This weekend, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Epiphany. We’re always glad to welcome Bishop Herbert Bevard of the Diocese of Saint Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands at this time in the year, as he comes to make his annual appeal for the Church’s missionary work there. We, who have been blessed with so many gifts from God, now have an opportunity to present some of our gifts, as the Wise Men did, and support the Church’s work in what really is an impoverished territory. The second collection next Sunday, will be our opportunity to share our blessings with others in need.
At King’s College, in Cambridge, England, on the east wall of the chapel, behind the altar, there hangs a famous painting by Peter Paul Rubens. Titled, “The Adoration of the Magi.” It depicts three travelers from the east who have journeyed far to look for the “infant king of the Jews.” The Christmas story, as told by St. Matthew, gives us the great feast that we celebrate today – the Epiphany – that is, the revealing of Christ to the peoples of the whole world.
In Matthew’s Gospel, we meet the powerful political figure of King Herod. He displays all the force and fallibility of any human leader. Once in power, his main objective seems to be to stay in power. Many kinds of power that could be used to help humankind can easily become corrupted into a force for destroying humankind. Herod’s wrongdoing has certainly made him so self-obsessed that he even fears the birth of a child as some kind of threat to his own throne.
In Jerusalem, Herod’s advisors, the religious and political elite, gather to discuss the political situation. These people are experts on how to manage things, so as not to rock the boat. They seem to know what they are talking about. They know where the Messiah will be born. But they don’t seem to be very interested in when, as long as it does not upset their routines of control. These people enjoy their position and their work, but they are not really interested in the wider world; they are too caught up in themselves.
The travelers, however, are very interested in the wider world. They are seekers after wisdom. They look for the meaning of things. They do not settle down in the comfort of the here and now. Their life is a journey, and they seek answers to life’s great questions. When they find a “lowly cattle shed,” they fall on their knees in homage to a child. All their searching and all their studying has brought them to this place, and to this newborn king. Today’s feast invites us to join the Magi, and to become wise travelers through this world.
There is a temptation, in our lives, to become something like Herod, ruling our lives according to our own desires. We’re also be tempted to become political and religious experts, like Herod’s advisors, viewing the world according to our theories of who’s right and wrong, and never getting beyond argument.
Alternatively, we can go on the journey, like the wise men of old, and look for the child, and adore when we find Him. When we accept this challenge, then, for as long as we are on this Earth, we are on the journey. St. Peter, who spent many a day in the Lord’s company, was never finished with learning. There is always so much to discover. Peter said on one famous occasion, “The truth I have now come to realize is that God does not have favorites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to Him.” The recently canonized John Henry Cardinal Newman, an English convert, said in a sermon for the Epiphany in 1839, that “When men understand what each other means, they see, for the most part, that controversy is either superfluous or hopeless.” This is the challenge of today’s feast – that we go out and embrace the world.
In his book, Open Mind, Faithful Heart: Reflections on Following Jesus, Pope Francis speaks about the Epiphany as both a historical event and a part of each of our lives. He says that we need to be epiphanies, that is, manifestations of Jesus in our daily lives. We are to manifest Jesus in our thoughts, words and actions. He challenges us to share the joy of the Gospel with people we meet. Maybe we can help a friend to find new meaning in life. Perhaps we may have a new desire to speak of our faith in Jesus Christ. Maybe we are more ready to love in a difficult situation. The Epiphany invites us to find a new path or route as we begin this new year. The Gospel message calls us to be more open to people who are fragile and vulnerable, weak and poor, and in this way share our hope and joy with others.
In each Mass, we experience Jesus as our light and the one who lifts the burdens of our sins from our shoulders. As we approach Christ in Holy Communion at every Mass, you and I can truly say that we who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. May every celebration of the Eucharist always fill us with an awareness of the grace and peace that comes to us from God our Father through Jesus Christ.