[Scripture Readings: Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12 ]
Brothers and sisters, we celebrate today a stupendous mystery; the mystery of the Epiphany by which we believe God is manifest to human eyes. This mystery we celebrate is incarnate in a newborn child, our astonishment causing us to fall on our knees in worship, and worshiping are delighted to discover that we are in perfect agreement and in warmest friendship with three mysterious strangers: representatives of a religion unknown to us from far off lands. The luminous warmth and peace Catholics associate with the Feast of the Epiphany comes from our discovery that there are three Kings of the East praying beside us. This is more than a surprise. These three Kings are a revelation; the revelation that it is our destiny as a human family to ultimately embrace and celebrate together one religion inspired by the one, holy Truth of God, made flesh in the child before us. The appearance of this child, is the splendid coming into view of the truth that all humanity derives from one origin in God, and we are all destined to return to God along the way opened to us by this child, who is the Savior of the world. It is before this manifestation of God, that we and the three strangers from the East together bow in reverent homage. But then, what is being manifest to us on the Epiphany is that there really does exist a catholic, a universal church; a church that is one, and comprehensive, a church for everyone, whose teachings satisfy the deepest aspirations of every human soul of any age or culture. Praying at the crib with the Magi praying beside us, we realize that our church which is called “catholic” is not one religion among others, but is the incarnation of religion, or as we pray during the Octave: “the beginning and fulfillment of all religion,” the form that all humanity must inevitably assume if it is to become itself. Now, just let yourself dwell a moment in quite wonder at this mystery along with Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the Magi, and imagine this peace suddenly eviscerated by something like a new and virulent strain of influenza entering the stable in the person of a visitor who sizing up the situation says indignantly: “This can never be. This is a fantasy; a story made up for little children. It is not real. Human experience confirms that the various peoples of the world have been allotted by history to different belief systems, most notably: the three great religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But then, to propose that a person leave his religion and embrace another is to expect that person to change his civilization. We must, then, leave behind this quaint bible story we loved as children and embrace as adults, the truth that Christianity like any other religion, is associated with a particular culture and way of thinking and so is not, and can never be a “universal religion”. There is no such thing.”
Are we going too far to diagnose this opinion as “influenza”? Henri De Lubac one of the great lights of the Second Vatican Council, diagnosed it as, quote: “a disastrous, a fatal idea.” An idea, he suggested, which finds too much covert acceptance among Christians today who will only be cured of this “bug” by what he called a “great spiritual asceticism.” What is this “spiritual asceticism” we must embrace to recover the insight that the church which is called “Catholic” is universal and intended by God for the salvation of all? De Lubac's answer is surprising and I offer it for your prayerful consideration on this feast of the Epiphany. The cure, according to De Lubac is trust. More particularly, De Lubac says it is characteristic of members of the universal church of Christ to trust, to trust not only in the Holy Spirit, but in those peoples of other religions to whom we bring the truth that will make them free. We trust these people; trust them implicitly, as men and women who are already our brothers and sisters, and trusting in this way does not make us “naive,” it simply attests to the church's conviction that all human beings are one in the community of their divine origin and destiny in Jesus Christ. This is the truth and it should suffice to give you and me as Catholics serenity and confidence in the face of contemporary “syncretism.” Syncretism, so evident among thoughtful and educated people today is, De Lubac reminds us, generally the artificial construction of politicians and literary men and always presupposes a decline in actual religious faith, a presupposition which is an insult to people of faith, and an insult to God. On this Feast of the Epiphany, 2015, might we Catholics here this morning commit to a renewal of a “religious tolerance” of the kind Jesus practiced who cast his net wide over the whole sea of humanity so that peoples of all nations might be gathered into one people of God. Will we introduce a “Revolution of Tenderness”? Then let our tenderness be a true caress; an earnest reassurance to people that man-made errors and misconceptions can only separate brothers and sisters from one another for so long, before they are inevitably drawn to one another in the one truth from which they came. On this Feast of the Epiphany, let us be renewed in that Love whose beauty is the very form of Truth; a Beauty ancient and ever new; recognized by past ages as the one communion embracing all humanity whose name is: the “catolica.”
[Scripture Readings: Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12]
In the world of the Hebrew Bible there was not much of what we call enculturation. In fact the Law forbade the twelve tribes of Israel to intermingle with the cultures around them. The Maccabees were held up as heroes for giving up their lives rather than accommodate themselves to Greek culture. Anyone who was not a Jew was called a Gentile and was considered lost.
We might think we have grown out of this attitude but our world is still struggling with cultural wars. The Taliban will not concede an inch to the more moderate Muslims; ultra orthodox Jews will not mix with Gentiles and there are fundamentalist Christians who protest the funerals of our service men because they think God is punishing them for our moral behavior. On and on it goes.
Today’s feast should be seen in the context of the haves and the have not’s. Jesus came to break down these barriers of prejudice and bigotry. As St. Paul says, Jesus breaks down the barrier of hostility that keeps us apart. The essence of this feast is expressed in the second reading: “The secret plan of God has been revealed—it is this: in Christ Jesus the Gentiles are now co-heirs with the Jews, members of the same body and sharers of the promise through the preaching of the Gospel” (Eph 3:4-6).
The Magi are the first Gentiles to receive the revelation. The star could be understood as the intuition given them by God to search out the Messiah in a far off land. The star is the dream everyone has for eternal salvation, eternal life.
The very name of the feast, Epiphany, is Greek for revelation, appearance, manifestation, unveiling. The cloud surrounding the mystery of God has been lifted and the revelation that God so loves everyone that he sent his only Son to be our redeemer is the good news still to be realized by every generation. No one is excluded. In God’s eyes there is but one culture—the human culture—and all else are expressions of it. You might even go so far as to say they are expressions of God’s life on earth.
If this is true and the secret of God’s plan was revealed with the birth of Christ, why do we have to keep celebrating the feast year after year? When God became man he assumed our human nature and everything that goes with it save sin. Living in time is part of our nature. We are not born fully developed human beings—we grow into maturity gradually. Jesus took on this part of our nature also, but in doing so he revealed it as a mercy of God not as a hindrance. We are not capable of receiving everything all at once. There are many, many revelations coming our way during our lifetime. Mother Teresa received a divine mission to bring the light of Christ to the poorest of the poor in Calcutta but it took many years and many setbacks to accomplish her mission. God could have made it happen over night but that is not the nature of our human condition. Being true to our nature is a type of revelation in itself. It is how we learn about God. Time and the mystery of God are a mercy for us—it means we will never run out of new understandings of life and the Divine. Our life on earth is just a beginning.
By celebrating the mysteries year after year we are gradually being transformed from what is mortal to what is immortal; from being an earthly body to becoming a spiritual body. This feast day takes in every revelation of God to the human family—revelations that we can never exhaust.
The only response to this is adoration. The Magi prostrated themselves and did him homage. This should be our response also to the wonders of the Incarnation. Praise, adoration and thanksgiving, these are the three gifts we offer—Magi gifts—and we too will return to our homes by a new and safer route.
[Scripture Readings: Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12]
One of the most often quoted passages of Scripture during Christmas Season is taken from the first letter of St. John:
“This is what we proclaim to you
what we have heard and we have seen with our eyes,
what we have looked upon and our hands have touched“(I Jn. 1:1)
“What we have touched“, Christmas is what we might call in modern jargon, a touchy, feely season. It is almost impossible for us to read the account of Christ’s birth in the Gospel of Luke without visualizing the crib scene, even though there is not a lot of Biblical foundation for it. There is no mention of a stable or a cave and it is unlikely that Mary would be kneeling by the manger a few hours after giving birth!
However, the intuition on which the modern day crib scene is based is solid theology and the work of religious genius. It has spawned some of our most beautiful icons, paintings and music the world has ever known. To my mind the song, “Silent Night” captures the scene perfectly:
“Silent night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright,
round yon Virgin, Mother and Child,
holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.“
All is calm, tender and mild, suffused in heavenly peace. There is such a beautiful stillness in the air, so conducive to prayer and adoration. The scene is so enclosed, contained and even cozy. You feel like it is Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the shepherd, the animals and you, no one else. It is so personal, and private. A spell is cast over us as we contemplate the mystery.
Today’s feast breaks the spell. We are celebrating the birth of Christ but from a different perspective. Could we say it is a Greek perspective since the name of the feast is GreekEpiphany which means manifestation? It is more public, active and universal. The three Magi represent the whole Gentile world. The prophecy of Isaiah speaks of whole nations making their way to Jerusalem where the light of revelation is made known to the Gentiles. When we try to visualize today’s Scripture readings and put ourselves in themtouch and feel them like we do for Luke’s account, we are far removed from the Holy Night of Heavenly Peace. There is a lot of drama in today’s Gospel. When the Magi entered Jerusalem looking for the newborn king of the Jews, Herod is terribly upset, as is the whole of Jerusalem with him. Herod feigns interest, the magi are told to distrust him. There is a lot of tension and apprehensionhow do we enter into this? For me the whole thing is resolved when the Magi enter the house and find the child with Mary his mother. “And entering the house they found the child with Mary his mother,” to me this is one of the most beautiful phrases of all Scripture. It is as if this is the center of the universe where all eyes are focused and from which all energy radiates. The child with his mother. We are back where we began, where all is calm, so tender and mild. We can stay here a long time.
There is another way of entering into the meaning of today’s feast. The star is a sign leading those, who do not have the Scriptures to guide them, to the Savior. Today’s feast is about the universality of salvation. No one is excluded. We have a special role to play in this doctrine. At Baptism we are given a lighted candle with the words, “Receive the light of Christ“, we are washed clean and anointed with chrismforever after we are called ChristiansChrist bearers to the world. Each of useach of the Baptized, shares in the mission of Christ. As Ann Seaton explained it so simply, “An interior life means but the continuation of our Savior’s life in us”. For us this means sharing in Christ’s prayer to the Father. In the light of faith our whole life becomes a manifestation of God’s loveChrist in us and with us.
Our mind, St. Augustine said, “…once sprinkled with this light comes to that which is”. This is what our liturgy is all about and all of Sacred Scripture, to bring us to “that which is“to ultimate reality. This may seem far removed from “what we have seen with our eyes and …our hands have touched” but it is what our hands will touch at this Eucharistthat which is the body of Christ. We share in this feast of the Manifestation by manifesting our Christ life to the world we live in and the people we live with. We do this in many ways in the monastery and one of the best ways is by “being the first to show respect to the other and by supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses.” This is just another way of bringing our gifts to the newborn king of the Jews in a spirit of adoration and praise.
[Scripture Readings: Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12]
I have a happy memory of my father on Christmas morning with my brothers and sisters and I opening presents under the Christmas tree. As we opened gifts, Dad had a way of gently but with a certain urgency, directing me toward one particular gift and saying: “Bobbie — here’s one with your name on it . . .why don’t you open this one?” I always immediately followed Dad’s advice on this point. I believed he knew things. Later, when we kids learned the truth about Santa Claus, and we would hear Dad on Christmas morning say: “Oh look, here’s one for you . . . why don’t you open this one?” His behavior struck us as even more amusing and endearing. We realized that, this man who knew everything, who could do anything, who we looked up to and admired so much was, after all, something like us. Dad was something of a child himself and, as he sat under the Christmas tree, watching us kids fumble around among the gifts, he would become impatient wanting us to open right away, what he knew was the best gift he had given us. And so impatient to see our joy, he would intervene and say: “Oh look, here’s one for you . . . why don’t you open this one?”
In this morning’s gospel, our Heavenly Father conducts himself in a similar fashion when he speaks gently but with a certain urgency to the three magi, making their way through the darkness searching out the meaning of some obscure sign they had seen in their star charts. They think the fulfillment of this sign will be found in Jerusalem the royal city of Kings. But God, intervening, with a voice as quiet and certain as the gleaming of a star says to them: “Why don’t you go to Bethlehem instead.”
It is the middle of the night. The Savior has just been born. He is not yet one day old, and our Heavenly Father cannot wait till morning; can scarcely wait one hour to show the Savior to the world. In the past, our Heavenly Father gave us countless good gifts but, on this night; the night He gave us His only begotten Son, our loving Father whose age is eternity, suddenly grew impatient and wished to show at once to the whole world the marvelous thing he had done. And so, summoning three of his beloved children from the far corners of the earth, with endearing tenderness, He says to them: “Go to Bethlehem. Go tonight.”
This Epiphany of the Father does not happen only one time, on the night Christ is born. I believe it happens in the life of every person born into the world. God, impatient to see your reaction of joy and wonder, did not wait long after your arrival in the world before he showed you a star; and a voice as clear as the light of a star said to you: “Come, let me show you the best of all gifts.” That star rising in your inner most heart while you were still a child, led you to the crib and to a vision of the Savior just born and, in that blessed moment very early in your life, you witnessed, and without effort or hesitation—believed.
Several days ago, our brother Nate, (he’s that rather tall young man who read the first reading this morning), was visited unexpectedly by a young woman he knew at college. When she was told that Nate was not permitted to receive visitors, she said: “That’s o.k.” and she wrote him a note in which she said: “I don’t wish to disturb you, I simply want to ask you one question: How can you be certain that this place is the right place for you? It is admirable for men to live with such a purpose and a clear goal. I can see how it might be the right path for some, but Nate, how can you know it’s the path for you. How can you be certain, when I myself feel certain—of nothing?”
Nate will have to write his own response to that very pointed question, but hearing the young woman express herself with such sincerity and a certain urgency, I felt moved to reflect on her words myself.
As far as I know, it is not given to any monk to have perfect certainty that his vocation to be a monk really is an authentic call from God. But, speaking for myself, there are moments I have known when a joy not of this world infuses my heart and a profound stillness settles over me, and I seem to rest very peacefully in a kind of blessed knowledge that my life displays a marvelous simplicity. The course of my life, it seems, has followed a simple path; a path which began one night a long time ago when a star rising inside me enchanted me by its beauty, and led by that star, I came to an awareness of the truth; the truth of how things really are; the truth of God’s goodness and what He has done for our salvation in Jesus Christ. At that moment, the truth was clear to me, as if I had always known it. And so, when I entered the monastery at age twenty-six, though I could not be absolutely certain this was God’s will and the one right thing for me to do with my life, I did have the feeling I was returning to a deep intuition, to a truth profoundly simple; something my heavenly Father had shown me very soon after I had arrived in this world: a vision of the best of all His gifts. And so, the choice to become a monk seemed to me of all choices the simplest; simpler than choice to work hard and enjoy the rewards it brings; simpler than the choice to enjoy my good fortune at being born in the richest country in the world; simpler even than falling in love since, when I became a monk it was because I realized I was already in love.
In this sense, I wonder if every person present here this morning is not something of a monk, and that deep inside each and every one of you is the memory of a star and a moment of blessed clarity when a reassurance from your Father in heaven was given you: that to be happy in this world really is something very simple, because the truth of God’s goodness is simple; as uncomplicated and trustworthy as the light of a star.