Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Epiphany of the Lord

The Epiphany of the Lord
January 5, 2014
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

The city of Jerusalem is favored in Scripture as the holy city of God, but in today’s political reality, many have an ambiguous relationship with the inter-faith mountain town. Native and immigrant Christians in the Middle East are often not allowed to travel into the ancient lands where they can pay homage to their ancestors in the faith and to the significant places of our tradition. Scripture tells us, “Nations will walk by your light and all will raise their eyes to you as they gather and come to you.”  Alas, Jerusalem, the radiant city of God, cannot be seen or visited by many.

            The Gospel places us just south of Jerusalem in Bethlehem where the wise visit the infant and his parents. Herod already called them to him to bring them into his conniving plan with the instructions, “Go and search diligently for the child,” but their search was made easy because of the star that preceded them. Were they originally in on Herod’s plan? It seems that many people around us today are out for their own profit. Self-interest weighs heavily into people’s actions at the expense of others. The non- and pre-Christian culture often did not attend to the needs of others as people sought their own security and gain. Did the magi accept Herod’s plan? Who could refuse the offer of a mighty king? If so, what made them change their minds? The star? The journey? Seeing the innocent, good child? Their choice to let Jesus live in peace and security would have meant going back on their word – a very dishonorable action for any wise man in the Orient. The actions of the magi were remarkable because they honored the boy they were to betray.

            Epiphany is significant to Christians because it began the process of opening the faith to the Gentiles. Scripture could be fulfilled where all the peoples of the world would recognize God as Lord, but it did not happen in sacred Jerusalem. It happened in a tiny shepherding village in the shadows of the great mountain of the Lord. The revelation of God can occur outside the Temple, outside the sacred city, in the smallest of places. It can occur anywhere in the kingdom of God and to any people, whether they are Jews, Christians, other, or from no religious tradition at all. God’s revelation is not bound by our constraints and expectations. All who hear the word of God and come to belief are copartners in the promise of Christ.

            Many like Epiphany for various reasons. (1.) The powerless, helpless boy wields enormous power over an aggressive king. (2.) Small insignificant places and people become the instrument of everlasting glory. Everyone has intrinsic value. (3.) The men known as sages show their otherworldly wisdom, thus confirming their status as virtuous men whom we are to imitate. Head and heart helps them make choices. They strive for the common good and show their shepherding care for others. (4.) An exclusive faith, bound by laws and rules, is inclusively opened to all so they can live in freedom. (5.) Jerusalem, the special place of God’s presence, becomes more than just a place; it becomes a symbol of worship that can be done anywhere. No one has to travel to Jerusalem to fulfill one’s Christian duties because the faith is to be lived out in the world. (6.) The in-breaking of God’s love to the world means that we make decisions based on God’s love and mercy rather than laws and traditions. (7.) We choose God and we are therefore God’s new chosen people. We are God’s gift to ourselves.

            If you are like me, you find it difficult to give yourself a gift, even in this season of giving. Giving to others is easy; giving more away than what you have is expected. I struggle as I want to live simply and without many needs, but sometimes I recognize the importance of receiving a gift I can give to myself. I’m still learning, and I have to spend time in prayer first by telling God that I need something: whether it is time or space or beauty or balance. God is always kinder to me than I am to myself. God wants me to splurge on myself from time to time so I can see myself as a gift the way God and others see me as a gift. Are you in the same boat as me? God values us, no matter how important or unimportant we think we are. We have to learn to receive what God is begging to give us. We are God’s chosen people and he wants to spoil us rotten. Let yourself go and receive the Lord’s goodness. This might be his epiphany, his manifestation, to you this Christmas. You are the new Jerusalem – the place of God’s visitation. Rise up in splendor. Your light has come. Raise your eyes and look about and you shall be radiant at what you see and your heart will throb and overflow. God will praise you as you recognize his goodness in your midst.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: John the Evangelist tells us that we receive from Jesus whatever we ask because we keep his commandments. He also asks us to trust every spirit that comes our way so we can discern the good from the bad. As we belong to God, we will instinctively know the difference between the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit. We love one another because love is of God and everyone who loves is begotten by God. If God so loved us, we also must love one another because if we love another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us. If anyone says, “I love God” but hates his brother, then he is a liar. This is the commandment we have from him: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. If we love God, then we keep his commandments. The victor over the world is the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. The Spirit of Truth testifies to it and gives us testimony that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. God hears us whenever we ask for anything. The Son of God has come and given us discernment to know the one who is true, and we are in the one who is true, in his Son Jesus. He is the true God and eternal life.

Gospel: When John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus withdrew to Galilee and he began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” When Jesus saw the vast crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. He made the disciples give them some food. Like a good shepherd, he fed the flock. After the five thousand had eaten, Jesus and his disciples embarked onto a boat so they could head to the mountains to pray. When the boat was far from shore, a storm came up and tossed them back and forth, but Jesus quelled the storm and the winds died down. Jesus returned to Galilee to preach. He entered a synagogue, opened the scrolls, read from the prophet Isaiah and declared that this Scripture passage is fulfilled in their hearing of it. A man full of leprosy seeks healing from Jesus if Jesus wants to give it to him. He does and he sends the cleaned man on his way. Jesus and his disciples where they spent some time baptizing. John and his disciples were also baptizing. A dispute arose between a Jew and a disciple of John about ceremonial washing. They pointed out that many people were going over to Jesus. John replied that he is the friend of the bridegroom, while Jesus is the groom.

Saints of the Week

January 5: John Neumann, bishop (1811-1860), emigrated from Bohemia to New York and joined the Redemptorists in Pittsburgh before being named bishop of Philadelphia. He built many churches in the diocese and placed great emphasis on education as the foundation of faith.

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. 5, 1548: Francis Suarez, one of the greatest theologians of the church, was born at Granada.
·      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.