With Willing Feet Seeking Christ’s Mercy Seat, Solemnity of the Epiphany, January 3, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Solemnity of the Epiphany
January 3, 2016
Is 60:1-6, Ps 72, Eph 3:2-3.5-6, Mt 2:1-12

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following text guided today’s homily: 

The Manifestation of the Fulfillment of God’s Promises

Today we celebrate the feast of the Lord’s epiphany, his “manifestation” to all the Gentiles in the person of the Magi coming from afar. We celebrate the fulfillment of the prophecy to Abraham, that he would become not just the father of the Jews but of “many nations.” We mark the fulfillment of what God announced to us through the prophets, that God’s salvation would reach not merely to the confines of the Holy Land but go to the end of the earth. We have a foretaste of what we sang today in the Responsorial Psalm, “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you,” as we see kings bring him gifts, tribute and homage. We have the realization of what Isaiah foretold in the first reading, that nations would walk by light coming from Israel, that those even as far away as Sheba in the desert would come bearing gold and frankincense and proclaiming the Lord’s praises. And St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, helps us clearly to grasp the meaning of this feast, when the “mystery … not made known to people in other generations … has now been revealed,” namely, “that the Gentiles are coheirs … and copartners in the promise of Christ Jesus through the Gospel.”

The Lessons the Magi Teach

Today is a feast in which we can learn from the wise men about the importance of seeking God like they did; if they can perceive his presence through the alignment of brightly shining stars — as the renowned playwright Sister Mary Margaret Hope has recently helped us all to ponder more astrophysically — then with the far greater indications God has given us — his word, his incarnation and life on earth, the witness of the saints, and the tabernacle lamp as a modern Star indicating his presence — we too are called ardently to seek the Lord’s face like a deer passionately longing for flowing streams or a dry weary land without water zealously thirsting for hydration. We can learn from them that life is meant to be a pilgrimage, a journey of faith, one that we’re called not to make alone. We can learn likewise that we need guidance along this pilgrimage and that God always provides it. We can see how, like them, we need to accept God on his own terms and allow him to change our categories about God, man and power, like the wise men prostrated themselves before a baby straightjacketed in swaddling clothes lying in an ancient animal trough. We can grasp with them the meaning of true adoration, which involves not just giving costly gifts, but most importantly the gift of ourselves in prostrated homage before the real abiding presence of God. And we can perceive with them how the encounter with Christ is meant to change us, so that every time we come into his presence, we, like the Magi, leave by “another route,” leave differently than we arrived, converted more and more to the King’s way and categories, changed for the better to the life of faith, and following no longer our own way or following Jesus no longer at a distance but Jesus’ own path of humble love up close.

Seeking the Mercy Seat

But insofar as we are celebrating this great Solemnity during the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, there’s a special summons for us to enter into this mystery from the perspective of the baby Jesus as the epiphany of God’s mercy in the world. Since Christmas Day we’ve been bellowing, “‘Hark!’ The Herald Angels sing glory to the newborn King!,” and pondering in that diminutive universal ruler “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” We been kneeling in front of the manger intoning the gentle melody of “O Holy Child of Bethlehem,” and repeatedly saying to the divine Babe, “descend to us we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.” Jesus has come as mercy mild, on a rescue and reconciliation mission, descending to us to cleanse us, to enter us, and to lead us to rebirth and resurrection. Today on the feast of the Epiphany, we celebrate the fact that this mercy is meant not just for us but for everyone, that all peoples are called to adore Christ in his mercy, to bring him gifts, tribute and homage. We grasp that everyone, and not just Jews or those who have already come to know the fulfillment of the Jewish Messianic hopes in Christ, are intended by God to become “coheirs” and “co-partners” in the promise of Christ through the Gospel. This Jubilee is a time in which we’re all called to seek the Lord’s mercy like the wise men sought the newborn king, to go together on an exodus from where we are to where God is, to accept him and the mind-blowing reality of his unending mercy on his own terms, to worship him in his mercy with all we are and have, and to be thoroughly changed by that mercy that we will go out and change the world with the power of that mercy.

In one of the great hymns Christians have sung for generations on this Solemnity, “As with Gladness Men of Old,” we are led with the Magi to ponder the manifestation of God’s mercy in the baby held lovingly in the arms of the Mother of Mercy. “As with joyful steps they sped to that lowly manger bed,” we sing, “there to bend the Him whom heav’n and earth adore, so may we with willing feet ever seek the mercy seat!” That mercy seat is found not primarily in an ancient cave but in the heavenly Jerusalem, the seat that the Letter to the Hebrews mentions, when — after describing that we have a High Priest who took on our nature in all things but sin and who is able to sympathize with all our weaknesses and temptations — it summons us “confidently [to] approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” That same celestial mercy seat is what the opening Collect of this Mass likewise alluded to when we turned to the Father and asked him on this day on which he revealed his only Begotten Son to the nations by the guidance of a star to “grant in your mercy that we, who know you already by faith, may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory,” the glory of Christ’s triumphant throne at the Father’s eternal right. The hymn “As With Gladness” continues interpreting the gifts within a prism of mercy. “As they offer’d gifts most rare at that manger rude and bare, so may we with holy joy, pure and free from sin’s alloy, all our costliest treasures bring, Christ, to thee, our heavenly king.” And then we pray for that adoration to transform the direction of our life. “Holy Jesus! Every day, keep us in the narrow way; and when earthly things are past, bring our ransomed souls at last, where they need no star to guide, where no clouds thy glory hide!”

Making this Feast Practical in the Jubilee Year

How can we make practical these lessons about the manifestation of the Lord’s mercy and what God wants to be, with his help, our epiphany as wise men and wise women, wise priests and religious and mothers of infants in response to it? I’d like to focus on a few ways, all of which come fundamentally from the way Jesus gave the epiphany of his mercy to St. Faustina Kowalska in the 1930s in Krakow and asked her to bring to the nations what he revealed. As Catholics we know that we don’t have to believe in private revelations with the faith with which we believe in what God has revealed to us in the Bible and Sacred Tradition, but nevertheless the Church has given a seal of approval as worthy of belief what St. Faustina transcribed in her diary and, in canonizing her, the Church has manifested total confidence in her holy veracity. If we start with the premise that Jesus really did appear to her and reveal the depths of his plan of mercy toward her, then I think that if we’re going to get our coordinates for this Year of Mercy, we ought to take them from the one who revealed himself to St. Faustina as “Mercy Incarnate.” And so I think on this Feast Day, we ponder four takeaways.

  • The first is about seeking God’s mercy. Christ wanted us to recognize our need for his mercy and come to receive it. He stressed, “Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to my mercy.” There’s no way for us to have the “peace on earth to men of good will” prophesied by the angels unless, in other words, we receive the gift of mercy Christ was born, died and rose to give. He wants everyone, including those who feel that they’re separated by huge deserts from him, to have confidence to make the journey, saying, “The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to my mercy,” and “He who trusts in my mercy will not perish.” And so during this Year of Mercy, we’re all called to respond to God’s grace to hunger for his merciful love more, to recognize more profoundly how much we need it, and to come more frequently to receive it.
  • The second thing we can learn from this feast is about adoring Christ as the manifestation of God’s mercy. Jesus said to St. Faustina, “I desire that my mercy be worshipped!” He revealed to her an image he asked to have painted precisely so that we could venerate him as he blesses us with the mercy gushing forth from his open side as a fount of mercy. I’m so happy you have an image of Divine Mercy here in this Chapel, so that you can approach Christ in that image throughout this Year with the love with which the Magi approached Jesus in the manger. The Chaplet of Divine Mercy is likewise all about adoring the Mercy of God. We unite our adoration of his mercy to our adoration of his real presence as we offer to the Eternal Father his Son’s body, blood, soul and divinity in expiation for our sins and the sins of the world. Just like in the 12th and 13th centuries Jesus wanted us to adore his real presence in the Eucharist and through a series of epiphanies to St. Juliana of Liège and miraculous manifestations like the one in Bolsena helped the reality of transubstantiation descend from our heads, to our hearts, to our knees, so Christ through the revelations to St. Faustina wanted our appreciation for his merciful love to go from our minds, to hearts, to our extremities.
  • The third application is about bringing others to receive that same gift. The Magi went on pilgrimage together and the Lord wants us to travel with others to the seat of his mercy. We do that first by prayer. He asks us during the Novena of Divine Mercy to bring to him various groups of people ever in need of his mercy — mankind, especially sinners, priests, religious and consecrated men and women, devout and faithful souls, those who do not believe in him or know him, heretics and schismatics and others who have separated themselves from his Church, little children, meek and humble souls, those who venerate his mercy, those in purgatory and the lukewarm — but these are groups of people that we should be bringing regularly to him in our intentions throughout this special Jubilee. There’s an extra apostolate of mercy to which I think he’s calling us, however: to become like the friends of the paralyzed man in the Gospel who at great hardship carried their friend to Jesus, climbed up on the roof, and carefully lowered him down before Jesus, so that Jesus would be able to cure him of what ailed him, and Jesus, as we know, forgave his sins before he forgave his paralysis. We, likewise, need to seek to bring all those we know, with all of their problems of whatever order, to the Lord, to the ministers of his mercy, so that Mercy Mild can continue to work those miracles.
  • The last application is about manifesting the Lord’s mercy. If we’re really encountered Jesus in his mercy, then we will be changed by it. He who is rich in mercy seeks to make us billionaires in his merciful love, sending us out to pay it forward, forgiving those who have wronged us the way he has forgiven us, caring for them with compassion the way he cares for us. The theme of this Jubilee is “Merciful like the Father.” Christ calls us to be as merciful as our Father in heaven is merciful, the Father who “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust,” because they’re all his beloved children. Christ seeks to transform us in such a way that we, and the Church, will become a continuous epiphany of mercy for the world. The world needs this mercy, and Jesus assures us that it will not have peace until it trusts in God’s mercy. And we’re all being sent out as witnesses of the beautiful metamorphosis the Mercy of God can accomplish in human life, the transformation that can lead to peace.

Becoming the Wise Men Today Needs

As we celebrate today the Solemnity of the Epiphany, we bring the Lord the best we have and fall down in humble adoration as he falls down before us and gives us the greatest gift in the universe, himself, with the full blessing of his presence, his salvation, his mercy. With gladness men of old followed the star and were led to this great encounter. With even greater gladness, men and women, boys and girls, still follow God’s lead and come her to a life-changing embrace. The Mass is Christ’s continuous epiphany, the manifestation of his abiding presence among us, poured out for the forgiveness of sins. Our contemporaries, however, need “wise men” to show them where the star of the tabernacle lamp and altar candles, where the light of the confessional, still burn to help and encourage them to join us on the journey to find Christ and come through his mercy into a life-changing communion with him. God is calling us, you and me, to be those modern Melchiors, Balhasars, and Kaspars. And he wants to give us here all the help he knows we need to fulfill this mission of mercy! Welcome to Bethlehem! Come, let us adore him! And let us ask for the grace necessary to be his instruments to bring the whole world to make the exodus to adore him with us!

 

These were the readings for today’s Mass: 

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.

Alleluia MT 2:2

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

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.
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