06 January 2019Epiphany

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
Epiphany of the Lord - Cycle C Matthew 2:1-12

The seventeenth century painter Guido Reni has left us a magnificent painting of Matthew. An angel is whispering to him various events in the life of Jesus. The attentive Evangelist is frantically writing down all that he is told. The tale will become his Gospel. A portion of those whispers is today's story of the Epiphany. It is only Matthew who tells us this tale filled with wonder. Why the other Evangelists ignored this magical story, we will never know - at least this side of the grave. But how fortunate we are to have the poetical story at all! Its charm is eternal. It has inspired millions! It has taught countless others! For example, it was an excited little girl who told me this story. The first two wise men offered their precious gifts to the Babe. He declined them. When He did so with the third, the exasperated savant asked, "Then what do you want?" The Child answered quickly and with a warm smile, "Your camel!"

A confessed feminist asked me why God gave the star to the wise men. I professed ignorance. She told me with glee, "God knows men are too proud to ask directions." I read recently of the traditions the wise men have inspired in various countries. In Latin countries, boys and girls leave hay in their shoes for the camels on the eve of the Epiphany. They hope the camels will reciprocate by leaving gifts. In France, cakes are baked and coins placed in each. He or she who gets the coin is king or queen for the day. In Greece, a cross is thrown into the water. Whoever retrieves it receives presents. It is silly, perhaps spiritually suicidal, to turn one's back on this account as so much child's play. We do so only at our own risk. The shrewd Matthew has much to teach his readers. As their journey began, the three pilgrims left behind them the warmth of their own fires and the love of their families.

Alone and undaunted, they went searching for God. Eagerly they responded to the invitation of the Spirit. They abandoned their own country with its familiar tongue and culture. They came into a foreign land among an alien people. The record shows they nearly lost their lives. Yet, for them the search for the God was worth all risks and dangers. At last their quest was done. They found their God. He lived not in a palace surrounded with retainers and ministers. Rather, He was in a manger surrounded with the foul odors of farm animals. Matthew does not record any disappointment on their part. Rather, they humbly fell to their knees and placed their finest gifts at His disposal. Then, and only then, they returned to their homes, wives, and children. They were energized. They were new people. They had become the first Gentiles to worship the Christ. They had become the first Christians. They also had walked into history. Wherever the Christmas story is told, they will be remembered. These men had proved wise indeed. They had risked all for God and they had become big winners. Is there anyone who still doubts that the equally wise Matthew is attempting to teach us something?

Each of us too must gamble if we too are to find God. If we play cautious and afraid, we will come up with hands groping frantically at empty air. We will not be energized. We will not become an Epiphany people. We will not enjoy our own epiphany. How unlike the Temple priests, who surrounded King Herod, the wise men were! These priests knew the Scriptures. They knew the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. As a matter of fact, Bethlehem was but a short hop, skip, and jump from Herod's home. Yet, the priests declined to join the wise men in their search. They would not leave their libraries and creature comforts. History passed them by. Now we only shake our heads in wonder at their blindness and pity them. Hopefully we will be wise enough to learn from their obtuseness. The wise men of today's Gospel would applaud the Epiphany wisdom of another finally successful pilgrim, Malcolm Muggeridge. It was he who wrote the following. "God signifies an alternative impulse - to sacrifice rather than to grab, to love rather than lust, to give rather than take, to pursue truth rather than promote lies, to humble oneself rather than inflate the ego."

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
Solemnity of the Epiphany: The Epiphany and Prejudice

The Solemnity of the Epiphany is a wonderful celebration with a main theme and many subordinate themes. The main theme is that the King of Kings is being manifested to the nations. This was shocking to the ancient Jews. St. Paul calls this a mystery hidden for the ages but now revealed by the Holy Spirit. The gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same Body and copartners in the promise of Jesus Christ. Among the subordinate themes to the Epiphany are the meaning of the gifts of the magi, Why gold, frankincense and myrrh, the magi themselves; Who were they, were they Zoroastrians, other types of pagans, the prophecy of Isaiah 60 saying that all nations would come to Jerusalem, Did that mean that Jerusalem would become the capital of the world, the prophecy of Micah revealing that the ruler of Israel would come from Bethlehem, Would the line of David be restored, and the contrast between the faith of the magi and the hypocrisy of Herod. And these are all within the solemnity as we celebrate it in the Roman Catholic Church.

Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox include in the Epiphany the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist and sometimes even the changing of the water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana. A particular theme I would like to focus on is that the mercy of God is extended to all people. A week ago on Saturday, the Office of Readings, part of the Liturgy of the Hours, contained a quote from St. Bernard of Clairveaux about the birth of Christ. St. Bernard was an 11th century Cistercian monk. In the reading, St. Bernard said that God sent to earth a bag bulging with his mercy, a bag that, at the passion, is torn open so that our ransom pours out of it onto us. It is a small bag, but a full one: for it was a small child that was given to us, but in him dwells the fullness of the Godhead. I like that. I never thought of the infant Jesus as a little bag bulging with mercy, but it is a beautiful way of understanding the Gift of Christmas.

We often refer to infants as bundles of joy, or as little bundles of love. This infant, the baby Jesus, is a bundle of joy, a bundle of love and a bundle of mercy. And his mercy is extended to all people, everywhere. That is the mystery of the Epiphany that so many people still have a difficult time comprehending. Many people think that somehow or other they are chosen for mercy while others are excluded from mercy. This fallacy is repeated throughout the ages, beginning with the original disciples who had to learn that the gentiles were included in the redemption of Christ. One heresy of the early Church was Gnosticism which, among other things, taught that what was revealed to the Gnostics was hidden from all others because others were lesser human beings. Later Christians would consider all those who had not embraced Christ exactly as they did as excluded from God's love. In our day, the fallacy is found in the people who have a penchant for grouping others into saved and unsaved categories. Grouping people into categories of any sort is prejudice.

Prejudice is also a theme that the Epiphany confronts. People like me who were raised in the middle of the last century have to be very careful and have to fight against a prejudice that was part of the times when we were children. We often defined others according to specific groups. Italians behave this way, African Americans that way, Latinos another way, etc. It is interesting that it is rather rare that members of the younger generations, people in their 20's, 30's and 40's, will meet someone and ask about the person's heritage. However, this is often the first question posed by older people. "How do you do? Did you say your last name was Arroyo? Is that Spanish?" We had a visiting priest here who came to give a mission and who could not handle the fact that my ancestors are Italian. He had to talk to me in make believe broken Italian English because he thought that's what I needed to hear. "Hey Joe, how-a are you-a doin today?"

The worse part was that he didn't even know that he was being offensive. Grouping people into categories is a prejudice against which we all have to fight. If I turn on a basketball game and the first thing I notice is how many black players are on the court, then I have to recognize how far I still need to go to fight prejudice in my own life. But if I can tell you right now that I do not know how many black players start for the my favorite football team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, nor do I care, then, maybe, I'm making some progress. We all have to be careful, because we all, not just the older people like me, but we all are inclined to put people into neat categories.

Prejudice is a lazy way of looking at the world. It is lazy because we don't have to take the time to learn an individual's particular characteristics or qualities. We think we know him or her already because, after all, all those people behave in this or that way. It is sad that many politicians subtly or not so subtly scare up votes by appealing to people's prejudices. Perhaps the younger people in our country will save the older generations from themselves. The Epiphany encourages us to be open to all people, and to see each person as an individual with his or her own particular qualities.

God has extended his mercy to all people equally. This mercy is given to us as individuals; not as part of a specific group. We who have received mercy need to extend mercy to others, all others, seeing each person as a child of God, not as a member of a group. So, who were those wise men? Pagans? Zoroastrians? That wasn't important to God. Each one of them was an individual looking to worship the king that had been revealed by God through the star. That was all that mattered. Who is this person? Who is that person? He/she is person made in the image and likeness of God. He/she is a child of God. That is all that matters.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom

* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
Surrender to Jesus (January 6, 2019)

Bottom line: In the Magi we see a profound act of surrender. It doesn't take away the questions about existence, life, the cosmos. Just the opposite, those questions lead to Jesus. Human beings in different cultures and different centuries have asked these questions: Why is there something and not nothing at all? What is the web of life belong to? And the stars and plants: How do the heavens relate to our lives here below? The magi in today's Gospel asked those kinds of questions. They study night sky and see a star - or perhaps a conjunction of planets. This leads them to a very peculiar people - a people who believes God is not some force but rather a person - a person who has entered into an alliance, an intimate relation wioth them. The star guides to Jerusalem where they meet priests and scribes who explain their writings - the Scriptures - to them. These Jewish leaders then direct them to a small town, about six miles from Jerusalemn.

From this town would come a ruler to shepherd God's people. In Bethlehem they see the Newborn King of the Jews. Before him they prostrate themselves, that is, they lie flat on the ground, opening their treasures to him. What an amazing journey! The Magi go from careful observation of the cosmos to a people who claim a direct personal relation with the Creator. The journey ends with a child - a child they worship and then turn their treasures. Many people make a similar They spend years searching and stumbling, then finally meet Jesus and believe in him. He takes over and guides them. C.S. Lewis (author of Screwtape Letters and Chronicles of Narnia) tells how he fled God. He denied God's existence and at the same time was angry with God for not doing something about the sufferings and cruelty of the world. He becomes a professor at Oxford. There he meets J.R.R. Tolkien (author of Lord of the Rings). Unique among university professors, Tolkien is a Roman Catholic who attends daily Mass. Lewis asks Tolkien why bother with Christianity which seems like one more myth. Tolkiens explains that, yes, the Christian story has a structure similar to certain myths, but it's different. It is a "true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened."

This idea sent a shock through Lewis - and even though he kept resisting, he keeps recieving other confirmations of Christianity's truth. Lewis compares it to a chess game with God as his opponent. In spite of the defenses Lewis sets up, first "check" and then "checkmate." He kneels in his room and quietly prays. Like the Magi he worships Jesus and opens his treasures - his life, his amazing intellect. For me it was not so dramatic - or so consequential - as the conversion of C.S. Lewis. At the beginning of my senior year, I was working at summer job, tending the garden of an elderly lady. Trimming a flower bed, it came over me that I could become a priest - and that I should become a priest. I waited 40 days to tell anyone, but from that moment I knew priesthood is God's plan for me. I've had good days and bad days, crazy and lazy days, but I have never doubted this is God's purpose for me. This ties with a Christmas gift from Archbishop Sartain. I mentioned it on New Year's: Into Your Hands, Father. The central idea is "surrender".

You and I get asked to do a lot of things. As your pastor I make invitations - for example to the Consecration to the Holy Family. What ties our spiritual life together is the act of surrender. So that's message today: in the Magi we see a profound act of surrender. It doesn't take away the questions about existence, life, the cosmos. Just the opposite, those questions lead to Jesus. I invite you like the Magi to make an act of surrender, to set our treasures before him. Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey


Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
Epiphany of the Lord

The word Epiphany is Greek and it literally means manifestation. In the liturgy a distinction had gradually come to be drawn between the actual birth of Christ and the occasion on which his coming was made known to the world. The date chosen for the Epiphany was the 6th January which appropriately coincided with the Jewish Feast of Lights. The story of the Epiphany which is only recounted in the Gospel of Matthew is most curious. Who are these Magi? And what is this star that guides them first to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem?

There are all sorts of interesting allusions here and many connections to be made. By Magi we understand that they were probably Zoroastrian astrologers from Persia. But while Christians were strongly warned elsewhere in the New Testament against dabbling in astrology these Magi are presented by Matthew as truly commendable. Some suggest that the homage that they pay to Jesus is a kind of giving way by astrology and other magical theories to the truth of Christianity. Others say that this incident is to show that even the pagan world had some understanding of the importance of Christ?s role and had inklings of his birth.

Then there is the curiosity of the star. One theory suggests that it was a supernova; others are of the opinion that it was a comet or a conjunction of planets. Or is Matthew simply using a literary device to explain how these astrologers were guided to the stable at Bethlehem? I think that we have to look at all these things in the light of the title given to the feast. It is an Epiphany, a manifestation. God makes himself known to the world and to specific individuals. Ironically the people who should have been most sensitive to the things of God are totally unaware of what is happening in their midst while these strangers from afar show a remarkable awareness of the great intervention of God that had occurred in Bethlehem.

God makes himself known; he leads and guides people on their journey through life. We believe that God continually draws all people to himself and often he does so in the most unobtrusive ways. He chooses to act in all sorts of hidden and subtle ways out of respect for our free will. God invites but he never imposes himself upon us. Many ignore him and others reject his advances but this does not stop him from showing us the way. In analysing the story of the Epiphany we have to remember that it celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. And we need to remember that the Evangelist Matthew was writing for a very specific audience. Mostly these were converts from Judaism but we should not forget that his congregation also included a good number of Gentiles. Indeed within a few decades the vast majority of Christians were converted Gentiles and naturally they looked in the Gospels to see how Jesus related to Gentiles. They found some fine examples in the Gospels such as the Roman Centurion who asked Jesus to cure his servant as well as the group of Greeks who came to see Jesus just before his arrest. They were especially attracted to these Magi from today's Gospel text because they could see their own story reflected in the story of the Epiphany.

Each one of them, just like each one of us, saw themselves as drawn by God, often in mysterious ways, to come to recognise Christ, to accept his teaching and to do him homage. It is therefore easy to see why the Epiphany became such an important feast quite early on in the life of the Church. God has brought each one of us to faith. We look back on our lives and see his hand at work in all sorts of curious incidents and apparent coincidences over the years and we recognise his influence on our journey of faith. At the dinner table a few nights ago some people were saying that the only reason that they were Catholic was because they just happened to be born into a Catholic family. They implied that this was just a chance occurrence and therefore being a Catholic was not something they had any choice over. They then went on to imply that because they could just as easily have been born into an Anglican or a Moslem family then all religions and denominations were the same and so it didn't matter what you were.

I think that you might have heard the same sort of thing yourselves many times. It is quite a seductive argument and it?s easy to be drawn in by it. But our birth was no accident. And our faith is not the same as all others. God doesn't randomly allocate us to this or that family. We need to see our birth not as an accident but as just the first of a whole series of signs of God's love and care for us. It is also important to understand that in Catholicism we hold the fullness of the teaching of Christ and that this deposit of faith has been kept free from error by the successors of the Apostles down through the ages. It is a privilege to be born a Catholic, to grow up in a Catholic family, to have access to the full message of Christ and the life of the sacraments. It is a privilege but it is also a responsibility. It is our duty to pass the baton to the next generation, to hand on the faith to our children.

So the acquiring of our faith is no mere accident of birth but part of the deliberate unfolding of God?s plan. Now our children may not all want to receive what we give them, but to water the faith down or to deprive them of it would be a serious failing indeed. God works in the world, he draws everyone to himself; but the principal means he uses are not stars in the sky but you and me. The Magi were drawn to Christ by a star; but the stars of today, the guiding lights of this present age are you and me. It is our mission and task in the world to make Christ manifest to those around us, especially to our own families. It is our task to enable the people around us to come to their own unique Epiphany. It might happen in a moment of insight or it might take them a whole lifetime to achieve it, but it is our prayer that at a certain point they will come to make the decision to bend their knee in homage to Christ, to the Messiah, to the one, true Saviour of the World.

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