HAPPY NEW YEAR! A resolution for me is to honor requests to post homilies which I have not done since the death of my mother last June. Since our deacons preach once a month, I am posting theirs as well. God bless you as you go deeper into the rich Word of God.
Jesus Royal Messiahship
By Deacon Mike Jacobs
We have an amazing God, a God that is love, a God that wants us to call Him Abba Father, a God that wants us to be his children, one in the Body of Christ His only begotten Son. He gave us free will to choose God or self.
Today we celebrate the appearance of Our Lord Jesus Christ on the human scene. For the Greeks, the word “Epiphany” was used to describe an appearance or manifestation of a god among human beings. The Fathers of the Church used this word for the Incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Savior. Today we are celebrating the appearance of the Divine in space and time.(ex 3:12, 19:18, act 2:3-4), a God that is love, a love that is so great that He sent His only begotten Son to rescue us. Not as a royal king born in royalty, but born to a poor family in a manger, not one to be served but to serve. Jesus came to us that we may have life, opening heaven, offering us a share in His divinity, to be children of God no longer slaves but free men. “This day Christ appeared to the world as a light shining in the darkness. May we follow him in faith and be a light to others.”
The story of the Magi or wise men was included in Matthew’s Gospel to show that from the beginning God intended to call the Gentiles (non-Jews) into unity with the Chosen People. This story was probably an answer to the fundamentalists of the early Church, who opposed Paul’s work with the Gentiles on grounds that this was just a “human decision” of the Church: and that Jesus himself” never preached to non-Jews. The problem was that the Jews, like everyone else, were tempted to be nationalistic. They would say “Israel first” the same way we might say “America first.”
Isaiah’s prophecy, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, Nations shall come to your light…. The wealth of the nations shall come to you” could mean that Israel would dominate the earth with a universally respected Jewish culture. In reality, this prophecy meant that by the light which came to earth through the Jews, every human culture would be transformed without losing its identity. All the human “wealth of the nations: both material and cultural would be shared among all without being lost to any. God’s plan from all eternity was to “gather up all things in Him (Christ), things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10), Jesus did not come to make one nation or culture dominant over others but instead to glorify the entire human race by bringing everything human, in all its variety and diversity, to its full potential, not only to its natural perfection, but to the glory it can have when transformed by grace.
The Jews had made known throughout the East their hope of a Messiah. The wise men knew about this expected Messiah, King of the Jews. According to ideas widely accepted at the time, this sort of person, because of his significance in world history would have a star connected with his birth. God made use of these ideas to draw to ‘Christ these representatives of the Gentile who would later be converted. “The star had been hidden from them so that, on finding themselves without their guide, they would have no alternative but to consult the Jews, in this way the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, would be known to all. St. John Chrysostom writes: “God calls them by means of the things they are most familiar with and he shows them a large and extraordinary star so that they would be impressed by its size and beauty”. God called the wise men in the midst of their ordinary occupations, and he still calls people in that way. He called Moses who he was shepherding his flock (ex 3:1-2), Elisha the prophet ploughing his land with oxen (1king 19:19-20), Amos looking after his herd (amos 7:15). Why should it surprise you that God is calling you where you are today, to be his witness, disciples, to be the light in the darkness of this world. Josemaria Escriva writes in his book “The Way”. “What amazes you seems natural to me: that God has sought you out in the practice of your profession! That is how he sought the first apostles, Peter, Andrew, James and John beside their nets and Matthew, sitting in custom-house, and wonders of wonders! Paul in his eagerness to destroy the seeds of Christianity.”
Jesus came that we might “have life and have it abundantly,” through the life of grace (Jn 10:10). Saint Irenaeus says, “As those who see light are in the light sharing its brilliance, so those who see God are in God sharing his glory, and that glory gives them life.” He adds that, if we persevere in love, obedience and gratitude to God, “We will receive greater glory from him, a glory which will grow ever brighter until we take on the likeness of the one who died for us.” Saint Paul spoke of building up the Body of Christ, “until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God… to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (eph 3:14). The glory of God and the glory of the human race become one and the same reality in “the fullness of Christ” — head and members— and that glory is “all humanity, fully alive.” According to Saint Paul, we are called, consecrated and commissioned to bring about the glory of God, shining through a glorified human race united, with all its individual and cultural diversity, into one Body in Christ. To celebrate Epiphany is to celebrate not just the light of Christ but the revelation of that light to the whole world. To celebrate this means to rejoice in it, to “single out for grateful remembrance” that people of every race, culture and nation are called to be one Church, one assembly, one in Christ. We are called to be one with each other in faith, in hope and in love. Without suppressing diversity or differences. We are called to rejoice in the fact that our Church is Catholic (universal) that is a composite of culture and nations and does express itself in the same way all over the world. Above all, this feast calls us to reach out to others and invite them to celebrate with us the light of Christ. Epiphany reminds us that it is not catholic to want a community of people comfortable with each other, because they share the same language, customs, culture or social background, we should not be comfortable until we have invited everyone to join us as believers in Jesus.
Like the Magi we have discovered a star, a light and a guide in the sky of our souls. We have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him. We have had the same experience. We too noticed a new light shinning in our soul and growing increasingly brighter. It was and is a desire to live a fully Christian life, a keenness to take God seriously. When all is said and done it is simply a choice – God or self. I do not know about you but I pick God, my soul is thirsting for our God. Come Holy Spirit fill the hearts of your faithful enkindle in them the fire of your divine love.
The Epiphany of the Lord
By Deacon George Fredericks
Reading 1 Is 60:1-6
Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears his glory. Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance. Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.
Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow, for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you, the wealth of nations shall be brought to you. Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.
Responsorial Psalm Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13.
R. Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
Reading 2 Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6
Brothers and sisters: You have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for your benefit, namely, that the mystery was made known to me by revelation. 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, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Gospel Mt 2:1-12
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.” Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.”
After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
Today we celebrate the Epiphany… the second definition of Epiphany in the dictionary is: …a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.
Let’s see if we can understand something about faith in Jesus in a very clear way!!!
Today we remember the Magi who came from faraway lands to worship the baby Jesus. They came guided by a star.
They were not Jews and scholars tell us they were priests of an Eastern religion who consulted the stars (Zoroastrian priests).
We can say they were followers of a pagan religion.
From our Christian viewpoint, pagans are generally characterized as those who follow any religious ceremony or practice that is not Christian.
But the journey the wise men made to Bethlehem was not the only journey they made.
They also made a journey in their hearts from paganism to worshipping Jesus.
The Magi were nature worshippers who had no scriptures but here we see something important for us to realize.
God revealed Himself to them through the means available which in this case was through their own religion.
This is important so let me repeat…. God revealed Himself to them through the means available which was through their own religion.
Through the stars they were able to learn of the birth of Jesus and find their way to him.
Clearly, God does have a relationship with people of other religions who are neither Jews nor Christians and we would do well to remember that.
There is only one God, and all who seek God with a sincere heart are led to Him, whether they call him Allah or Yahweh or some other name.
What we have in common with members of the Jewish faith, Islam and some other religions is that we all worship the same God.
All of humanity are children of the same Father.
This truth is sometimes hard for people to accept because religious people all over the world tend to believe that they have exclusive access to God and the truth.
In the Old Testament, the Jewish people wrongly believed that they were the exclusive people of God.
They divided everyone into two groups: Jews who were the people of God, and the Gentiles who were not.
Some of their prophets and those possessed of more wisdom tried to correct this belief by reminding them of the universal love of God for all humankind.
It was not until Jesus came that this revelation began to sink in.
As the second reading states, Christ made both groups, Jews and Gentiles, into one people and broke down the dividing wall of hostility separating them.
In the past, some Christians tended to make the same mistake by thinking they were the exclusive people of God.
Vatican II affirmed that God’s truth is available to people of other religions.
We believe and teach that the Catholic Church has the fullness of means of salvation.
By that we mean that we possess the sacraments and Scripture which was written under the influence of the Holy Spirit by Catholic men.
We are in possession of truth through Sacred Tradition and our Liturgy. These and other means contribute to the fullness of salvation.
Please notice this is not claiming that the Catholic Church is the only means of salvation… just that we have the comprehensiveness of those means.
We must all guard against developing a mindset which thinks this way.
It is thanks to God’s unique revelation in Christ, that we can know God’s truth more clearly and follow God’s ways more closely in our daily lives.
But we should always remember that even though we are on the better way, others who are on a not-so-better way could arrive at the goal before us.
After all, it was the Gentile Magi who recognized and accepted the savior and the Jewish religious leaders who did not.
We each are called to follow Jesus and not just when it suits us.
We each have a journey to make because none of us is yet fully converted and each of us has corners in our hearts in need of Jesus’ healing and redemption.
Like the wise men, we too are relying on the grace of God to lead us to the light of Jesus our Savior.
Through the grace of God the wise men came to faith in Jesus.
What of those who do not yet know that Jesus is the Savior?
Is it possible that those who are not Christian achieve salvation? Yes they can, and here’s why.
We can see part of the answer in the account of the wise men. By the grace of God the wise men were led to Jesus.
Listen to this quote from Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council:
“Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.” (Lumen Gentium §16)
Even though the Magi did not know Jesus they had a desire to meet God’s anointed one.
In their own way, with their beliefs, they lived as best they could and this eventually led them to Jesus.
We too, have a journey to make in our conversion because none of us is yet fully converted and each of us has areas of our hearts in need of Jesus’ healing and redemption.
Let us pray that God may lead us, like the Magi, ever closer to his Son.
Let us pray that all nations may come to know that Jesus is the one Savior, that all nations may fall prostrate before Jesus.
This does not imply that we do not have to spread the Gospel and can just sit back and wait for God to intervene.
The Church’s mission is to help people make the journey to Jesus.
And that mission is for everyone, not just the clergy.
Jesus’ last command before his ascension was for his followers to baptize all nations.
Therefore we have the duty to preach the Gospel to those who have not yet heard the Good News.
Let us preach the Gospel with our lives as our beloved Pope Francis has championed.
He said: “Today’s world stands in great need of witnesses, not so much of teachers but rather of witnesses. It’s not so much about speaking, but speaking with our whole lives.”
We should all look closely at our lives and do our best to move closer to this ideal.
And my wife shared this important observation: Are our lives showing this witness or are we just speaking it?
By Deacon John Hackett
On a summer’s day in 1879, an amateur archeologist named Marcelino de Satuola went into a cave in Altamira, Spain, looking for prehistoric artifacts. He’d been there several times before, and hadn’t found much of interest. But this day, he brought with him his five-year-old daughter, Maria. The two of them began to explore the cave. Marcelino was studying the ground (looking for artifacts, as usual), when he heard his little girl cry out “Mira, pa-pa’….bueyes!”….in English:… “Look, daddy, “oxen!” He couldn’t imagine what she was talking about, until he looked in her direction and saw she was pointing up to the ceiling. There, Marcelino saw the most incredible images…not only oxen, but pictures of other animals and people that had been left there over 10,000 years earlier. What his little girl spotted was later hailed as one of the greatest artistic discoveries ever. In the 1920s, Picasso visited the caves and came away awed. To this day, thousands visit Altamira every year to see what many consider to be the very beginnings of art. And it happened because a little five-year-old girl didn’t look down. She… looked up.
She brought to that adventure a sense of wonder. Just like the magi, (the wise men), in today’s gospel reading. They also looked up. And then looked forward. And then followed. They discovered something far more valuable than anything painted on the ceiling of an ancient cave. They followed a star to the savior of the world. And what led them there was more than astronomy. They were led by fascination, moved by wonder. They needed to find where that star would take them.
The biologist J.B.S. Haldane once said, “The world will not perish for want of wonders…but for want of wonder.” That word…wonder… is the great well-spring that nourishes us on this particular feast, the feast of the Epiphany. That word comes from Latin, meaning “manifestation.” (a revelation). Or, as Webster’s puts it, an “illuminating discovery.” The magi discovered the greatest illumination of all: The Christ of God.
Isaiah describes it this way: “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come.” And it has. The birth of the Christ means we will finally see what was hidden. What was in shadow is bathed in light. And it begins with the infinite light of a star. But to see it, to experience it, to discover it, we need to do what the magi did. We need to have wonder. And we need to travel – to journey outside our “comfort zones” and be open to the unexpected or the unplanned.
The magi had no idea where that star was going take them. They didn’t know what their final destination would be. They couldn’t anticipate what they would find, or that it would all end up in Bethlehem. The journey to Jesus was, for them, as it is for all of us: unpredictable, uncharted, unknowable. And it left them changed.
Now, as Matthew writes: “They departed for their country by another way.” There may be a subliminal message in Matthew’s statement here there that we might easily miss. You see, after encountering Christ, the magi couldn’t travel the same road. It should be that way for all of us. After discovering Jesus, after our own epiphanies, nothing can ever be quite the same.
John Henry Newman once wrote that “To live is to change.” It’s a beautiful thought for this season, when we’re starting a new year and many of us are struggling to change old habits – or maybe lose old weight.
Living is about growing, and changing – Newman embodied that with his conversion. So did other great converts of our own day, people like Edith Stein, Thomas Merton and Avery Dulles. They understood that life isn’t a destination. It’s a journey. No matter the problems, or detours or setbacks, we continue to move forward, seeking Truth.
Some years back I heard the most remarkable story of two Anglican men, a father and son in England, who converted to Catholicism. That’s unusual enough. But then, just before Christmas both of them were ordained to the priesthood. It’s believed that’s the first time that’s ever happened. The son put it simply, but eloquently: “It was time to come home.” Well…What a homecoming!
This is a time, the holidays, when many of us have had homecomings of one kind or another. For some of us, that homecoming has also meant returning to the faith. Maybe you found yourself suddenly back in the pews for Christmas mass — trying to remember the prayers you used to know by heart, feeling a little out of place, wondering if you’ll fit in. It’s okay. The most important thing – like with the magi – is that you made the trip. The fact is: all of us, like the magi, are pilgrims…on journey. But where will the journey take us?
Remember the wise men, the journey they took, the star they followed, the epiphany they made. They traveled to places unknown, guided by wonder. And they discovered the Son of God. And remember, too, that little girl in Altamira. So often, we spend our lives looking at the ground, studying the dirt, checking out the broken remnants of life that lie at our feet. We can miss the glory that is just above us. We can miss epiphanies.
So in ending: Look up! Look forward. And follow. Follow the light, the light that is Christ. It leads us to grace. And after that, we have no choice but to live differently – just like the magi, returning to our lives “by another way.”