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Andrew Cuomo's Gift for the Feast of the Epiphany

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I didn't love the way the race for governor in my state (New York) went this past November. The GOP didn't put up a fight, and Andrew Cuomo, the son of former Governor Mario Cuomo, sailed into office without needing to trouble himself over actually mounting a campaign.

It was hard for me to get excited about Cuomo in November of last year, but all of that changed when I read the New York Daily News today.

I like how he went to church on the Roman Catholic Feast of the Epiphany.

Let me be clear: I like how he went to church, not that he went.

For people who celebrate Christmas in a non-secular way, the Feast of the Epiphany, which Roman Catholics celebrated on January 2nd this year, can function as a slightly more spiritually authentic Christmas. Called "Little Christmas" in some cultures, the Feast of the Epiphany comes after presents have been opened, after Christmas music on the radio has stopped, after discarded pine trees have begun to be kicked to the curb and (though not so this year) after the children have gone back to school. The Feast of the Epiphany lacks the fanfare of Christmas Day, and captures some of the easily lost (or trampled) solemnity of the last days of Advent and Christmas Day.

I often think of the liturgy of the Feast of the Epiphany as a poet's liturgy. The word "epiphany" has artistic connotations and literary applications, and is thought to suggest a great imaginative leap in the aftermath of which nothing in the mind or soul remains the same. In every case, epiphany suggests the occurrence of a philosophical or spiritual shakeup.

The Feast of the Epiphany recalls to Christian minds an odyssey, a mysterious light, a flying in the face of reason. The Feast of the Epiphany is about reversals, shifts and dreams. Kings voyage on foot to laud the infant son of a refugee.

During the years I wrestled with my metaphysical selves as I declined to practice any religion, I used to listen to former Governor Mario Cuomo on the radio early on Sunday mornings. His topics were several. He'd talk about movies, government, the Constitution, his family and his dog. Sometimes Governor (Mario) Cuomo would depart from keeping things light as he elected to discuss, in brief, his opposition to the death penalty and support for legal and safe abortion. These words, always spoken in (and out from) the context of his Catholicism, had a great influence on my own way of thinking about Roman Catholicism. I have always shared Mario Cuomo's view that capital punishment is under all and any circumstances a grave sin, and have always sensed that this ostensibly political conviction came from a mysterious and possibly religious part of my being.

Though I was a rather fervent agnostic who dipped in and out of religious observance while Governor Cuomo the elder was in office, I paid rather close attention to the way Mario Cuomo comported himself as a Catholic. So impressed was I by his actions and words as a Catholic, that I began to revise how I looked at Catholicism.

In other words, I began to notice that the first Governor Cuomo as a walking advertisement for being what I've since come to think of as a "devout Roman Catholic under protest."

And now, I am glad to note that my new governor appears to have learned a thing or two about worshipping his (so-called) "Heavenly Father" from his earthly one.

Yesterday, a divorced Governor Cuomo, who makes no secret of the fact that he lives with a woman who is not his wife, approached the altar of "the Lord" to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist in a Roman Catholic Church and was not turned away.

It is probably safe to assume that Cuomo's three daughters have been taught, at home and in the course of their catechesis, that both devotion and discernment are vital to informed and conscientious Catholic faith formation. This family knows their church leadership is flawed, weakened by scandal, propped up by corruption and tyranny. They know their church was built, in part, by hegemony and brutality. It is entirely possible that all three of Cuomo's daughters and the woman who will sleep beside Cuomo in the governor's mansion may find the papacy's sexist teachings and misogynist policies un-Christian and unjust. (The teenaged Cuomos are, after all, daughters of Kerry Kennedy who has spoken publicly about her Roman Catholic ambivalence in the anthology she edited, Being Catholic Now, a fine collection of first-person perspectives on being Catholic.) Despite whatever dissent may exist in the governor's family, love for the Church, it would seem, persists.

I love that my new governor stepped up to the altar of the Lord with confidence and received the Sacrament of the Eucharist with his beloved and three daughters in tow.

Thus, he received what we Catholics call grace.

And while he was at it, the governor dispensed a bit of grace. He announced that he will not be told by men how to be Catholic.

He announced his intention to trust God -- and not a cabal of men in miters and lace -- to decide whether he was worthy to receive Holy Communion.

Whether he planned it that way, Andrew Cuomo sent a Feast of the Epiphany message about lockstep Catholicism, and I, for one, am delighted to see my fellow Catholic and new governor come out of the gate fighting this fight.

Whether it was his intention to do so, Cuomo made a statement about being "Roman Catholic under protest." For those who, like me, have come to believe there is no other morally responsible way to be Roman Catholic, this is a gift.

A gift, though bestowed by a mere governor, befitting a "newborn king."

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