to proclaim Christ’s presence.
The wisdom that revealed this to her can only have come from a lifetime lived in hope as a faithful daughter of the Covenant. There is real humility in Elizabeth. While she must have recognised that her own pregnancy signified a special birth and a special child she was able to see beyond that to the greater promise that was coming. In her interaction with Mary she points attention away from herself towards Mary, who is the mother of the Saviour. She turns the attention from herself and her own son towards the greater Son who is to come. In this way she becomes the model for her son John who will point attention away from himself who is “not the light” towards Christ who is the light.
Read Luke 1: 39 – 56
Where does the Holy Spirit fill you and call you to act?
How does your awareness of the presence of Christ bring joy to your heart?
What helps you to see the word of God being fulfilled in your life?
In this section reflect of the wisdom that Mary, the mother of the Saviour offers us.
Mary comes to us through many filters, centuries of theology, doctrine and dogma can mean it’s difficult to get back to the young woman who encounters the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation.
It can be very tempting to see Mary as passive and everything as preordained. The angel appears to her and tells her “You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High…” She has no choice but to accept. If we look carefully at the text we find that that is not the case. The angel has to wait until Mary has given her answer without that. With the benefit of hindsight we assume that the only answer she could possibly have given is “let what you have said be done to me.”
However, that is not the case. Christian tradition is clear that Mary’s answer was not known in advance, how could it have been? She had to give her consent to God’s call with complete freedom. The church fathers speak of how the whole of creation held its breath waiting, uncertain, hoping for this young woman to give her consent to God’s plan. St Bernard of Clairvaux sums it up the tension, hope and uncertainty of the situation when he writes:
“The angel is waiting for your answer: it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting…If you consent straightway shall we be freed….the whole world is waiting…”
In her encounter with the angel Mary took time to discover the deepest response her heart could make to the request. Her pondering led her to a response of complete self giving and humility. It’s a response that could was only possible from a strong woman with a courageous, wise and faithful heart.
Read Luke 1: 26 – 38
How does the Lord’s presence touch you in your daily life?
Where are you aware of being disturbed by the word of the Lord?
What is your response to the God who invites you into a loving relationship?
Reflect on the wisdom the prophetess Anna brings to your understanding of Christmas.
In many ways Anna is the most shadowy of all the women. Again, we only know of her through what other people tell us. She was a widow, she had been married for seven years. She spent her days in the Temple praying and fasting.
She too was a faithful woman of the covenant, who had spent her long life waiting for the coming of the Messiah, trusting in the promise and living in hope. In her old age her hope was fulfilled and she saw the Messiah with her own eyes, touched him with her own hands. Out of her life of faithful waiting she gained the wisdom to recognise the Messiah, and the courage to proclaim him to all those she met.
Read Luke 2: 22 – 24, 36 -28.
You can use the passage for Lectio Divina. There are some guidelines for Lectio Divina here:
Or you can use these questions for your reflection:
What helps you to remain faithful?
Where do you feel drawn to praise God?
How would you like your life to speak of Christ to all those you meet?