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!

Making People Hungry

This weekend we are back in Ordinary Time; but in spite of the change in liturgical seasons we are still contemplating what was started in the Christmas season – the great epiphanies of Christ. Today, we finish with the last of the four great events that, by the way, the Feast of the Epiphany originally celebrated. The Nativity of our Lord, the Visit of the Magi, the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan River, and now the Wedding Feast at Cana.

We are also one month into the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis. There has been quite a lot of interest and activity already, which is a good thing. My worry, however, is that if we are not careful this celebration of the Year of Mercy might cloud the great initiative already in progress – The New Evangelization. This would be a tragedy because they fit so well together – indeed they have the same goal. The initiative of the New Evangelization is to bring Christ to those who have forgotten Him; to bring the Face of Mercy Himself to those who have forgotten what God has to offer His creation.

With any ministry and mission we are always looking for ways to implement them; the New Evangelization is no different. As faithful disciples we should always look to Jesus and see how He accomplished His mission on earth; in order to gain insight into how we should participate with Him. In this case – how do we continue to bring His face of Mercy, and what it involves, to those who have forgotten or never knew Him. With these celebrations of the four Epiphanies we can go back and look at how Christ brought Himself to the world.

The Nativity in Bethlehem.
Christ comes first to a family. His presence, the presence of divine mercy enters mankind through a family. It is true that the love and mercy of a mother and father to their child was always there, and Mary and Joseph come to know what this love and mercy is about.  They feel it well up in them and pour it forth on this little and defenseless baby. They knew He was God – but I have to believe that in Bethlehem that realization took a back seat to the love of a parent for their child.  But Christ’s presence brings a holiness to this relationship of parent and child, as well as to the relationship of a family. His presence, His love and mercy, elevates the dynamic of a family to something different, something holy, sacred.

The Visit of the Magi.
The world, in the personage of the Magi, comes to the great king, announced by an amazing cosmic display. But when the meeting happens, I can’t help but believe it is just three tired, worried and worn out journeyman visiting a poor rural family with a toddler. And yet their hearts are moved by what they see; they are fulfilled. The world comes face to face with Mercy Himself as they enter this house of a family filled with sanctity.  These outsiders are affected by what radiates from a family, they are changed; or as St. Matthew states more poetically: ‘they departed for their country by another way[1] Mercy is introduced through a normal encounter– not the extraordinary.

The Baptism of the Lord in the River Jordan.
Christ, now an adult, is shown to those at the river as a chosen one of God. Mercy is made known by God Himself. And though it comes in the form of a profound mysterious event it comes during an event with the townsfolk of the region. Christ comes to the river with them and comes out of the river as they do; He is one of them. Mercy is made known through a neighbor and human social activity.

The Wedding Feast of Cana.
Christ, now with a few followers makes His first outward act of a miracle. His changing the water into wine wipes away doubt from His disciples who came with Him that He is special. But, just what was the event that He used. Christ, used the event of a wedding, a special but still common occurrence; and not only that but He used six relatively common vessels used to hold water, to show that Mercy was among the people.  He took the ordinary and raised it to the Holy.

Our Model and Our Turn
Brothers and sisters, as we try to contemplate our part in this much needed New Evangelization let’s look to Christ’s actions in these epiphanies as our model. Christ, in all of these moments, took what he was experiencing, took His daily events and raised them, sanctified them by His actions.  Now, some you might be thinking that – well, He was God and He had special gifts that allowed Him to do this; but, I urge you to reread the second reading today. St. Paul tells the Corinthians and us that we too have been given talents to help the face of Mercy be made known. ‘There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.[2] St. Paul proclaims and then goes on to list a few of the inexhaustible gifts given to us. God has not left us without tools to reintroduce the face of mercy.

My friends – what these epiphanies show us is that our part of Christ’s mission to bring His face to everyone is to take normalcy and raise it to holiness – to always sanctify every moment of our day. This is our task, this is our obligation to He who showed us mercy first; not by clever words but by holy action. Sanctify the workplace, sanctify the home, sanctify the public square; with fearlessness and love. By these actions the people around us will hunger for what we have.

Out part is to make people hungry – Christ will feed them.

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[1] Mt 2:12
[2] 1 Cor 12:4

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

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[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 !