08 January 2017Epiphany

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
Epiphany - A Cycle - Matthew 2:1-12

A mosaic of the Three Kings on the facade of the Church of the Nativity saved the site of Christ's birth from destruction. In 664, Persian invaders were amazed to see the Three Kings dressed as they themselves were. They decided not to burn the Church. When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, heal the broken, feed the hungry, rebuild the nations, bring peace among people, make music in the heart. (Howard Thurman) Jesus was getting painful splinters from His tight cradle. The people had been counted by the census takers like cattle. The crowds had withdrawn. Bethlehem became a sleepy town again. Joseph took his wife and Child out of the damp hillside cave above Bethlehem. He rented a one bedroom house at off season rates on Main Street.

Given his credit ratings, not even a loanshark would give him the dollars to buy a house. In Bethlehem. the Holy Family remained about two years. Life settled into routine. They didn't have to celebrate Christmas the way we do. They were free of our physical and emotional exhaustion. Joseph freelanced as a carpenter. But the comfortable living was ending. Soon they would have to throw a few things into cardboard boxes. They would flee as displaced persons into Africa to save the Child's life. Their anonymity was blown by the gentlemen we salute today as wise. Inadvertently the magi had set Jesus up. The wise men were not wise. Matthew, who owns the copyright on this tale, knew that. There was a two year interval between the Boy's birth and the unannounced arrival in Bethlehem of the magi. We conclude this by wrestling with Gospel clues.

The travelers came breathlessly not to that famous cave now empty but to the rented ranch house. The greeting card people notwithstanding, Jesus was already walking and saying excitedly "Mama" and "Papa." He was in the terrible twos. We do not know that the men were kings. All Matthew tells us is "magi from the east arrived one day in Jerusalem." If they had been of the blood royal, Matthew would have so written. After all, his former profession as tax collector had trained him to be precise. Had they been his peers, King Herod because of noblesse oblige would have fussed about them more than he did. Their kingship and blue blood began only in the sixth century. Their names as Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar originated in the ninth. Tradition has us speak of the magi as three. Yet Matthew does not use a number. We say three since he speaks of three gifts. Happily Matthew specifies the gifts for us - gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In the 8th century, Venerable Bede, the Benedictine historian writing in England, gave us the traditional interpretation of their symbolism. The gold paid homage to the Child's royal line. The incense saluted His divinity.

The myrrh forewarned of the passion. However, I prefer the charming explanation of the 13th century Frenchman, Bernard of Clairvaux. The gold was to pay off the bills at the supermarket. The incense was to fumigate the house. The myrrh was intended to be a herbal medicine against worms in the Child. Matthew does not tell us how long the magi remained. It could have been but a long weekend or an extended stay. But, whichever, fearful of assassination by King Herod, they rode off into history more quietly than they came. A centuries old tradition says Mary gifted them with the swaddling clothes of the Infant. Matthew does not speak of them again. We do not know whether Herod pursued them. We can only hope they got home safely for a deserved rest. A late 20th century Japanese artist pictures them traveling home by ship. What is certain is that they did not march off into obscurity. These were men who would remain famous for more than Andy Warhol's fifteen minutes. They left behind them so much charm that artists, poets, and preachers have been living off them for two thousand years. In the 20th century, two Nobel Prize poet laureates, TS Eliot and Miguel Angel Asterias, along with their celebrated confrere, Langston Hughes, felt compelled to write of them at length. We owe Jesus a gift. Why not adopt Thurman's platform - find the lost, the hungry, the broken, and the sorrowful? We make much of the Child this season. But dare we forget more than a billion children, over half the world's boys and girls, suffer extreme hardship because of war, HIV/AIDS, or poverty? (UN) We have much work to do this new year.
Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord: All Are Welcome This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany. This is one of the oldest feasts in the Church Calendar. Most probably, the Church celebrated the Epiphany even before it celebrated the Nativity, Christmas. There are really three epiphanies recognized by the Church: the manifestation of the Lord to the magi, the baptism of the Lord by John the Baptist, and the first public miracle in the Gospel of John, the changing of water into wine. The Eastern Catholic Churches and the Orthodox Churches celebrate all three Epiphanies together. The Western Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, divides up these celebrations. Our focus today is on the magi. Who were these men, sometimes called kings? We don't know a whole lot about them.

The main thing we know is that they were not Jewish. And this is significant. A few days after the birth of the Lord, gentiles, pagans, were summoned to follow a star to Israel where the One the ages waited for was born. They followed the star because they were good men honestly seeking God's will. It must have been quite a sight when they arrived in Israel. They were foreigners, but not just any foreigners. They held positions powerful enough for them to merit an audience with Herod. Herod was troubled by their visit, and with him all of Jerusalem. Who were these men, and what did they want from the king? They asked to give homage to the newborn king of the Jews. Was there a baby out there somewhere who would replace Herod? The chief priests and scribes could only tell Herod about an ancient prophecy that a ruler would come from Bethlehem. If these three magi, in their own time considered kings, could create such a stir in Jerusalem, imagine what it had to be like when they arrived in Bethlehem and went to the place, a house by now, where Mary, Joseph and Jesus were staying. Even more amazing, these rich pagans prostrated themselves before the child and gave him gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Why would rich pagans be interested in the Jewish Messiah?

That the gentiles could be part of God's plan for His people was beyond the consideration of the Jews. But the mystery, hidden for generations was now revealed: the gentiles were to be co-heirs with the Jews, members of the same body, co-partners in the promise of Jesus Christ, as Paul proclaims in today's second reading from Ephesians. Jesus Christ came for all people. None were to be excluded from the Grace of God that He would bring. We, Catholics, people whose very name means universal, must be careful that we recognize that all people are called to the Grace of God given by Jesus Christ. It is so easy for us to exclude people. In fact, we have been trained by our society to compartmentalize people into various groups. We are told that Jews behave this way, Italians that way, the Irish another way, and the French don't behave at all. We can easily decide who belongs worshiping the Lord and who really shouldn't be there. We decide that whole groups of people, for example gay people, must be immoral and shouldn't enjoy the gifts of the Church. When asked about gays, Pope Francis said, "Who am I to judge?” He was making the humble statement that it was not up to him to say that a person was immoral just because he was gay. There are many moral gay people and many immoral people who are not gay. We don't have the right to exclude people from worshiping the One who is Gift of Bethlehem. In a similar way, we don't have the right to exclude people from receiving the charity of the Church.

There are some who feel that Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development should not be supporting organizations that care for needy people unless these organizations adhere to Church teachings on morality. So they would object to CRS helping an organization that wishes to build an eye clinic for children in Africa because that same organization might not follow Catholic moral teaching in another clinics it may run there or in other parts of the world. Similar objections are often raised regarding the poor people supported by CCHD. Better Than Thou Catholics would rather deny children, the poor, and the infirm the help they need then recognize the good that is being done by those who don't follow the totality of Catholic teaching throughout the world. I am sure they don't mean it, but in fact some Catholics are saying that the magi had no business receiving the Grace of God, because, after all, they were probably pagans. We cannot bring people the Good News of Jesus Christ if we exclude them from the charity of the Lord with which we have been entrusted. Jesus did not come for a select group of people. He came for all people. This is a truth of the Church and a great mystery to those who see themselves as the sole benefactors of God's Grace. We come to Church on Sunday to celebrate Mass.

That word Mass means Sending. We come to Church to receive the gifts of God and are sent to bring these gifts to all of the people of the world. We are sent to bring the good news of the joy of the Gospel to those who have been marginalized by society. We are sent to heal those who are hurting, whether they believe in Christ or not. We are sent to aid those who are caring for the needy, whether they follow the totality of Catholic morality or not. People who are excluded will never find Christ. People who experience his presence in the charity of other Christians, will be attracted to worship the One who is the source of charity. Pope Francis reaffirmed that no one has ever been converted by an argument. People are converted by the presence of Christ they experience in sincere Christians. What are those magi doing bringing gifts to the King of the Jews? What are those gays doing seeking a Church that welcomes them into the Presence of God? What are those non Catholic organizations doing caring for the needy? They are all doing exactly what they should be doing: worshiping the One who came for all people. We often begin our Masses by singing, "All are welcome.” Do we mean this? Or are there some who are not as welcome as others, be that here at Mass or outside our doors looking to care for others? This Sunday, on the Solemnity of the Epiphany, we ask the Lord to free us from our prejudices. We ask Jesus to allow us to be what we call ourselves, Catholics, people of a universal Church.
Homily from Father Andrew M. Greeley
Once upon a time there lived in Bethlehem a woman named Babushka. She kept the cleanest and neatest house in town and was also the best cook. She heard rumors of three kings coming across the desert but paid no attention to them because she had so much work to do. Then she heard the sounds of drums and pipes and a cavalcade of riders. She looked out the window and there were three richly dressed kings coming towards her house. They told her that they had come to honor the little prince who had been born in Bethlehem and they needed food and lodging.

Babushka cooked a wonderful meal for them, remade all the beds, and wore herself out. The next morning the kings begged her to come with them so she too might see the little prince. Babushka said she would follow after them as soon as she finished the dishes. She cleaned the house again and then took out of a cabinet the toys of her own little prince who had died so long ago. She had no more need of them and would give them to the new little prince. She put them in a basket and sat down for a moment rest before she followed the wise men. Hours later she woke up, grabbed the basket, and rushed into town. But the kings were gone and so was the little prince and his parents. Ever after, it is said, Babushka has followed after them. Whenever she finds a new born babe, she looks to see if he is the little prince. Even if he (or in our days she too) is not there, Babushka leaves a toy for the child. I think she probably found the prince early on, but we still should learn from her lesson: we should never let the important interfere with the essential.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe,Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
Epiphany, Classic Matthew 2:1-12 Gospel Summary The arrival of wise men from the East at Herod's court with questions about the reported birth of a royal pretender could very easily have caused some consternation. Herod was very well aware of messianic pretenders and may have considered them a real threat to his power. However, in this gospel story, the symbolic message has completely eclipsed whatever historical kernel may have existed. We know that Matthew, more than any other evangelist, is aware of the hopes of ancient Israel and he is, therefore, constantly alert to any opportunity to show that Jesus has fulfilled those expectations. Thus, for example, Jesus' lengthy Sermon on the Mount is said to have taken place on a mountain, simply because Matthew wants us to recognize Jesus as a successor to Moses, who also proclaimed divine revelation from a mountain top. In the story of the Magi, Matthew wants us to recognize in Jesus the new Solomon, whose reputation for wisdom was legendary. He too received a visitor from the East, the Queen of Sheba, who was said to have been "breathless” as she marveled at his wisdom and wealth (1 Kings 10:1-13).

This Epiphany story is, therefore, a celebration of the wisdom represented by Jesus--in his person and in his message. It is an unpretentious wisdom, because it is embodied in a tiny child, but it is in fact the only wisdom that will ultimately survive. Life Implications The Magi represent secular wisdom, which is validated by success through a clever use of power. In this case, physical power is for controlling others, intelligence is for out-witting them, and wealth or political power is for amassing ever more wealth and influence. This wisdom is the centerpiece of today's dominant secular culture.

It is not always a bad thing, but neither should it be dominant. Jesus offers a radically different kind of wisdom, which declares that all forms of power must be in the service of love and that true success should be measured in terms of who has been liberated by unselfish love from the bondage of fear, guilt, low self-esteem and the like. Our real power is our freedom, and it is very tempting to use that freedom to dominate and control others. Jesus tells us that we should risk using freedom as he did—for loving and liberating and trusting and forgiving. In fact, I have often wondered whether the first, and perhaps the only, question asked of us at the final judgment will simply be, "Did you let my people go?” The powerful and oppressive Pharaoh was an exemplar of secular wisdom, while the God of Exodus and Jesus represent the far superior and enduring wisdom of love and liberation. We need to ask ourselves whether the net result of our actions and attitudes is to make others stronger and happier and more confident. The Wise Men offer gifts to Jesus because they recognize that the humble wisdom of Jesus eclipses all forms of merely human wisdom. Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.
Homily from Father Cusick
Meeting Christ in the Liturgy

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
Epiphany Homily by Father Alex McAllister SDS Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany when we recall the visit of the wise men to the Child Jesus in Bethlehem. These mysterious personages from the East clearly represent the Gentiles, they are both foreigners and followers of a religion other than Judaism. The word which is translated as 'wise men' in our text is transliterated from the Greek as 'Magi' which is where we get our word magician from. We might wonder precisely what Matthew meant by his use of this word Magi. It is thought to cover a wide variety of occupations ranging from Zoroastrian priests to astrologers. However, one is drawn to conclude that Matthew thinks that they are astrologers since they come to Bethlehem guided by a star. We might wonder at his depicting of them as astrologers as there grew up very quickly in the Early Church a strong aversion to magic and astrology. It was quickly understood that with the appearance of Christ all such superstitions are superseded.

Also, we note that all the other references to magic in the New Testament are negative. And yet here in Matthew's Infancy Narrative magic and astrology seem to be treated rather favourably. In the past it was thought that once they had paid homage at the feet of Jesus the perceived superstition of these Magi was dissolved and that they immediately converted to belief in Christ. The only problem is that there is no actual evidence in Matthew's account to show that this is what they did. In reality Matthew presents these Magi as being wholly admirable and their following of a star is viewed as quite an appropriate way to find the Messiah. In truth the whole story of the Magi is interesting. They visit King Herod and we get a glimpse at his Machiavellian plotting as he asks them to return to tell him precisely where the Messiah can be found. We immediately realise that this is a device so that Herod can exterminate any possible rival to his throne.

But fortunately the Magi were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod and as a result chose to return home by a different route. An interesting point in this story given to us by Matthew is that while the Magi are guided by a star this only takes them as far as Jerusalem. They then have to approach the Jewish authorities who in turn consult the scriptures to find the precise location of the birth of Jesus which turns out to be the town of Bethlehem. So while nature leads the Magi to roughly the right place we are being informed that the true secret of the location of the birth of the Messiah is only to be found in the Jewish scriptures. This means that we are presented with the irony that the Jews had all the knowledge they needed in their scriptures to predict the coming of the Messiah even including the location of his birth but nevertheless they fail to recognise him when he does come. However these foreigners following what are purely natural signs are able to see that the birth of the Messiah is imminent and are so drawn to worship him. That the Magi come looking for a King is also an earie foreshadowing of the sign written above Jesus on the Cross of Calvary, 'Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.' Then too, it was the priests and leaders who conspired to do away with him just as they attempted to do at the time of his birth. As we noted right at the beginning the main point about the coming of the Three Wise Men is that they are Gentiles and so represent us, the non-Jewish followers of Jesus.

Their appearance right at the beginning of the story clearly points to Christ's intention to bring salvation to the whole human race and not merely to the Jews. The other characters to whom the birth of Christ is revealed are the shepherds. These shepherds represent the poor and the marginalised and with the Magi standing in for the foreigners we can see the wide scope of Christ's mission. From the very outset we can see how God arranges things in such a way as to make it known just how universal is Christ's mission. The extremely wide scope of Christ's purpose has direct implications for each one of us. It means that we ought to resist any temptation to narrow access to the Gospel or to confine membership of the Church to this or that group. The aim of the Church is to embrace every single person on the planet. The Church is meant for absolutely everyone and we should be very careful to ensure that nothing that we say or do can be interpreted as restricting in any way its universal mission. This reminds us that there is no room for prejudice of any kind within the Church. We need to realise that any distinctions based on class, race, sexual orientation or on anything else have no place in the life of the Christian. We recognise that all people are equal in the eyes of God and his salvation is meant for every single person.

While it is only natural that we have a bond with those from our own country or locality or with those who share certain characteristics or cultural background with us, we need to realise that there can be absolutely no place for prejudice or discrimination in the Church. This is something that we have to constantly check on and be on our guard against. Of course, adopting an attitude of openness can be very challenging but we need to realise that it is also very liberating. Being completely open means that we do not restrict ourselves to this group or that. It means that we accept everyone in the world and gradually learn to appreciate all their differences. This turns out to be a cause of rejoicing for us all because it means that the Kingdom of God is open to absolutely everyone. Our entrance into heaven is therefore based only on our behaviour and on our attitude to the Gospel and we cannot be excluded from it on the basis of race, family, circumstances of our birth or any other thing that we have no control over. Today we take up a special collection for the work of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child.

More commonly known as SPUC, it works at the national level to try and counteract legislation that would adversely affect the unborn and also combats the unremitting amount of propaganda put out by pro-choice organisations. It is important that the case for protecting the unborn is constantly made in the media in a clear and unambiguous way. Those still in the womb necessarily depend on others to defend their right to be born and this is the work that SPUC does. Our society is becoming more and more selfish and increasingly the rights of the unborn are put in second place and this needs to be constantly questioned. Also, scientists are continually pushing the boundaries of what is morally acceptable and only recently the regulator gave the green light to three-parent babies, the first of which is likely to be born next year. Initiatives such as these push us further and further away from the normal pattern of procreation and increasingly make conception something that occurs in the laboratory. While one might have sympathy for those who might go on to suffer from inherited diseases, promoting the three-parent embryo technique takes us another step in the direction of so-called designer babies and erodes the moral and ethical restraints that have been in place for centuries. SPUC is one of the only organisations speaking against the wholesale destruction of embryos that will result from this initiative. Please support the advocacy work of SPUC by means of the second collection today. Thank you.
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