Live the Church’s Year

Happy Epiphany.

If we were celebrating it on its designated feast day it would be this coming Wednesday January 6th which is the 12th day of Christmas. Today, count yourself as lucky because you just have 2 clergy up here, not 9 Ladies dancing.

Though the Octave of Christmas ended on January 1st, the intense celebration of Christmastide still continues until next Sunday, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. In fact, even though the season is officially over then, we still wind down from it until February 2nd the Feast of the Presentation. You may have noticed in recent years the infant Jesus is still in the sanctuary until then, we just move him to in front of this Ambo. This is why the term ‘Christmastide’ is more accurate than the term ‘Christmas Season’. Seasons have arbitrary start and end dates; one turns off while the next turns on. But that is only for us; as far as our climate seasons are concerned, I do not really think the earth notices a change from December 20th to December 21st. Last day of fall was much like the first day of Winter. Tides, on the other hand ebb and flow, slowly. That is how Holy Mother Church’s Liturgical seasons really work. We still have Advent aspects in our Christmas-tide, and we will slowly ebb from it towards Lent (ignoring the ordinary time in between).

Today, within Christmastide, Holy Mother Church celebrates one of its most ancient celebrations, it even predates the celebration of Christmas. Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of Jesus to the World. The most recognizable aspect of Epiphany is the Wise Men, the Magi. But in times past, and even now in the Liturgy of the Hours, this celebration highlights three epiphanies: The Magi, The Baptism of the Lord, and the Wedding Feast of Cana. This evening, for those praying Vespers (Evening Prayer) we will pray this antiphon:

Three mysteries mark this holy day: today the star leads the Magi to the infant Christ; today water is changed into wine for the wedding feast; today Christ wills to be baptized by John in the river Jordan to bring us salvation.

These three epiphanies are celebrated in an elevated way; they are that important. They mark, as I mentioned earlier manifestations of Christ to the World. These ‘ah-hah’ moments when God’s creatures realized in a most profound way that God is among us. They are beacons of hope that, if we allow them, will change our lives and history.

But Epiphanies are constantly in front of us, not just the ones celebrated in special feast days; Christ manifests himself in many ways, such as: The Holy Bible, the word of God; Holy Mother Church, the bride of Christ. To name a few important examples.

There is one way that we can embrace the panoply of these events, at least those of special universal import.

The Proclamation of Easter and the Movable feasts that was just chanted, is more than a cute interlude in the Mass (or painful depending on how I did); it announces to us great days in the liturgical year that don’t fall on a set date. And it directly points us to the Church’s year, a year filled with great seasonal tides and many feast days of varying degrees. A year, that if we allow it in our hearts, creates within us a constant epiphany, and thus a growing change in our hearts, strengthens the direction of our journey.

This liturgical calendar isn’t just a schedule of color and readings, it is a life altering plan. By embracing the year and its celebrations we come to:

  • Know many of the graces that God rains upon us.
  • Come to understand what Jesus Christ did for and means to us.
  • Learn about how others before us, Saints, succeeded in their journey and maybe help us with ours.
  • Bring a light filled and hopeful atmosphere to each of us and our families.
  • Strengthen family bonds.
  • Strengthen us for our obligations and responsibilities.
  • Brighten our light in the world, so that we may help lead others.

And celebrate them all!

In short, build us into being the heralds of the great epiphany – Love; the love God has given us unconditionally.

Brothers and sisters, I urge you to think about diving into the liturgical calendar with your families.   Bring the revelation of God into the daily activities for your life and by doing so bring heaven to those around you. It is the best way I can think of to put into action that what we profess at Mass. ‘We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Merry Christmas!

Mark Our Calendars

On this feast day, The Epiphany of the Lord, Holy Mother Church does something that at first glance doesn’t seem to fit with the celebration, something out of place. She proclaims an announcement; a sort of housekeeping chore, where she announces future dates of the liturgical year – the moveable dates.

But let’s look deeper at this celebration of Epiphany, in particular – the Magi. Their competence was in the science of the heavens, astronomers. The field was more than just cold science, it was much more encompassing, and it was colored with philosophy and religions.  They looked to the stars not so much to understand the stars as they did to understand the meaning of life both now and what lies ahead for mankind; they were guided by the stars towards the future.  But these particular Magi were truly wise people in that they were learned who knew they didn’t know everything.

This star, the star that they expected and hoped for appeared as they thought. However, this star called to them, urged them forward to explore it’s meaning for being there.  They understood from a foreign religion that it revealed a new king in a far-off kingdom. But there were many kingdoms and many kings and rulers, why would the heavens announce this one? They went far to understand what this meant for them. What they learned was epiphanic, life changing. The gospel tells us they were not the same afterwards, they went home by a different route. They grew.

Brothers and sisters Holy Mother Church, in her great wisdom, gives us these moments for epiphanies throughout the year. Events, that if we participate in whole-heartedly, celebrate properly, reflect on devoutly, will bring us an increase in wisdom and faith. They will enable us to open ourselves to a deeper understanding of who we are and are meant to be.  It is not surprising that on the Solemnity of the Epiphany we hear proclaimed the Announcement of Easter and Moveable Feasts. These star-like points on the liturgical calendar will lead us to the same person that the Magi found at the end of their journey. They will lead us to our Lord and we too will never be the same afterwards. Let’s mark our calendars

Merry Christmas!

Allow Yourself To Be Surprised

Epiphany 2015

Today, we witness the story of the Magi and their epiphany. These Magi, who were not Jewish (most likely from Babylon), were searchers for the truth and they would not stop until they found it.  We hear in the Gospel that they followed the star; but we can see that they also allowed their own expectations and assumptions to influence them. What they found was not what they expected, it was not in their realm of possibility.  They were surprised.

In searching for the ‘King of the Jews[1] they followed the guiding star but stopped in Jerusalem expecting to find him there; after all, wouldn’t a king be found in the King’s city? ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him[2] they asked the inhabitants of Jerusalem and they quickly realized that their assumption was wrong. What they found was not a well-positioned family with a royal child – but confusion and intrigue; so they looked up to the heavens again and the star reappeared and led them further – out of the royal city and to a little town of shepherds and villagers. Their expectations were off; but still, they were searching for the truth, the ‘King of Jews’, and so their hearts were open to how God revealed Himself. ‘…and they fell down and worshiped him[3]

We have the advantage of growing up with the Bible – we didn’t have to go into foreign and dangerous lands following a star.  We have heard time and time again the story of the Nativity and the Magi – and it seems comfortable; however it is nonetheless a surprising story in the eyes of human expectation. But why should this be a surprise? Why should we expect to understand and anticipate what God does? ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts…[4] we hear Him tell us through the prophet Isaiah.

God, makes it clear throughout the history of salvation that His plans and ideas are beyond our expectations and comprehension.  ‘The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand…[5] He announces through Isaiah.  Christ will go on to baffle the wise and educated, the good-willed, His enemies, even the faithful.  Those around Him will continually be surprised as He reveals Himself and His Father. Mary, surprised from the moment of Gabriel’s greeting; Joseph, surprised from the moment of Mary’s pregnancy; the shepherds surprised by the heavenly hosts.  Satan’s howl of delight at the crucifixion turning into howls of rage when he realizes God’s designs.

God reveals Himself as He wills and His message will strike our hearts at unexpected times.  Our lives will be jolted by the promptings of the Holy Spirit when least expected.  God will affect us to change us – on His terms.  What His arrival in our hearts will mean to us will be different for each, but it will be the same in its surprising suddenness.  Epiphanies are by their very nature surprising because they are awakenings; they are life altering.

The very last line of today’s Gospel tells us what happens when we encounter God with open hearts in these sudden moments: ‘they departed to their own country by another way.[6]  The Magi, finding the truth, the messiah, were changed; what was previously important – now was not.  They couldn’t live as they had after seeing God enter their lives. We should not expect to be the same after God inserts Himself into our journey.  We should be prepared to view our lives differently after the Holy Spirit prompts us.  But most importantly; we should desire this change – we should desire surprises from God.

Brothers and sisters search for God everywhere and all the time. Be as the Magi who searched for the truth and allow yourself to be guided by God; the Magi had the guiding star, we have God’s Son. Search for God everywhere but know he will appear as He wills it. Don’t cloud the eyes for your heart with your preconceived ideas because you leave an opening for the king of half-truths. Again, keep your hearts open as the Magi did and you will be rewarded. We see with the Magi that when their expectations failed them, their desire for truth didn’t, and when their hearts were opened again they ‘they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy[7]

This year the feast of the Epiphany and the whole season of Christmas speaks to my heart with one single phrase: ‘Allow yourself to be surprised’; I pray the same for all of you!

Merry Christmas


[1] Matthew 2:2 (RSV)
[2] ibid
[3] Matthew 2:11 (RSV)
[4] Isaiah 55:8-9 (RSV)
[5] Isaiah 1:3 (RSV)
[6] Matthew 2:12 (RSV)
[7] Matthew 2:10 (RSV)

Look to the Magi

The celebration of the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord brings to light a great question put in front of mankind. How do we answer God’s gift to us?  How do we respond to He who is the Way, Truth and the Life?  There are two answers to this question and today we see one of them in the Magi.  The other we see on Good Friday.

What is truth?

Pontius Pilate, looking into the face of truth asked the question and didn’t find the answer, couldn’t find it – because he didn’t want to find it.

His question ‘What is truth?’ not only reflects a desperate desire within him and many throughout history, that truth should be subjective; but, I believe, it is a sophistic argument to allow them not to have to accept ultimate truth because that would cause them to change when they found it. Pilate didn’t want to look for the truth, didn’t want to have his life affected by it.  He would rather be uninformed, ignorant of truth so he could continue on the path to his wants and not his true needs.

This mindset might bring short-term comfort but it eventually leads to great disappointment as it fails to produce the peace and joy within us that we were made for – for it is manmade and not from God. ‘Man is degraded if he can’t know truth, if everything, in the final analysis, is just the product of an individual or collective decision.’ Pope Benedict XVI wrote.

The answer of course, is God; God within.  St. Augustine so famously wrote:‘“Great are You, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is your power, and infinite is Your wisdom.” And man desires to praise You, for he is a part of Your creation; he bears his mortality about with him and carries the evidence of his sin and the proof that You resist the proud. Still he desires to praise You, this man who is only a small part of Your creation. You have prompted him, that he should delight to praise You, for You have made us for Yourself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in You.

No, we can’t ignore God’s gift and go our own way to achieve happiness for the reasons given by Pope Benedict XVI and St. Augustine.  The only correct answer is the one followed by the Magi.  We find God regardless of where it leads us.  And He will lead us where we don’t expect; where we never thought we would go; but, He will lead us to where our hearts will be fulfilled.

…they departed for their country by another way.’ the Gospel ends with today.  When we meet our Lord in our hearts we will never continue to walk the same path, we are changed; priorities will be different; desires will be through the eyes of faith and not of flesh.  We will have found Truth and recognize it as such; it will not only change us but be our companion.

The Magi, in their hearts were searching for meaning of life, were searching for the truth and traveled great distances and through unimaginable trials to find it, and did. They never allowed Pilate’s fear of the unknown to enter their hearts. As fallen creatures our search for the truth follows the path of the Magi – great distances and unimaginable trials.  When the daily choice is put before us of answering as Pilate did or the Magi look to the Wise men. Look for the lighted path, look for the guiding star and though our life will be new it will be filled with the peace and joy we were made for, what we prayed for today at Mass in the Collect (Opening prayer):
O God, who on this day
revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star,
grant in your mercy
that we, who know you already by faith,
may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory.

May the feast of the Epiphany be a new starting point for each us as we follow the guiding star.  May Holy Mary our Mother – Gate of Heaven, Star of the Sea – be our best example and Advocate. Merry Christmas !