Learning from the Wisemen, Epiphany, January 8, 2012

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Parish, New Bedford, MA
Epiphany, Year B
January 8, 2012
Is 60:1-6; Eph3:2-3,5-6; Mt2:1-12

LEARNING FROM THE WISEMEN

  • Today we celebrate the Lord’s Epiphany, the “manifestation” of his light, glory and presence to all the nations, represented by the wise men coming from afar. It is first and foremost a feast about God’s actions: God wanted to reveal himself and the mystery of his love to us; he came into our world, he became one of us, to reveal to us who we are in his eyes and invite us to follow him on the path of love all the way home. But today is also a feast of the human response to God’s action. In the wise men, we see before us the paradigm of the search for God, the finding of God, the loving worship of the God found, and the transformation that occurs when one truly embraces the Lord. Today we’re all called to go on pilgrimage with the wise men to Bethlehem, and to learn from them invaluable lessons about how we’re called to desire God, act on those desires and help accompany others on a pilgrimage to Jesus.
  • Back in 2005, Pope Benedict went to Cologne, Germany, to celebrate his first World Youth Day as the successor of St. Peter. Because the extraordinary Cathedral of Cologne reputedly holds the relics of the Wisemen, the theme of that World Youth Day was, “We have come to worship him!” Pope Benedict there in Germany said several things about the Wisemen that was meant to help the young people of the world, with all their questions, their worries and hopes for the future, with all their talents and frailties, learn how to seek, find, love and share Christ. As I was reviewing his words earlier this week, I’m convinced that they can also help you and me very much as well.
  • The first thing they show us is that life is a pilgrimage
  • a) Pope Benedict says that before they met Christ, he had already opened their minds and their hearts to search for him. “‘They went their way’ (Mt 2:9), says the Evangelist, setting out boldly along unknown paths on a long, and by no means easy, journey. They did not hesitate to leave everything behind in order to follow the star that they had seen in the East (cf Mt 2:2).” Imitating the Magi,” Pope Benedict said, we must also be prepared to set out on a journey, a spiritual pilgrimage, in an atmosphere of faith. We can’t stay where we are. We have to be ready to move. Especially at the beginning of a new civil year, these words are particularly relevant.
  • Second, the Magi show us that we need to be guided:
  • a) “The Magi reached Bethlehem because they had obediently allowed themselves to be guided by the star.” Likewise, we, too, need to be guided and we need to learn how to observe the signs that will guide us to Jesus.
  • b) The wisemen had very little. They looked for him guided by the light of a burning star and the help of the ancient sybils, near-eastern prophetesses, who foretold that one day there would be a universal king whose birth would be announced by a sign in the heavens. We have so much more.
  • c) Pope Benedict describes the guides we have:
  • d) The first guide is Jesus himself, whom he called the “true star that points out the way to us.” He does so first in Sacred Scripture. “This is why love for Sacred Scripture is so important, and in consequence, it is important to know the faith of the Church which opens up for us the meaning of Scripture. It is the Holy Spirit who guides the Church as her faith grows, causing her to enter ever more deeply into the truth.”
  • e) He says real knowledge of the Bible helps not us to construct a “private God,” or a “private Jesus,” but rather worship and belief in “the Jesus who is manifested to us by the Sacred Scriptures and who reveals himself to be alive in the great procession of the faithful called the Church, always alongside us and always before us.”
  • f) When the Magi found Jesus, he was “quite unlike what they were expecting. In this way they had to learn that God is not as we usually imagine him to be. This was where their inner journey began. It started at the very moment when they knelt down before this child and recognized him as the promised King. But they still had to assimilate these joyful gestures internally. They had to change their ideas about power, about God and about man, and in so doing, they also had to change themselves. Now they were able to see that God’s power is not like that of the powerful of this world. God’s ways are not as we imagine them or as we might wish them to be. God is different – this is what they now come to realize. And it means that they themselves must now become different, they must learn God’s ways.”
  • g) Another crucial guide to help us is the Church.
  • He spoke to us about the need to know the Catechism, to know the faith that the Holy Spirit has led the Church to understand across the centuries.
  • He also said that the Church is seen in her saints. “The Magi from the East are just the first in a long procession of men and women who have constantly tried to gaze upon God’s star in their lives, going in search of the God who has drawn close to us and shows us the way. It is the great multitude of the saints – both known and unknown – in whose lives the Lord has opened up the Gospel before us and turned over the pages; he has done this throughout history and he still does so today. In their lives, as if in a great picture-book, the riches of the Gospel are revealed. They are the shining path which God himself has traced throughout history and is still tracing today.” The saints show us how to be Christian, “how to live life as it should be lived – according to God’s way. The saints and the blesseds did not doggedly seek their own happiness, but simply wanted to give themselves, because the light of Christ had shone upon them. They show us the way to attain happiness, they show us how to be truly human.
  • The third thing that the Magi teach us is that we are not meant to walk alone on the pilgrimage of faith.
  • a) They didn’t make the pilgrimage alone. They walked together.
  • b) So we are called to walk together with others and to invite others in the search for God, for holiness, for happiness, for heaven.
  • c) “religion sought on a “do-it-yourself” basis cannot ultimately help us. It may be comfortable, but at times of crisis we are left to ourselves”
  • d) “In recent decades, movements and communities have come to birth in which the power of the Gospel is keenly felt. Seek communion in faith, like fellow travelers who continue together to follow the path of the great pilgrimage that the Magi from the East first pointed out to us. The spontaneity of new communities is important, but it is also important to preserve communion with the Pope and with the Bishops. It is they who guarantee that we are not seeking private paths, but instead are living as God’s great family, founded by the Lord through the Twelve Apostles.”
  • The fourth thing they teach us is about adoration
  • a) Adoration involves a kissing (mouth-to-mouth contact) and a genuflection (submission, reverence for God’s majesty).
  • b) “They had come to place themselves at the service of this King, to model their own kingship on his. That was the meaning of their act of homage, their adoration. Included in this were their gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh – gifts offered to a King held to be divine. Adoration has a content and it involves giving. Through this act of adoration, these men from the East wished to recognize the child as their King and to place their own power and potential at his disposal, and in this they were certainly on the right path. By serving and following him, they wanted, together with him, to serve the cause of good and the cause of justice in the world. In this they were right. Now, though, they have to learn that this cannot be achieved simply through issuing commands from a throne on high. Now they have to learn to give themselves – no lesser gift would be sufficient for this King. Now they have to learn that their lives must be conformed to this divine way of exercising power, to God’s own way of being. They must become men of truth, of justice, of goodness, of forgiveness, of mercy. They will no longer ask:  how can this serve me? Instead, they will have to ask:  How can I serve God’s presence in the world? They must learn to lose their life and in this way to find it. Having left Jerusalem behind, they must not deviate from the path marked out by the true King, as they follow Jesus.
  • c) This is why they were able to leave by another way. “And they departed to their own country by another way” (Mt 2:12). The Gospel tells us that after their meeting with Christ, the Magi returned home “by another way”. This change of route can symbolise the conversion to which all those who encounter Jesus are called, in order to become the true worshippers that He desires (cf Jn 4: 23-24). This entails imitating the way He acted by becoming, as the apostle Paul writes, “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God”.
  • d) This is meant to happen at the Mass: ““The same Redeemer is present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. In the stable at Bethlehem He allowed himself to be worshipped under the humble outward appearances of a newborn baby, by Mary, by Joseph and by the shepherds; in the consecrated Host we adore Him sacramentally present in his body, blood, soul and godhead, and He offers himself to us as the food of eternal life. The Mass then becomes a truly loving encounter with the One who gave himself wholly for us.”
  • As celebrate the Epiphany today, at this station on our own pilgrimage, we thank God for the gift of the lessons he teaches through the wisemen about the search for him, about our need to be guided by Sacred Scripture, the Church and the Saints, about our need to help each other along this path, and about how adore Christ his Son in spirit and in truth. We ask for each of these graces so that we, too, will be able to leave today by another route, glorifying and praising God. THE MASS IS CHRIST’S CONTINUAL EPIPHANY, but our contemporaries need “wise men” to show them where the star still burns and help and encourage them to make the journey to find Christ and come into a life-changing communion with him. God is calling us, you and me, to be those “wise men and women,” the modern Melchiors, Balhasars, and Kaspars of our day and he will give us all the help he knows we need to fulfill this mission!

Welcome anew to Bethlehem!

The readings for today’s Mass were:

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/ (cf. 11) Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
O God, with your judgment endow the king,
and with your justice, the king’s son;
He shall govern your people with justice
and your afflicted ones with judgment.
R/ Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
Justice shall flower in his days,
and profound peace, till the moon be no more.
May he rule from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
R/ Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts;
the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute.
All kings shall pay him homage,
all nations shall serve him.
R/ Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out,
and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.
He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;
the lives of the poor he shall save.
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