January 6, 2019:The Epiphany of the Lord
Catholic Social Teaching: Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
Epiphany Mass Homily Pope Francis January 6, 2018
Three actions of the Magi guide our journey towards the Lord, who today is revealed as light and salvation for all peoples. The Magi see the star, they set out and they bring gifts.
Seeing the star. This is where it starts. But why, we might ask, did the Magi alone see the star? Perhaps because few people raised their eyes to heaven. We often make do with looking at the ground: it’s enough to have our health, a little money and a bit of entertainment. I wonder if we still know how to look up at the sky. Do we know how to dream, to long for God, to expect the newness he brings, or do we let ourselves be swept along by life, like dry branches before the wind? The Magi were not content with just getting by, with keeping afloat. They understood that to truly live, we need a lofty goal and we need to keep looking up.
Yet we can also ask why, among all those who looked up at the heavens, so many others did not follow that star, “his star” (Mt 2:2). Perhaps because the star was not eye-catching, did not shine any brighter than other stars. It was a star – so the Gospel tells us – that the Magi saw “at its rising” (vv. 2, 9). Jesus’ star does not dazzle or overwhelm, but gently invites. We may ask ourselves what star we have chosen to follow in our lives. Some stars may be bright, but they do not point the way. So it is with success, money, career, honours and pleasures when these become our life. They are meteors: they blaze momentarily, but then quickly burn out and their brilliance fades. They are shooting stars that mislead rather than lead. The Lord’s star, however, may not always overwhelm by its brightness, but it is always there, ever kindly: it takes you by the hand in life and accompanies you. It does not promise material reward, but ensures peace and grants, as it did to the Magi, “exceedingly great joy” (Mt 2:10). But it also tells us to set out.
Setting out, the second thing the Magi do, is essential if we are to find Jesus. His star demands a decision to take up the journey and to advance tirelessly on our way. It demands that we free ourselves from useless burdens and unnecessary extras that only prove a hindrance, and accept unforeseen obstacles along the map of life. Jesus allows himself to be found by those who seek him, but to find him we need to get up and go, not sit around but take risks, not stand still, but set out. Jesus makes demands: he tells those who seek him to leave behind the armchair of worldly comforts and the reassuring warmth of hearth and home. Following Jesus is not a polite etiquette to be observed, but a journey to be undertaken. God, who set his people free in the exodus and called new peoples to follow his star, grants freedom and joy always and only in the course of a journey. In other words, if we want to find Jesus, we have to overcome our fear of taking risks, our self-satisfaction and our indolent refusal to ask anything more of life. We need to take risks simply to meet a Child. Yet those risks are immensely worth the effort, since in finding that Child, in discovering his tenderness and love, we rediscover ourselves.
Setting out is not easy. The Gospel shows us this through a cast of characters. There is Herod, wild with fear that the birth of a king will threaten his power. So he organizes meetings and sends people out to gather information, yet he himself does not budge; he stays locked up in his palace. Even “all Jerusalem” (v. 3) is afraid: afraid of the new things God is bringing about. They want everything to remain as it was – that is the way it has always been – no one has the courage to leave. The temptation of the priests and scribes is more subtle: they know the exact place and tell it to Herod, quoting the ancient prophecy. They know, but they themselves make no move towards Bethlehem. Theirs can be the temptation of those who are used to being believers: they can talk at length about the faith they know so well, but will not take a personal risk for the Lord. They talk, but do not pray; they complain, but do no good. The Magi, on the other hand, talk little and journey much. Ignorant of the truths of faith, they are filled with longing and set out. So the Gospel tells us: They “came to worship him” (v. 2); “they set out; they went in, and fell down and worshiped him; they went back” (vv. 9, 11, 12). They kept moving.
Bringing gifts. Having come to Jesus after a long journey, the Magi do as he does: they bring gifts. Jesus is there to give his life; they offer him their own costly gifts: gold, incense and myrrh. The Gospel becomes real when the journey of life ends in giving. To give freely, for the Lord’s sake, without expecting anything in return: this is the sure sign that we have found Jesus. For he says: “The gift you have received, give freely as a gift” (Mt 10:8). To do good without counting the cost, even when unasked, even when you gain nothing thereby, even if it is unpleasant. That is what God wants. He, who become small for our sake, asks us to offer something for the least of his brothers and sisters. Who are they? They are those who have nothing to give in return, the needy, the hungry, the stranger, the prisoner, the poor (cf. Mt 25:31-46). We give a gift pleasing to Jesus when we care for a sick person, spend time with a difficult person, help someone for the sake of helping, or forgive someone who has hurt us. These are gifts freely given, and they cannot be lacking in the lives of Christians. Jesus reminds us that if we only love those who love us, we do as the pagans do (cf. Mt 5:46-47). Today let us look at our hands, so often empty of love, and let us try to think of some free gift that we can give without expecting anything in return. That will please the Lord. And let us ask him: “Lord, let me rediscover the joy of giving”.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us imitate the Magi: looking upwards, setting out, and freely offering our gifts.
First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm: 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13
Second Reading: Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12
Catechism of the Catholic Church
The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world. The great feast of Epiphany celebrates the adoration of Jesus by the wise men (magi) from the East, together with his baptism in the Jordan and the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee. In the magi, representatives of the neighboring pagan religions, the Gospel sees the first-fruits of the nations, who welcome the good news of salvation through the Incarnation. The magi’s coming to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the king of the Jews shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be king of the nations. Their coming means that pagans can discover Jesus and worship him as Son of God and Savior of the world only by turning towards the Jews and receiving from them the messianic promise as contained in the Old Testament. The Epiphany shows that “the full number of the nations” now takes its “place in the family of the patriarchs”, and acquires Israelitica dignitas (is made “worthy of the heritage of Israel”). (528)
From the Daily Roman Missal, Introduction to The Epiphany of the Lord Cycle C
Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church:
At the beginning of its history, the people of Israel are unlike other peoples in that they have no king, for they recognize the dominion of Yahweh alone. It is God who intervenes on Israel’s behalf through charismatic individuals, as recorded in the Book of Judges. The people approach the last of these individuals, Samuel, prophet and judge, to ask for a king (cf. 1 Sam 8:5; 10:18-19). Samuel warns the Israelites about the consequences of a despotic exercise of kingship (cf. 1 Sam 8:11-18). However, the authority of the king can also be experienced as a gift of Yahweh who comes to the assistance of his people (cf. 1 Sam 9:16). In the end, Saul is anointed king (cf. 1 Sam 10:1-2). These events show the tension that brought Israel to understand kingship in a different way than it was understood by neighbouring peoples. The king, chosen by Yahweh (cf. Dt 17:15; 1 Sam 9:16) and consecrated by him (cf. 1 Sam 16:12-13), is seen as God’s son (cf. Ps 2:7) and is to make God’s dominion and plan of salvation visible (cf. Ps 72). The king, then, is to be the defender of the weak and the guarantor of justice for the people. The denunciations of the prophets focus precisely on the kings’ failure to fulfill these functions (cf. 1 Kg 21; Is 10:1-4; Am 2:6-8, 8:4-8; Mic 3:1-4). (377)
The prototype of the king chosen by Yahweh is David, whose humble origins are a favourite topic of the biblical account (cf. 1 Sam 16:1-13). David is the recipient of the promise (cf. 2 Sam 7:13-16; Ps 89:2-38, 132:11-18), which places him at the beginning of a special kingly tradition, the “messianic” tradition. Notwithstanding all the sins and infidelities of David and his successors, this tradition culminates in Jesus Christ, who is par excellence “Yahweh’s anointed” (that is, “the Lord’s consecrated one”, cf. 1 Sam 2:35, 24:7,11, 26:9,16; Ex 30:22-32), the son of David (cf. Mt 1:1-17; Lk 3:23-38; Rom 1:3).
The failure of kingship on the historical level does not lead to the disappearance of the ideal of a king who, in fidelity to Yahweh, will govern with wisdom and act in justice. This hope reappears time and again in the Psalms (cf. Ps 2, 18, 20, 21, 72). In the messianic oracles, the figure of a king endowed with the Lord’s Spirit, full of wisdom and capable of rendering justice to the poor, is awaited in eschatological times (cf. Is 11:2-5; Jer 23:5-6). As true shepherd of the people of Israel (cf. Ezek 34:23-24, 37:24), he will bring peace to the nations (cf. Zech 9:9-10). In Wisdom Literature, the king is presented as the one who renders just judgments and abhors iniquity (cf. Prov 16:12), who judges the poor with equity (cf. Prov 29:14) and is a friend to those with a pure heart (cf. Prov 22:11). There is a gradual unfolding of the proclamation of what the Gospels and other New Testament writings see fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, the definitive incarnation of what the Old Testament foretold about the figure of the king. (378)
Peace is the goal of life in society, as is made extraordinarily clear in the messianic vision of peace: when all peoples will go up to the Lord’s house, and he will teach them his ways and they will walk along the ways of peace (cf. Is 2:2-5). A new world of peace that embraces all of nature is the promise of the messianic age (cf. Is 11:6-9), and the Messiah himself is called “Prince of peace” (Is 9:5). Wherever his peace reigns, wherever it is present even in part, no longer will anyone be able to make the people of God fearful (cf. Zeph 3:13). It is then that peace will be lasting, because when the king rules according to God’s justice, righteousness flourishes and peace abounds “till the moon be no more” (Ps 72:7). God longs to give peace to his people: “he will speak of peace to his people, to his saints, to those who turn to him in their hearts” (Ps 85:9). Listening to what God has to say to his people about peace, the Psalmist hears these words: “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss” (Ps 85:11). (490)
The promise of peace that runs through the entire Old Testament finds its fulfilment in the very person of Jesus. Peace, in fact, is the messianic attribute par excellence, in which all other beneficial effects of salvation are included. The Hebrew word “shalom” expresses this fullness of meaning in its etymological sense of “completeness” (cf. Is 9:5ff; Mic 5:1-4). The kingdom of the Messiah is precisely the kingdom of peace (cf. Job 25:2; Ps 29:11; 37:11; 72:3,7; 85:9,11; 119:165; 125:5, 128:6; 147:14; Song 8:10; Is 26:3,12; 32:17f.; 52:7; 54:10; 57:19; 60:17; 66:12; Hag 2:9; Zech 9:10; et al.). Jesus “is our peace” (Eph 2:14). He has broken down the dividing wall of hostility among people, reconciling them with God (cf. Eph 2:14-16). This is the very effective simplicity with which Saint Paul indicates the radical motivation spurring Christians to undertake a life and a mission of peace.
On the eve of his death, Jesus speaks of his loving relation with the Father and the unifying power that this love bestows upon his disciples. It is a farewell discourse which reveals the profound meaning of his life and can be considered a summary of all his teaching. The gift of peace is the seal on his spiritual testament: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (Jn 14:27). The words of the Risen Lord will not be any different; every time that he meets his disciples they receive from him the greeting and gift of peace: “Peace be with you” (Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19,21,26). (491)
Following the Star, not GPS, the magi , representing all people, came bringing their wares to Bethlehem. No mention of camels, but they look stalely at the giant parish creche or on a Christmas card to add ambience to our visualization of the magi meeting the Christ child. They offered their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to celebrate His kingship, honor HIs divinity and foretell HIs redemptive act on the cross. No mention if Mary accepted the gifts on behalf of her Son. Joseph did not even garner a footnote in the Scripture passage. But the main thing is the magi showed up to acknowledge Jesus, adored Him and offer Him the best gifts they had. Not a used blanket off the proverbial camel’s back that might make the manger a bit warmer on a cold winter night in Palestine. They affirmed His dignity coming to the humility of a stable that many in their position of confiding with rulers and intellectual status as a caste of wise men would not stoop to enter the lowly door. As followers of Jesus, do we show up or keep our distance, hiding in secure environs away from barnyard experiences of life’s stables because we don’t like the smell, lack of heating or comfortable seating since we think we are the honored guest not coming to honor our King?
Have we lost our gaze on the Star to search for where Jesus is today? Each day on the altar, in our hands, residing in the tabernacle. In the homeless in a manager of cardboard, the hungry rustling through straw in hopes of finding a morsel of food, those injured by injustice finding the doors of the inn locked to keep them relegated with the animals.
While the magi showed up they also resisted cooperating with unjust powers attempt to thwart Divine design. For Herod sent the magi to Bethlehem. Realizing Herod’s subversive intent desiring to repel any challenges to his sovereignty, the magi, inspired by a dream, followed their conscience to return home by another way than a visit to Jerusalem. Do we have the courage to not cooperate with powers that subvert Gospel precepts for ulterior agendas? Are we attentive to their ruses disguised as hospitable, but lurking with control to silence even a wimpier of Jesus’ message focused on living faith outside the confines of a manger nativity scene? Any ruler that deflates joy, dismisses peace and sanctifies unworthiness puts a dark cloud over the people, the Church, the Body of Christ. But they never can deluminate the brightness of the Star, they can never extinguish the light of believers who show up at the manger and offer their best gifts that they know they are regifting back to God. For with that grace, the option to travel another road to share the message from the stable opens up with an encouraging text message, a You Tube video or written words to keep the story unfolding.
January 11th is Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Look to attend a Human Trafficking awareness event in your city and invite two friends to attend.
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Prayer: On this Epiphany Sunday, write a prayer you would say to Jesus upon visiting the manger..
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By Barb Born December 28, 2018 The reflection maybe used in parish bulletins, newsletters or for faith sharing groups without copyright concern.