07 January 2018Epiphany

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
Feast of the Epiphany - Cycle B - Matthew 2:1-12

An 8 year old asked, "How come the kings brought perfume to Jesus? What kind of gift is that for a baby?" His 9 year old sister answered, "Haven't you ever smelled a barn? With dirty animals around, Mary needed something to freshen the air." Historians enjoy playing "What if...?" Let's try it in theology. "What if God didn't send His Son at Christmas because He wanted us to pay for our sins? What if God couldn't take the time for us today because we didn't take time for Him yesterday? What if God decided to stop leading us tomorrow because we didn't follow Him today? What if God took away the Bible tomorrow because we didn't read it today? What if God stopped loving us because we failed to love others? (Author Unknown) In this new year, we should take our cue from Leo Tolstoy who wrote, "Everyone thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself."

In the Christmas stable, the strange men who rode in from the East transformed themselves. So too must we. Christ does not want costly gifts from us. What He wants is a reformation of ourselves. Their renewal complete, the Wise Men returned home to begin work in their own kingdoms. Their world, however small or large, was a better place for their return. So must ours be as we go back to our respective worlds today. We must learn to think globally and act locally. Every Christian must strive, as someone has noted, to be the class of world-class. Second class will not satisfy the Infant whom we honor. The old ways we are advised will not do and we must have the strength to risk the new. Bear in mind the query of the monk to the abbot, "How often must I rise if I fall?" The answer was quick, "Until your death."

We are told that we are born broken, live by mending, and that God's grace is the glue.
PerhPerhaps this year we can be that fourth wise man imagined by Henry Van Dyke. His name was Artaban. He had planned to travel along with his fellow kings. However, he delayed to assist a woman who was dying. So, he missed the march west. As gifts, he carried a precious sapphire, a rare ruby, and an exquisite pearl. He had to give up his sapphire to help a starving family. When finally he found the stable, it was deserted. Mary and Joseph had scooped up the Child and escaped into Egypt. Artaban gave the ruby to secure the life of a babe destined to be destroyed by the mad King Herod.

His search for the King of kings continued for thirty-three long years. When he learned of the events on Calvary, he rushed there to ransom Jesus with the priceless pearl. But on the way he met a man about to be sold into slavery. To his master he gave his pearl as ransom. At that moment, the earthquake struck. He was critically wounded by falling debris. The man he had just rescued held his head in his lap. He whispered into his ear, "Because you did it for one of these, you did it for me." Artaban had found his King. Van Dyke's fourth wise man throws a high intensity light on all of us. Artaban's life reminds us that, as James Tahaney says, we all come into this world with rechargeable batteries included. When exhausted, we must recharge them. Our contribution to the commonweal is irreplaceable. The world and everyone in it will be less complete for its absence.

Everyone of us should be one of those thousand points of light that a US President spoke of. It is always better to light a match for those around us than to condemn the darkness. The same spirit that prompted Artaban to help the dying woman, the family, the infant, and the slave should motivate us to move out of our underground bunkers and do something similar. Far too many of us in the old year, as one author writes, kept the Bible on our dusty shelves rather than in our hearts and spirits. Dorothy Day said no one of us has the right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is simply too much work to do. Here are five gift suggestions for others from Melanie Svoboda: the gift of listening, the gift of affection, the gift of a note, the gift of a compliment, and the gift of a prayer. Allow your Christian life to be a perfume that ascends to God like incense. 
Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
The Solemnity of the Epiphany: Homage

Herod was greatly troubled. Actually, that was an understatement. He was enraged. His paranoia was at record levels. And all of Jerusalem was greatly troubled along with him. The politicians there had good reason to be upset. This same Herod had killed three of his sons who he thought were trying to usurp his throne. He also killed his brother-in-law and sent his wife and another son into exile. He would do everything to protect his position. What got him so upset? Foreigners from the East came to see him to ask him where the newborn king of the Jews could be found. What? He thought he had gotten rid of all competition. Was there some truth that there was another king out there somewhere? The magi said that they had seen his star rising.

ThatThat was a sure sign that a great person had been born. But where was he? Herod's own religious counselors told him about the prophecy of Micah, that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. Was all this some sort of religious babel, or was there something to it? The magi told Herod that they were looking for the newborn king to do him homage. Homage. That really must have gotten Herod infuriated. They didn't come to Jerusalem to do Herod homage. This baby king was going to be trouble. We know the rest of the story, how Herod told the magi to get back to him when they found this king.

When they didn't return, he had all the male babies two and younger in the area of Bethlehem killed. We call them the Holy Innocents. We also know that just before this horrendous event, Joseph received a message in a dream to flee with Mary and the baby. He brought them to Egypt. After Herod died, a few years later, Joseph received yet another dream telling him to return his family to Nazareth. But back to the magi. They did find the infant and they did give him homage. They recognized the superior power of this child. Later on in the feudal system, all would be required to do homage to their liege lords. Lesser nobility would recognize their dependence on and responsibility to those who were greater than them.

The magi knew that the child was greater than them. They had followed his star. The heavens were pointing to the child. He wasn't their king because others would proclaim him to be some sort of political king. He was someone the heavens had sent. So they gave him homage. And so we give homage to the King of Kings, our Lord. We recognize that he is infinitely greater than any president or prime minister or any other ruler. We recognize that He is our Lord, the one who governs our lives. We hold our hands together in prayer, placing our hands in his and surrendering to him. We pay Him homage. The gesture of prayer with our hands together or our fingers interlocked is a gesture of homage. When we pray using this gesture we are saying, "I belong to God."

We pay homage to the Lord in more than our gesture of prayer, though.
We pay homage to him in the events of our lives, be they significant events or the routine daily events. Recently, I asked one of our families what their plans were in view of a job opportunity that had opened up. Would they stay here or move. "We are not sure, yet" they said, "We are praying over it." They are giving homage to the Lord, letting him direct their lives. We do this even in the minor events of our lives. We say grace before meals. Think about that. Why do we say grace before meals? We do this because we are giving the Lord homage, thanking him for the food we are receiving. Say a prayer in the morning entrusting your day to the Lord. Do homage to him and transform your day into a prayer to the King. The magi were wise men. They realized that this child could draw them beyond the limits that the world imposes to that place where his life makes all life complete. That is why they did homage to him.

That is why we do homage to the Lord. We do not have to be limited by the physical. We do not have to be condemned to empty lives. Jesus, the spiritual become physical, draws us, the physical, into union with the spiritual. Our lives have meaning and purpose and truth and beauty when they reflect His Life. And so we do Him homage. We place our hands into His hands. We entrust our lives to Him. And we pray to Him to lead us to that place where our hearts long to go, to union with God.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
Facing the Perceived Conflict of Science and Religion
(January 7, 2018)

Bottom line: Like great thinkers after them the Magi did not separate faith and reason, science and religion.
TodaToday we celebrate the Magi - also known as the Three Kings or Wise Men. They were early scientists, studying the configuration of stars and the movement of planets. This is a good moment to talk about something affecting young people: the perceived conflict between science and religion. This ties in with the parish prayer for youth. Some of you began the New Year with a three fast for our children. We are concerned that even though they have unparalleled abundance, studies show they are more depressed and sad than young people even 20 years ago.

Along with that they are giving up faith in higher numbers and at a younger age. Interviews reveal that the typical age is 13 while 23% say they left the faith before age 10. When researchers interviewed young people they said things like:
• "As I learn more about the world around me and understand new things, I find the thought of an all-powerful being to be less and less believable."
• "I realized that religion is in complete contradiction with the rational and scientific world."
• "[Faith] no longer fits into what I understand of the universe."

We have a big challenge - our children perceive a conflict between faith and reason. It's a *perceived* conflict because when you think about it, it doesn't make sense. After all, we have plenty of scientists who are also people of faith: biologists, medical professionals and astronomers who attend Mass and pray daily. The new Archbishop of Paris is a physician who practiced medicine for 11 years prior to studying for the priesthood. Our own Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg received a degree in geology before entering the seminary. In a recent issue of Northwest Catholic he addressed the question: Can a Catholic believe in evolution? Read the article if you haven't.

The bottom line is that the conflict between science and faith is more perception than reality. Even though people keep bringing up Galileo, real conflict is rare. But perceived conflict persists. People who study popular culture note a trend to (quote) "see atheism as 'smart' and faith as a 'fairy tale.'" When a child concludes he is an atheist he becomes one of the 'smart people'. It's like getting a college degree without having to open a book.

We are up against a culture that looks down on faith - even considers it dangerous or narrow-minded. But before someone dismisses the faith, he should consider what Louis Pasteur said. You remember him, the man who discovered the principle of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurization. Pasteur said, "the idea of the Infinite (God) imposes itself on the mind and baffles the mind's effort to comprehend it." It's too simple to divide people into atheists and believers. Atheists sense something uncanny, beyond science, beyond imagining. On the other side believers struggle with doubts and God sometimes seems distant.

As Ecclesiastes says, "God has planted eternity into the human heart but even so no one can see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end." On some level every person senses God's reality, but - apart from revelation - who can know his plan or imagine what he is? We need both faith and reason. This brings us back to the Magi - those early scientist astronomers. Like great thinkers after them the Magi did not separate faith and reason, science and religion. In memory of the Magi today I will bless and distribute chalk.

When you get home write 20CMB18 on the frame above your door. A handout explains how the numbers refer to the current year and the letters to the names of the Magi. The Magi searched the heavens and discovered some new configuration of stars, comets, planets. Their curiosity brought them to Bethlehem. Others stayed smugly in the big city but them went to Bethlehem. "The saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage." Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
The Epiphany of the Lord,
Modern Lectionary 20

On the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord the Church remembers at the beginning of each new year the fundamental missionary impulse that lies at her core: to take the good news to the ends of the earth, just as Jesus himself commanded her before his ascension: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations? (Matt 28:19).

We hear an anticipation of this missionary sentiment today in the first reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah and in the responsorial Psalm: "Lord, every nation on earth will adore you? (see Ps 72:10-11). Isaiah and the Psalmist reminded our forbearers that as the word of God's redemptive mercy became known to the nations their homage would be brought to Israel, God's chosen people.

In the second reading from the Letter to the Ephesians Saint Paul explains how a new and definitive page in the history of man's salvation has been written: he teaches us that it is through Christ that the gentile nations come to share in Israel's redemption: "It was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles are coheirs"  in Christ Jesus through the gospel? (Eph 3:4-6).

As surely as we see a development in salvation history in the reading from Ephesians, we note that another, sin-touched, change took place in history somewhat earlier: the Roman take-over of God's chosen people, in the century preceding Christ's birth. We hear some details about this event at Christmas, when the familiar story of the census which brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem is told: "In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled" (Luke 2:1).

God's ways are not our ways (Isa 55:8): the human-led historical change of the Romans operated through power and violence. God's "change? in history operated by means of mercy, and love that gives of itself even when unrequited, even when seemingly unwelcome. The man-led "change" of events was a grasping attempt to control and enslave a nation (Israel); the divine movement of history described in Ephesians was a restoration of freedom and dignity to all the nations of the world.

The historic change moved by the Romans brought about the imposition of suffering, while God's mending of history bestowed redemptive meaning and hope upon all those who suffer. This struggle between God's desire to share with all the nations the gift of salvation first announced to Israel, and worldly power corrupted by sin, is seen in the gospel account of the infant Jesus, the Magi, and Herod?the Roman puppet king. The Magi seek the newborn king in order to recognize him as Lord by bestowing royal gifts upon him, and then they return home bearing, instead of earthly treasures, the even more precious good news of his birth and reign.

Herod, as shrewd in his words as he was malignant in his intentions, does not want to share the joy of the birth of Christ; rather, he wants to snuff out the hope and the light which Christ brings because they are opposed to his own worldly power and the sin that lies at its root. The magi made the wise choice of avoiding further entanglement with Herod and took to the road with the peace of Christ in their hearts, carrying it to their homelands.

Herod, roiled inside by the knowledge that the Christ child's birth heralded his own demise, sought to kill the infant and to stifle the liberation he would bring to all. As we celebrate the Epiphany today, let us remember the salvation promised first to the people of Israel in which we now share through Jesus Christ, and let us resolve to be modern-day missionaries of his grace, imitating the magi in their humility, their courage, and their evangelical zeal.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.
Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
Feast of the Epiphany

The Feast of the Epiphany is the oldest in the Liturgical Calendar after Easter and Pentecost and Epiphany was celebrated long before even Christmas itself came to be regarded as a feast. The word Epiphany literally means manifestation and refers to the appearance or making known of Christ. Of course, in the beginning the feast was about the several manifestations of Christ: his first coming into the world, his being made known to the Shepherds, his manifestation to the Wise Men from the East, and it included even the Father announcing who he was at his Baptism by John, as well as the demonstration of his power in his First Miracle at the Marriage Feast of Cana. But as the Feast of Christmas and the other feasts gradually came to be separated over time, the Epiphany centred on the manifestation of Christ to the Magi —in other words to the Gentiles.

The first sections of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke about the early life of Christ are known as the Infancy Narratives and they have been the subjects of a lot of scholarship over the last twenty years. One of the results of all this research is that we now realise that these stories can be seen as "Gospels in Miniature” because they contain the most important elements of what comes after. They are like the overture to a great musical piece in which the various motifs are brought to our attention. Here in this story of the coming of the Wise Men we see clearly a very important element of Christ’s Mission coming in right from the start, namely, his mission to the Gentiles.

The People of Israel were rightly known as the Chosen People because they were the group to whom God chose to gradually reveal himself in various ways over the centuries. The history of their relationship with God is one of a gradual education, a slow revelation of God’s true nature over the centuries and a growing understanding by the people of God’s expectations for them. They were also the race among whom Christ was born, even if only to be ultimately rejected. This rejection is, of course, turned to the greatest possible advantage for the whole of mankind through the great act of salvation. The rejection of Christ by Israel becomes the opportunity for Christ to be revealed to all the nations and so ultimately to us today. All this is prefigured by the visit of the Wise Men who themselves are in a sense foretold in the Old Testament scriptures. Look at today’s first reading for example:
The nations come to your light and kings to your dawning brightness. It was always in the understanding of the People of Israel that God had chosen them to receive his special revelation but that in due time all nations would bow down before the one true God. But this was not understood as happening right away; it was rather something that would occur when the Messiah ultimately came into his Kingdom. They were right, of course, but their timing was wrong and they didn’t anticipate that that they as a people would reject Christ. We say this and yet we must acknowledge that very many individual Jews did come to believe in Christ, and not only among the poor since some notable religious leaders also accepted him. But institutionally speaking he was simply rejected.

This Feast of the Epiphany achieved great importance early on in the history of the Church surely because the many converts from paganism saw in the story of the wise men their own story. These wise men were guided by a star. They were led by God to the stable in Bethlehem where they offered the Christ Child their gifts and paid him homage. The early converts to Christianity, like any convert today, realised that they too were guided by God and led on a journey of faith and brought to belief in Christ. When they finally encounter him they place all they have at his disposal and worship him as the Son of God and the one true Saviour of the World. They may not be rich like those Magi, but they know that they have found the greatest treasure anyone could possess —belief in Jesus Christ. St Paul is reflecting on the same thing in his Letter to the Ephesians when he alludes to the well-known story of his own conversion and says that this special revelation is what led him to preach the Good News to them. But don’t think it is just converts who have been chosen by God. Don’t think it is just those who in adult life feel drawn to the Church who are singled out by him.

Each one of us has been led by a star. Each one of us has been brought by God to the assent of faith. It may have been because we searched as adults and gradually found faith but it could also be because we were brought up as Christians by our parents; that in our earliest childhood we came to a knowledge and love of God. Make no mistake about it we were all converts once. The gradual realisation by a child of what faith in Christ actually means is no less of a conversion than that of an adult in the prime of life. It is just as genuine, just as deep, just as life changing. Sometimes it is in our childhood that we see things most clearly. As we grow older we do not always grow wiser; quite often the preoccupations of raising children, maintaining our relationships and paying a mortgage get in the way and cloud our vision. What started off as certainly and firmness of faith can with the vicissitudes of life easily fade away into disinterest and laxity. What we need then is re-conversion, what we need to do is to look for that star once more. Let us think today about those Wise Men and about how wise they were.

They let God lead them. And their journey was not merely a journey by land but it was also a journey of faith. And God revealed himself to them in the person of the Child Jesus. In one way or another the same thing has happened to each one of us. God leads us on a journey of faith and he reveals himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. But this doesn’t just happen once. No, it happens again and again in our lives. There are a whole series of Epiphanies awaiting us if we only co-operate with God and let him lead us. Hidden under one form or another there is always a star glittering out there in the darkness. If we constantly look for that star and follow where God leads us again and again we will encounter Christ in all sorts of different disguises until one day we meet him face to face and the door is ultimately opened for us to live with him forever.
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