Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Epiphany of the Lord

January 6, 2013
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-6; Matthew 2:1-12

Exultation rings out of Zion because it is rising out of the historical ashes of destruction. A new Zion, a new priesthood, new songs, and a renewed commitment to God induce the Israelites to sing songs of hopeful praise. The effect of this new lease on life is evident to the ends of the earth, as Gentiles from afar will realize God favors Zion and they are included in this favor.  The Lord in a wide embrace will draw all nations to himself. The nations will know that they are meant to belong to this God whose light shines on all people. They are included in God’s special favor with equality.

Matthew’s Gospel is the only one that tells of the visit of the wise men. Herod the Great, a vassal king under the Roman Emperor, is a dominant personality with a forty-one year tightly controlled reign. He is the fierce ruler during the birth of Jesus. The wise men that pay homage to the infant Jesus are associated with being dream interpreters, astrologers, and magicians. As the Christian tradition grew in the Western church, they became known as kings from the east with the names Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior attributed to them. Caspar is cast as a black king. Together they are representatives of the Gentile world who come to Christ in all its racial diversity.

The star the wise men follow, if historical, could be a supernova, a meteor, or a unique alignment of planets. If poetic, it may come from one of the Midrash associated with cosmic events foretelling the arrival of the Messiah. It settles upon Bethlehem, the humble city of David, in contrast with Herod’s grandiose Jerusalem. The wise men present gifts to Mary and Joseph: gold to signify the kingship of Christ, incense his divinity, and myrrh his redemptive suffering. This messianic king will be unlike Herod for his suffering will be virtuous and will save the people from death and evil.

The magi did not come in search for an earthly king. They would have been disconcerted at finding that they had taken the trouble to come such a long way for nothing. Consequently, they would not have offered gifts or adored him. Since they sought a heavenly king, though they found in him no signs of pre-eminence, they were content with the testimony of the star alone. They came and adored. They gazed upon a human, and they acknowledged a God. They were unable to betray the truth. They bypassed Herod and departed for their home country along another route.

Paul, in the second reading, tells us plainly that the Gentiles are coheirs to the salvation received through Christ. They have full equality with the Israelites as full members and copartners in the kingdom. These are nice words to hear, but think of the implications for the Israelites who look down upon the lowly, unclean Gentiles. Scripture and revelation tell them they have to accept people they consider inferior into their worship spaces, at supper tables, and at places of governance. They can no longer see them as Gentiles and foreigners, but as accepted brothers and sisters. You can imagine the challenges they faced because their whole perspective of the world changed overnight.

Our task on this feast is not just to gaze at the three wise men in wonder, but also to see that we have similar work as the Israelites. We can no longer see anyone as American, Arab, Filipino, Indian, Sri Lankan, or European. We are to reach out our hands to our neighbor and see them as brothers and sisters. We each have full equality before God. Therefore, we are to treat each other with due respect and honor. It also means that we are to put aside our longstanding differences with someone who we have made into an “other.” We do this when we disapprove of someone and put him or her on the outside of our lives. Epiphany is a time when we can no longer shun another person or cut them off from us. It is a time when we have to be courageous enough to put aside our current worldview to adopt God’s worldview.

Let us put some magic back into our lives. Let’s be like the wise men that followed this magical star. They were content with where God was leading them. Seek the divine in the one who you make out to be a foreigner. Lift up your adversaries instead of keeping them in the lowly place you imagine them to be. Adore your enemies. Adore the ones you keep as foreigners. Gaze upon them and allow your senses to be filled with wonder. Gaze upon another human and you will find God. You will not be able to betray the truth of what you experience. Like the wise men, you will be able to navigate your way home because you are faithful to God’s revelation. The glory of God will shine upon you and others will be drawn to the brilliance. The star of wonder still shines brightly. Be brave enough to follow it.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: John, in his first letter, tells his friends to test the spirits to see if they are of God. Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus came in the flesh belongs to God, but false prophets teach otherwise. The love shown to others will tell if we are of God. God sent his only-begotten Son into the world so that we might have life through him. It is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as expiation for our sins. If God loved us, we must love one another. If we do so, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and the one who fears is not yet perfect in love. If anyone who professes to love hates his brother, he is a liar. Whomever God begets conquers the world. The victory that conquers the world is faith. Jesus, the one who came through water and Blood, is the victor of the world. Whoever possesses Jesus has life. Discernment teaches us that Jesus is true and is of the true God who promises eternal life.

Gospel: After John the Baptist was beheaded, Jesus withdrew to Galilee for safety. He began to preach, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He cured many and his fame spread to Syria and all who were brought to him were healed. When Jesus saw the vast crowds his heart was moved with pity for them. He began to teach them many things and when he was finished he told his disciples to give them something to eat. After the feeding, he sent his disciples into a boat to cross to the other side while he went up the mountain to pray. In the middle of the night his disciples saw him walking on the sea past them and they thought he was a ghost. Jesus returned to Galilee where he opened up the scroll of Isaiah and upon reading it proclaimed, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” A man with leprosy approached him and he exclaimed, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus healed his leprosy immediately. Jesus and his disciples were baptizing in Judea. Jesus did not compare himself to John, but let his disciples know that John is the best man of Jesus who rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.

Saints of the Week

January 6: Andre Bessette, religious (1845-1937), was born in Quebec, Canada. He joined the Congregation of the Holy Cross and taught for 40 years at the College of Notre Dame. He cared for the sick and was known as a intercessor for miracles. He built St. Joseph’s Oratory, a popular pilgrimage site in Canada.

January 7: Raymond of Penyafort, priest (1175-1275), was trained in philosophy and law and was ordained in 1222 to preach to the Moors and Christians. Though he was appointed bishop of Tarragon, he declined the position. Instead he organized papal decrees into the first form of canon law. He was later elected Master of the Dominican Order.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Jan. 6, 1829: Publication of Pope Leo XII's rescript, declaring the Society to be canonically restored in England.
·      Jan. 7, 1566: Cardinal Ghislieri was elected pope as Pius V. He was a great friend of the Francis Borgia and appointed Salmeron and Toletus as apostolic preachers at the Vatican. He desired to impose the office of choir on the Society and even ordered it. He was canonized as St. Pius V.
·      Jan. 8, 1601: Balthasar Gracian was born. A Spanish Jesuit, he wrote on courtly matters. He is the author of "The Compleat Gentleman" and "The Art of Worldly Wisdom."
·      Jan. 9, 1574: Fr. Jasper Haywood died at Naples. He was superior of the English mission. As a boy he was one of the pages of honor to the Princess Elizabeth. After a brilliant career at Oxford, he renounced his fellowship and entered the Society in Rome in 1570. An able Hebrew scholar and theologians, he was for two years professor in the Roman College.
·      Jan. 10, 1581: Queen Elizabeth signed the fifth Penal Statute in England inflicting heavy fines and imprisonment on all who harbored Jesuits and Seminary priests.
·      Jan 10, 1567. Two Jesuits arrived in Havana, Cuba, as a base for evangelization.
·      Jan 11, 1573. At Milan, St Charles Borromeo founded a college (the Brera) and placed it under the care of the Society.
·      Jan 12, 1544. Xavier wrote a long letter on his apostolic labors, saying he wished to visit all the universities of Europe in search of laborers for our Lord's vineyard. The letter was widely circulated and very influential.