Synopsis: Homily on the Epiphany of the Lord (Mt 2:1-12)
Introduction: The Greek word Epiphany (επιφάνεια), means appearance or manifestation. First, the angels revealed Jesus to the shepherds. In the Western Church, the Feast of the Epiphany celebrates Jesus’ first appearance to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi, while in the Eastern Church, the feast is the commemoration of the baptism of Christ where the Father and the Holy Spirit gave combined testimony to Jesus’ identity as Son of God. Later, in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus revealed himself as the promised Messiah, and at Cana Jesus revealed his Divinity by transforming water into wine. These multiple revelations are all suggested by the Feast of the Epiphany.
Scripture lessons summarized: Today’s Gospel teaches us how Christ enriches those who bring him their hearts and offer their lives to Him. The adoration of the Magi fulfills the oracle of Isaiah (first reading), prophesying that the nations of the world would travel to the Holy City following a brilliant light, bringing gold and incense to contribute to the worship of God. Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 72) includes a verse about kings coming from foreign lands to pay homage to a just king in Israel. Paul’s letter to the Church of Ephesus (today’s second reading), expresses God’s secret plan in clear terms: “the Gentiles are…copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” Today’s Gospel reminds us that if God permitted the Magi – foreigners and pagans – to recognize and give Jesus proper respect as the King of Jews, we should know that there is nothing in our sinful lives that would keep God from bringing us to Jesus. There were three groups of people who reacted to the Epiphany of Christ’s birth. The first group, headed by King Herod, tried to eliminate him, the second group, priests and scribes, ignored him, and the third group, represented by the shepherds and the Magi, came to adore him.
Life Messages: (1) Let us make sure that we belong to the third group: a) by actively worshiping Jesus at Mass with the gold of our love, the myrrh of our humility and the frankincense of our adoration; b) by giving a new direction to our lives. Just as the Magi chose another route to return to their homes, let us choose a better way of life, abstaining from proud, unjust and impure thoughts, evil habits and selfish behavior; c) by becoming stars leading others to Jesus, as the star led the Magi to Jesus. Let us remove the darkness of the evil around us by radiating Jesus’ love through selfless service, unconditional forgiveness and compassionate care. (2) Like the Magi, let us offer Jesus our gifts on this feast of Epiphany and every day: (a) Gift of our life by offering it on the altar during the Holy Mass and by offering it to God every morning as soon as we get up, and asking for the strengthening anointing of the Holy Spirit to do good and avoid evil during the course if the day. b) Gift of relationship with God by talking to Him in personal and family prayers and listening to Him through reading the Holy Bible every day. c) Gift of friendship with God by experiencing His presence in everyone we come into contract with and offering Jesus our humble service by serving him or her, and by getting reconciled to God every night asking His pardon and forgiveness for our sins and failures during the day. (L/19)
Feast of Epiphany (Jan 6): Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6; Mt. 2:1-12 (L-19)
Homily starter anecdote # 1: “Because you never know what’s going to happen next!” A survey was made among school children asking the question why they enjoyed reading Harry Potter novels and watching Harry Potter movies. The most common answer was, “Because you never know what’s going to happen next!” The same element of suspense and discovery marked the journey of the Magi, who never knew what road the Spirit was going to take them down next. Half a billion people all around the world watched with suspense and thrill when three astronauts in Apollo 8 landed first time on the moon on July 20th, 1969.When pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager made their historic flight in 1986 with their spindly Voyager aircraft, the whole world followed it with excitement. For nine days a sky-watch was kept tracking their first non-stop global flight without refueling. The same elements of suspense and discovery were there when Marco Polo journeyed to India and China, when Christopher Columbus travelled to America, and when Admiral Byrd went to the South Pole. Such adventurers have always aroused our admiration and curiosity. The magi-astrologers described in today’s Gospel had to be a little crazy leaving the security of their homeland to venture forth into a strange country presided over by a mad king like Herod, in search of a Divine child. But their great Faith, curiosity, and adventurous spirit enabled them to discover the secret of the whole universe – the secret of God’s incredible love for His people – because the Child they found was no ordinary child, but the very Son of God become man. Today’s readings invite us to have the curiosity of the school students and the Faith and adventurous spirit of the magi so that we may discover the “epiphany” of our God in everyone and every event, everywhere. (adapted from Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds).
# 2: A woman among the Magi? Renowned Gospel of Matthew professor, Dominican friar and priest, Rev. Benedict Thomas Viviano has a new Biblical theory that may change nativity scenes across the globe: there was one Wise Woman (or more) among the Wise Men. (https://www.stlbeacon.org/#!/content/17405/viviano_writes_about_a_woman_magi). Viviano’s original theory was published in 2011 in Studies of Matthew by Leuven University Press. It’s “perfectly plausible,” he argues, that Matthew would have understood the magi as some sort of Eastern sages. “On the other hand,” Viviano suggests, “the masculine plural magoi does not close the question of gender. … The main reason to think of the presence of one or more women among the magi is the background story of the queen of Sheba, with her quest for Israelite royal wisdom, her reverent awe, and her three gifts fit for a king.” Viviano’s second reason to suspect the presence of the feminine, he says, is the Israelite tradition of personifying wisdom as a woman (Proverbs 8:22-30; 9:1-6; Book of Sirach, 24). Viviano’s third argument for his female-among-the-magi cause is that Matthew’s Gospel later characterizes Jesus as embodying wisdom, which Jewish literature considers female and even terms Lady Wisdom. The passages Viviano refers to are Matthew, Chapter 11:19 and 25-30. What difference would it have made if there had been a woman among the magi? A women’s magazine says: “They would have come before the birth of Jesus, brought provisions for the child and his mother and the woman would have served as a midwife!”
#3: Artaban the fourth Wise Man: In 1895, Henry van Dyke wrote the story, “The Other Wise Man,” telling of a fourth wise man called Artaban. Our hero is not mentioned in the Gospel because he missed the caravan. He got to Bethlehem too late to see the Baby Jesus. But Artaban did make it in time, using one of his gifts for the newborn King to save one of the Holy Innocents by bribing a soldier. For 33 years Artaban searched for Jesus. He did not find Jesus, but all the while the Fourth wise man used the precious gifts he had brought for the King to feed the hungry and help the poor. Then one day in Jerusalem Artaban saw the “King of the Jews” being crucified. He started to offer his last gift for the King, a great pearl, to the soldiers as ransom for Him. But then he saw a girl being sold into slavery to pay family debts. Artaban gave his pearl to buy freedom for the girl. Suddenly the earth quaked as Jesus died on the cross and a stone struck Artaban. Dying, he heard a Voice saying: “When you helped the least of my children, you helped me. Meet me in Heaven!” Artaban, the fourth Wise Man, had been making God present in his community for years by helping others. God asks each of us on the feast of Epiphany to be a fourth Wise Man by becoming God’s epiphanies, making His love present in the world around us by our acts of love and kindness.
Introduction: The Greek word Epiphany (επιφάνεια), which means appearance or manifestation or showing forth, is used to describe Jesus’ first appearance to the Gentiles. Originally, the word Epiphany referred to the visit of a king to the people of his provinces. In the context of Christianity, “Epiphany” refers to God’s Self-revelation as well as to the revelation of Jesus as His Son. The Feast of the Epiphany, having originated in the East in the late second century, is an older celebration than the feast of Christmas. In Italy and Spain, the gifts traditionally associated with the Christmas season are exchanged today, on the feast of the Epiphany. Among Italians, it is believed that the gifts are brought by the old woman, Befana (from Epiphany), whereas Spanish custom attributes the gifts to the Kings or Magi. The feast commemorates the coming of the Magi as the occasion for the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the Western Church. In the Eastern Church, the feast also commemorates the baptism of Christ. The angels revealed Jesus to the shepherds, and the star revealed him to the Magi, who had already received hints of Him from Jewish Scriptures. Some thirty years later, God the Father revealed Jesus’ identity to Israel at his baptism in the Jordan. In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus revealed himself as the promised Messiah. Finally, Jesus revealed himself as a miracle worker at the wedding of Cana, revealing his Divinity. These multiple revelations are all suggested by the Feast of the Epiphany.
Scripture readings summarized: Today’s Old Testament reading, Isaiah 60:1-6, is chosen partly because it mentions non-Jews bringing gifts in homage to the God of Israel. Here the Prophet Isaiah, consoling the people in exile, speaks of the restoration of New Jerusalem from which the glory of Yahweh becomes visible even to the pagan nations. “Jerusalem,” the prophet Isaiah cries out, “your light has come in the midst of darkness and thick clouds covering the earth; the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” For the people of Israel, then in exile in a foreign land, Isaiah was promising redemption, renewal and restoration –- a new life, to be lived in their own land. And the promise goes beyond the Jewish people to include all peoples. For the prophecy continues, “Nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” Thus, in this passage, the prophecy which the Lord God gives His people celebrates the Divine Light that will emanate from Jerusalem, and it pictures all the nations acknowledging and enjoying that Light and walking by it. As a sign of gratitude for the priceless lessons of Faith offered by Jerusalem, the nations will bring wealth by land and sea, especially gold for the Temple and frankincense for the sacrifice. Everyone will be drawn to Jerusalem because the radiance of God’s favor rests on her. This prophecy of Isaiah is realized in Jesus Christ, God’s Anointed One (Christ; Messiah), Savior of the world, and in his Church, the New Jerusalem made up of Jews and Gentiles. Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 72), declares that all the kings of the earth will serve and pay homage to the God of Israel and His Messiah. In Christ, God is calling together the one human race to acknowledge and serve Him in holiness. Thus, these two readings express hope for a time when “the people of God” will embrace all nations. As a privileged recipient of a Divine “epiphany,” Saint Paul, in today’s second reading, reveals God’s “secret plan,” that the Gentiles also have a part with the Jews in Divine blessings. Affirming the mystery of God’s plan of salvation in Christ, Paul explains that the plan of God includes both Jews and Gentiles. Jesus implements this Divine plan by extending membership in his Church, making it available to all peoples. Thus, the Jews and the Gentiles have become, “coheirs, members of the same Body and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” Hence, there are no second-class members in the Church among Christian believers. Paul claims that he has been commissioned by Christ to make this mystery known to the world. Today’s Gospel teaches us how Christ enriches those who bring Him their hearts. These pagan Magi were acceptable to God because they feared God and did what was right. Since the Magi came with humble joy in their hearts to visit the Christ Child, God allowed them to see wondrous things. At the same time, today’s Gospel hints at different reactions to the news of Jesus’ birth, foreshadowing his passion and death, as well as the risen Jesus’ mandate to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19).
Gospel exegesis: The first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel together with Luke, Chapters 1 and 2, come under the heading “infancy narratives.” They have been described by Raymond E. Brown (The Birth of the Messiah, Image Books, New York: 1979) as a “Gospel in miniature,” in which the evangelist has set forth the basic tenets of the good news, namely, (1) the universal scope of salvation; (2) an affirmation of Jesus’ Divine origins and Messianic mission (3) the implications of God’s plan and of Jesus’ mission for the Church, i.e. a missiology of world-wide proportions.
The Magi and the star: The Magi were not Kings, but a caste of Persian priests who served Kings by using their skills in interpreting dreams and the movements of the stars. The sixth century Italian tradition that the Magi finding Jesus were three, Magi, Casper, Balthazar, and Melchior, is based on the fact that three gifts are mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew nowhere says that there were three wise men from the East. Tradition holds each of them came from a different culture: Melchior was Asian, Balthazar was Persian and Caspar was Ethiopian – thus representing the three races known to the ancient world. “They are supposed to have been kings, but this stems from a very literal translation of a psalm verse: ‘The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts’ (Ps 72:10). Ancient depictions of them never involved symbols of royalty, but simply the Phrygian cap and garments of noble Persians” (Dr. M Watson). The Magi may actually have been Persian priests or Babylonian astronomers or Nabataean spice-traders. Eventually, however, they were pictured as representatives of different peoples and races. The Orthodox Church holds that the Magi consisted of twelve Kings, corresponding in number to the twelve tribes of Israel. (The term magoi in Greek refers to a wide variety of people, including fortune-tellers, priestly augurs, magicians and astrologers). Because of their connection with the star in this story, it is safe to conclude that Matthew identified them mostly with the last group. Possibly they came from Babylonia, or Persia, where the word magus originated. There were almost certainly Gentiles, for if they had been Jews, they would have known better than to ask King Herod about a national ruler who would challenge his dynasty! It is not clear from the story why they wanted to pay homage to a Jewish king, or what they learned about him from their observations of “his star” (Matthew 2:2) (Dr. M Watson). Christian life, the life of God’s people, is most often represented in the Bible and in literature, as a journey – a journey that begins with our confession of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior in Baptism and ends when we at last meet Him as the Triune, face to face, in God’s heavenly kingdom.
The star: Commentary on the Torah by Jewish rabbis suggested that a star appeared in the sky at the births of Abraham, Isaac and Moses. Likewise, in the Book of Numbers, the prophet Balaam speaks of “a star that shall come out of Jacob.” Stars were believed to be signs from God, announcing important events. Thus, the brightness of the Light to which kings were drawn was made visible in the star they followed. (In the last 40 years, a number of scientists and astronomers have pointed to particular clusterings of planets or stars around the time of Jesus’ birth, which would have created an unusual or dramatic heavenly “portent,” suggesting that perhaps Matthew’s account is more historical than some exegetes might choose to believe). The star which shone over the area and served as a beacon for the astrologers can be explained scientifically. Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), a German astrologer and mathematician calculated that the planetary conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn which occurred ca 7-6 B.C.E. could have produced such an illumination in the sky over Bethlehem. However, the star, as featured in Matthew’s narrative figures more importantly because of its theological significance. No doubt, Matthew, with his mission to demonstrate that Jesus was the Promised one and the fulfillment of all Jewish hopes and prophecies, intended his readers to recall the story of Balaam in the book of Numbers (chapters 22-24). Therein, Balaam, a pagan seer from the East was co-opted by Balak, king of Moab to curse the Israelites. Prevented by Yahweh from uttering the curse, Balaam blessed Israel and prophesied, “a star shall rise from Jacob and a scepter shall arise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17). Matthew portrayed the astral herald that proclaimed the appearance of Jesus and beckoned the Gentiles to salvation as the fulfillment of Balaam’s prophesy.(Sanchez Files).
The gifts: Gold, frankincense and myrrh may be thought of as prophesying Jesus’ future. Gold was a gift for Kings; frankincense (an ancient air purifier and perfume), was offered to God in Temple worship (Ex. 30:37); and myrrh (an oriental remedy for intestinal worms in infants), was used by the High Priest as an anointing oil (Ex. 30:23), and to prepare bodies for burial. These gifts were not only expensive but portable. Perhaps Joseph sold the gifts to finance the Holy Family’s trip to Egypt. The gifts might have been God’s way of providing for the journey that lay ahead.
The triple reactions: The Epiphany can be looked on as a symbol for our pilgrimage through life to Christ. The feast invites us to see ourselves in the Magi – a people on a journey to Christ. Today’s Gospel also tells us the story of the encounter of the Magi with the evil King Herod. This encounter demonstrates three reactions to Jesus’ birth, a) Hatred: a group of people headed by Herod planned to destroy Jesus; b) Indifference: another group, composed of priests and scribes, ignored Jesus; c) Adoration: the members of a third group — shepherds and the magi — adored Jesus and offered themselves to Him.
A) The destructive group: King Herod considered Jesus a potential threat to his kingship. Herod the Great was a cruel and selfish king who murdered his mother-in-law, wife, two brothers-in-law and three children on suspicion that they had plotted against him. In today’s Gospel, Herod asks the chief priests and scribes where the Messiah is to be born. Their answer tells him, and us, much more, combining two strands of Old Testament promise – one revealing the Messiah to be from the line of David (see 2 Samuel 2:5), the other predicting “a ruler of Israel” who will “shepherd his flock” and whose “greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth” (see Micah 5:1-3) (Dr. Hann). Later, the scribes and Pharisees would plot to kill Jesus because he had criticized them and tried to reform some of their practices. Today, many oppose Christ and his Church because of their selfish motives, evil ways and unjust lives. Children still have Herods to fear. In the United States alone, one and a half million innocents, unborn children are aborted annually.
B) The group that ignored Christ: The scribes, the Pharisees, and the Jewish priests knew that there were nearly 500 prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the promised Messiah. They were able to tell Herod the exact time and place of Jesus’ birth. They were in the habit of concluding their reading from the prophets on the Sabbath day by saying, “We shall now pray for the speedy arrival of the Messiah.” Unfortunately, they were more interested in their own selfish gains than in discovering the truth. Hence, they refused to go and see the child Jesus — even though Bethlehem was quite close to Jerusalem. Today, many Christians remind us of this group. They practice their religion from selfish motives, such as to gain political power, prestige and recognition by society. They ignore Jesus’ teachings in their private lives.
C) The group that adored Jesus and offered Him gifts: This group was composed of the shepherds and the Magi. The shepherds offered the only gifts they had: love, tears of joy, and probably woolen clothes and milk from their sheep. The Magi, probably Persian astrologers, were following the star that Balaam had predicted would rise along with the ruler’s staff over the house of Jacob (see Numbers 24:17). The Magi offered gold, in recognition of Jesus as the King of the Jews; frankincense, in acknowledgment that He was God, and myrrh as a symbol of His human nature. “Like the Magi, every person has two great ‘books’ which provide the signs to guide this pilgrimage: the book of creation and the book of sacred Scripture. What is important is that we be attentive, alert, and listen to God Who speaks to us, Who always speaks to us.” (Pope Francis)
Life Messages: (1) Let us make sure that we belong to the third group. a) Let us worship Jesus at Mass, every day if we can, with the gold of our love, the myrrh of our humility and the frankincense of our adoration. Let us offer God our very selves, promising Him that we will use His blessings to do good for our fellow men. b) Let us plot a better path for our lives. Just as the Magi chose another route to return to their homes, let us choose a better way of life, abstaining from proud and impure thoughts, evil habits and selfish behavior. c) Let us become the Star, leading others to Jesus, as the star led the Magi to Him. We can remove or lessen the darkness of the evil around us by being, if not like stars, at least like candles, radiating Jesus’ love by selfless service, unconditional forgiveness and compassionate care.
(2) Like the Magi, let us offer Jesus our gifts on this feast of Epiphany and every day: (a) Gift of our life by offering it on the altar during the Holy Mass and by offering it to God every morning as soon as we get up, and asking for the strengthening anointing of the Holy Spirit to do good and avoid evil during the course if the day. b) Gift of relationship with God by talking to Him in personal and family prayers and listening to Him by reading the Holy Bible every day. c) Gift of friendship with God by experiencing His presence in everyone we come into contract with and offering each our humble service, and by getting reconciled to God every night asking His pardon and forgiveness for our sins and failures during the day.
Let us conclude with a 19th century English carol, Christina Rosetti’s A Christmas Carol, which begins, “In the bleak midwinter.” The carol sums up, in its last stanza, the nature of “giving to the Christ Child.”
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I could give a Lamb.
If I were a wise man, I could do my part.
What I can I give Him? Give Him my heart!”
JOKE OF THE WEEK: 1) “I want the big cow!”: It was an excited little girl who told me this story. The first two wise men got down from their camels and offered their precious gifts to the Baby. He declined them. When the Baby Jesus declined the gift of the third of the also, the exasperated wise man asked, “Then what do you want?” The Child Jesus answered quickly and with a warm smile, “Your big cow!”
2) An 8-year-old asked, “How come the kings brought perfume to Jesus? What kind of gift is that for a baby?” His 9-year-old sister answered, “Haven’t you ever smelled a barn? With dirty animals around, Mary needed something to freshen the air.”
3) A husband asked his wife, “Why would God give the wise men a star to guide them?” She replied, “Because God knows men are too proud to ask directions.”
4) Three Wise Women: While they were talking about the story of the three wise men, a woman asked her parish priest, this question, “Do you know why God gave the star to the wise men?” When he professed his ignorance, she told him: “God knows men are too proud to ask directions. If there had been three wise women instead of three wise men, they would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and given some practical gifts!”
4) Epiphany of a Sunday school boy: A little boy returned from Sunday school with a new perspective on the Christmas story. He had learned all about the Wise Men from the East who brought gifts to the Baby Jesus. He was so excited that he could hardly wait to tell his parents. As soon as he arrived home, he immediately began, “I learned all about the very First Christmas in Sunday school today! There wasn’t a Santa Claus way back then, so these three skinny guys on camels had to deliver all the toys!” He further continued, “And Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with his nose so bright also wasn’t there yet, so they had to have this big spotlight in the sky to find their way around!”
5) Epiphany of a pilot: A helicopter was flying around above Seattle one day when an electrical malfunction disabled all the aircraft’s electronic navigation and communications equipment. Due to the clouds and haze, the pilot could not determine the helicopter’s position and course to steer to the airport. The pilot saw a tall building, flew toward it, circled, drew a handwritten sign, and held it in the helicopter’s window. The pilot’s sign said “Where am I?” in large letters. People in the tall building quickly responded to the aircraft, drew a large sign, and held it in a building window. Their sign said, “You are in a helicopter.” The pilot smiled, waved, looked at his map, determined the course to steer to Sea-Tac airport, and landed safely. After they were on the ground, the co-pilot asked the pilot how the “You are in a helicopter” sign helped determine their position. The pilot responded, “I knew that had to be the Microsoft building because, similar to their help-lines, they gave me a technically correct but completely useless answer.”
USEFUL WEBSITES OF THE WEEK (for daily homilies)
- Fr. Nick’s collection: http://www.catholicsermons.com/homilies/weekday
- Based on Barclay commentary: http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/
- Regnum Christi Mediations: http://www.regnumchristi.org/english/meditaciones/index.phtml?se=39&ca=95&te=60
- Saint of the Day: http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/SaintofDay/default.asp
- Important apologetic source: https://www.crediblecatholic.com/pdf/M5/BB5.pdf
“Scriptural Homilies” Cycle C (No. 8) by Fr. Tony: email@example.com
24 Additional anecdotes: 1) The wise men: There is a beautiful old tradition about the star in the East. The story says that when the star had finished its task of directing the wise men to the baby, it fell from the sky and dropped down into the city well of Bethlehem. According to some legends, that star is there to this day and can sometimes still be seen by those whose hearts are pure and clean. It’s a pretty story. It kind of makes you feel warm inside. There are other legends about this story of the wise men from the east. For instance, how many wise men were there? In the old days in the east, they believed that there were 12 men who made the journey, but now most everyone agrees there were three. One old legend even tells us the names of the three. Melchior was the oldest of the group, with a full beard. He gave the baby the gift of gold. Balthazar also had a beard, but was not as old as Melchior. He presented the gift of myrrh. The youngest of the three was Casper, who had no beard yet, but did present the gift of frankincense to the baby. Yet another legend goes on to tell us that, after seeing the baby, the three continued traveling as far as Spain, telling the world the good news about what they had seen. These stories bring the wise men a little more to life and add some color to the meaning of Christmas. They can also get in the way. The problem with legends is that sometimes they add color to stories that don’t need any additional color. In fact, sometimes legends are so colorful, they are unbelievable, and can end up making the entire story unbelievable as well — kind of like that star falling in the well. It makes you warm inside. It also makes you wonder. I am not out to ban legends, but I do think it might be worthwhile to hear the story one more time, the way it was told the first time….
2) Epiphany of Christ “in his most distressing disguises.” Mother Teresa of Calcutta (canonized October 19, 2016 by Pope Francis as St. Teresa of Calcutta) died of a heart attack. She has been lauded as the “Saint of the Gutters,” as one of the “greatest women of the twentieth century” and as “one who made it her life’s work to care for the poorest of the poor.” Never stinting in her commitment to Christ, especially to “Christ in his most distressing disguises” (e.g. the sick, the dying, the outcasts, lepers, people with A.I.D.S, etc.), Mother Teresa described herself as “a pencil in God’s hands. “As long as God keeps pouring in the ink, I will continue to let God write with me and through me.” Through this physically diminutive, spiritual giant, God has indeed writ large. Through her, God has continued to reveal in our midst the mystery or secret plan of salvation of which the author of Ephesians writes in today’s second reading. St. Teresa of Calcutta understood that there were no second-class citizens in the people of God. Nor is anyone an afterthought in God’s saving plan. The small nun who ministered to the world’s poor also left the world a legacy and a challenge. At the beginning of this new year, contemporary believers might take time to consider if her legacy will live on in them and how that challenge can be met. Am I willing to accept and cherish absolutely everyone I meet as a co-heir, as a member of the same body and as a sharer of God’s promises? If so, then God’s secret plan continues to be revealed in me; if not, then I have darkened and obscured the manifestation of love and light that we celebrate today. (Sanchez Files).
3) Epiphany of adventurers: When pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager made their historic flight in 1986 with their spindly Voyager aircraft, the whole world followed it with excitement. For nine days a sky-watch was kept, tracking their first non-stop global flight without refueling. Achievers and risk-takers like Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager have always fascinated us. Marco Polo journeying to India and China, Christopher Columbus coming to America, Admiral Byrd going to the South Pole, our Astronauts flying to the moon — such adventurers have always aroused our admiration and our skepticism. It was no different at the time of the Magi in today’s Gospel story. To the cynical observer, the Magi must have seemed foolish to go following a star. These astrologers had to be a little crazy leaving the security of their homeland to venture forth into a strange country ruled by a madman like Herod. Nevertheless, to the person with the eyes of Faith, the Magi had discovered an immense secret. They found not only the secret of the star, but the secret of the whole universe –the secret of God’s incredible love for his people. For the child they found was no ordinary child but the very Son of God become man (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds).
4) My Star: Consider the true story of a young man named Tony. He travelled all over the world, appearing widely on stage and on television as a drummer in a world-famous music group. Then one day Tony felt called to the priesthood. When he resigned from the music group to enter a seminary, some people thought him to be a fool. The story could end here. And if it did, some would consider it to be a sad story. It would be the story of a young man who let a dream slip through his fingers. But the story doesn’t end here. Tony’s now a priest in the diocese of Dallas. And he’s tremendously happy. Jesus will someday say to him what he said to Artaban: “You’ve been helping me all your life, Tony. What you did for your Parishioners, you did for me.” (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies).
5) An epiphany in the airport. We spot what looks like a family – a mom, a dad, and three teenage daughters. The girls and their mom are each holding a bouquet of roses. We are wondering what the story is. Whom are they expecting? The dad keeps looking at his watch. The mom keeps turning her head to make sure she hears each airport announcement. Finally, the door opens. First come the “rushers”–men and women in suits with briefcases and bags over their shoulders, rushing towards phones, bathrooms, and their cars or rent-a-cars. We’re still wondering and watching to learn whom this family we’ve been studying is there to meet. Then out come a young Marine, his wife, and their obviously brand-new baby. The three girls run to the couple and the baby. Then Mom. Dad. Hugs. Kisses. Embraces. “OOPS! The flowers!” But the baby is the center of attention. Each member of the family gets closer and closer to the mother and each opens the bundle in pink to have a first peek at this new life on the planet. We’re seeing it from a distance. It’s better than the evening news. Then we notice several other smiling people also watching the same scene. There are many other hugging scenes, people meeting people, but this is the big one. We’re smiling too. A tear of joy. What wonderful moment we are photographing into our memory. We’re thinking, “Family! Children! Grandchildren!” This is what life is all about.” We’re experiencing an epiphany. Life is filled with them. Praise God!
6) O Henry’s story of real love through sacrificial sharing: “Gift of the Magi”: It is about a young couple who were poor. She had long beautiful, brown hair and used to look longingly at some tortoise-shell combs in the shop window. He had an old pocket watch that belonged to his grandfather. He used to look at a gold watch chain that would have gone well with the watch, in the shop window. But they were poor newlyweds and window shopping was all they could afford. That Christmas she cut and sold her beautiful hair to a wig maker so that she could buy her husband the gold watch chain. He, meanwhile, pawned his prized watch to buy her the beautiful tortoise-shell combs. Each gave up what they most prized to buy something the other wanted. (summarized y Fr. Peter DeSousa).
7) The true epiphany: A rabbi put the following question to his disciples, “How can we determine the hour of dawn, when the night ends and the day begins?” One student replied, “When from a distance you can distinguish between a sheep and a dog.” “No,” said the rabbi. Another student quickly offered, “When you can tell a fig tree from a grapevine.” “No,” repeated the rabbi. “Then tell us, please,” asked the students. Replied the rabbi, “Darkness ends and day begins when you can look into the faces of all other human beings and you have enough light in you to recognize them as your brothers and sisters.”
8) Run away to return: John Thomas Randolph offers this modern story of running and returning to illustrate our Lord’s circumstances. Here is the difference between cowardice and heroism. The coward runs away and stays away. The hero runs away but he always returns at the appropriate time. I have a biography of General Douglas MacArthur that was written by Bob Considine. The picture on the front cover shows the general standing like a boulder, looking off into the distance, with that famous corncob pipe in his mouth. You can almost hear him telling the people of the Philippines, “I came through and I shall return.” Ordered to make a strategic withdrawal, his promise to return became the rallying cry for a whole country. MacArthur had to “run away” for a while, but he would “return” and it was the returning that mattered most. Jesus ran away into Egypt, but he returned! All of our running away, as Christians, should be with the ultimate goal of returning. Why do we run away? When I look at my own experience, I find that I usually run away for one of three reasons: I am frightened ; I am fatigued; or I am frustrated. Isn’t that why you run away too?
9) “I hope it will identify me with the Gospel that I preach.” In October 1989, a new star was added to the 1900 stars on the famed sidewalk on Hollywood Boulevard. The new star was placed near the stars of Julie Andrews and Wayne Newton. The new star, as curious as it seems, was the late evangelist Billy Graham, (died February 21, 2018), who preached the Gospel to more than 100 million people around the world. Forty years ago, he refused to have his name on a star, but he reconsidered it in 1989. He said, “I hope it will identify me with the Gospel that I preach.” At the unveiling he added, “We should put our eyes on the star, which is the Lord.”
10) Epiphany of a protecting God: The British express train raced through the night, its powerful headlight piercing the darkness. Queen Victoria was a passenger on the train. Suddenly the engineer saw a startling sight. Revealed in the beam of the engine’s light was a strange figure in a black cloak standing in the middle of the tracks and waving its arms. The engineer grabbed for the brake and brought the train to a grinding halt. He and his fellow trainmen clambered down to see what had stopped them. But they could find no trace of the strange figure. On a hunch the engineer walked a few yards further up the tracks. Suddenly he stopped and stared into the fog in horror. A bridge had been washed out in the middle and ahead of them it had toppled into a swollen stream. If the engineer had not heeded the ghostly figure, his train would have plummeted down into the stream. While the bridge and tracks were being repaired, the crew made a more intensive search for the strange flagman. But not until they got to London did they solve the mystery At the base of the engine’s head lamp the engineer discovered a huge dead moth. He looked at it a moment, then on impulse wet its wings and pasted it to the glass of the lamp. Climbing back in to his cab, he switched on the light and saw again the “flagman” he had seen in the beam, seconds before the train was due to reach the washed-out bridge. In the fog, it appeared to be a phantom figure, waving its arms. When Queen Victoria was told of the strange happening she said, “I’m sure it was no accident. It was God’s way of protecting us.” No, the figure the engineer saw in the headlight’s beam was not an angel…and yet God, quite possibly through the ministry of His unseen angels, had placed the moth on the headlight lens exactly when and where it was needed. (Billy Graham from ‘Unto the Hills’)
11) “The Star:” In Arthur C. Clarke’s short story, “The Star”, we read about a Jesuit astrophysicist who makes a space trip with other scientists to a distant galaxy called the Phoenix Nebula. There they chance upon a solitary planet still orbiting the remnant of a central sun, which had exploded thousands of years ago. The explorers land their spacecraft on this planet and examine the scorched surface caused by that cosmic detonation. They discover a melted-down monolithic marker at the entrance of a great vault in which they find the carefully stored treasures and records of an advanced civilization. On their return trip to earth in our own galaxy, the Jesuit astrophysicist calculates the exact time when the light from this cosmic explosion in the Phoenix Nebula reached earth. It was the date of Christ’s birth when the light from that fire was seen as a bright new star appearing in the East. But now that he had solved an ancient mystery, he had a greater mystery to grapple with. How could a loving God allow a whole planet of intelligent being to be given a galactic conflagration, so that the symbol of their passing might shine above Bethlehem at his Son’s birth? This science-fiction story about the star of Bethlehem has its source in today’s Gospel. Mathew’s narration of the Magi uses the star as its central symbol. From its rising in the East to its coming to a standstill over Bethlehem, the star leads and guides the astrologers. (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds).
12) The night the stars fell: One summer night in a seaside cottage, a small boy felt himself lifted from bed. Dazed with sleep, he heard his mother murmur about the lateness of the hour, heard his father laugh. Then he was borne in his father’s arms, with the swiftness of a dream, down the porch steps, out onto the beach. Overhead the sky blazed with stars. “Watch!” his father said. And incredibly, as he spoke, one of the stars moved. In a streak of golden fire, it flashed across the astonished heavens. And before the wonder of this could fade, another star leaped from its place, and then another, plunging toward the restless sea. “What is it?” the child whispered. “Shooting stars,” his father said. “They come every year on certain nights in August. I thought you’d like to see the show.” That was all: just an unexpected glimpse of something haunting and mysterious and beautiful. But, back in bed, the child stared for a long time into the dark, rapt with the knowledge that all around the quiet house the night was full of the silent music of the falling stars. Decades have passed, but I remember that night still, because I was the fortunate seven-year-old whose father believed that a new experience was more important for a small boy than an unbroken night’s sleep. No doubt in my childhood I had the usual quota of playthings, but these are forgotten now. What I remember is the night the stars fell …(Arthur Gordon from A Touch of Wonder).
13) A new Magi story: In this story the three wise men, Gaspar, Balthassar and Melchior, were thee different ages. Gaspar was a young man, Balthassar a middle-aged man and Melchior an elderly man. They found a cave where the Holy One was and entered, one at a time, to do him homage. Melchior, the old man, entered first. He found an old man like himself in the cave. They shared stories and spoke of memory and gratitude. Middle-aged Balthassar entered next. He found a man his own age there. They spoke passionately about leadership and responsibility. Young Gaspar was the last to enter. He found a young prophet waiting for him. They spoke about reform and promise. Afterward when the three kings spoke to each other about their encounter with the Christ, they were shocked at each other’s stories. So they got their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh together and all three went into the cave. They found a Baby there, the infant Jesus only twelve days old. There is a deep message here. Jesus reveals himself to all people, at all stages of their lives, whether they are Jew or Gentile. (Fr. Pellegrino).
14) The whispering angel: The seventeenth century painter Guido Reni has left us a magnificent painting of Matthew. An angel is whispering to him various events in the life of Jesus. The attentive Evangelist is frantically writing down all that he is told. The tale will become his Gospel. A portion of those whispers is today’s story of the Epiphany. It is only Matthew who tells us this tale filled with wonder. Why the other Evangelists ignored this magical story, we will never know – at least this side of the grave. (Fr. Gilhooly).
15) The Star of Bethlehem: Gordon Wilson’s daughter was killed by a bomb in Enniskillen on Remembrance Day 1987. Instead of calling for revenge, he forgave her killers and began a campaign for peace and reconciliation. He said: “I am a very ordinary sort of man. I have few personal ambitions and no political aspirations. I just want to live and let live. Life has been kind to me in the main, and I have tried to live by the Good Book. I do not profess to be a good man, but I aim to be. I would like to leave the world a better place than I found it, but I have no exaggerated ideas of my ability to do so. I have hitched my wagon to a star, a star of hope, the star of Bethlehem. (Flor McCarthy in New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies; quoted by Fr. Botelho)
16) The New Age: Every year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, there is displayed, beneath the great Christmas tree, a beautiful eighteenth century Neapolitan nativity scene. In many ways it is a very familiar scene. The usual characters are all there: shepherds roused from sleep by the voices of angels; the exotic wise men from the East seeking, as Auden once put it, “how to be human now”; Joseph; Mary; the Babe — all are there, each figure an artistic marvel of wood, clay, and paint. There is, however, something surprising about this scene, something unexpected here, easily missed by the causal observer. What is strange here is that the stable, and the shepherds, and the cradle are set, not in the expected small town of Bethlehem, but among the ruins of mighty Roman columns. The fragile manger is surrounded by broken and decaying columns. The artists knew the meaning of this event: The Gospel, the birth of God’s new age, was also the death of the old world. Herods know in their souls what we perhaps have passed over too lightly: God’s presence in the world means finally the end of their own power. They seek not to preserve the birth of God’s new age, but to crush it. For Herod, the Gospel is news too bad to be endured, for Mary, Joseph, and all the other characters it is news too good to miss. Adapted from Thomas G. Long, “Something Is About To Happen” (Fr. Kayala).
17) Epiphany gift: Tolstoy once told the story about an old cobbler, Martin, who dreamt that Christ was going to visit him. All day he waited and watched but nothing extraordinary seemed to be happening. While he waited he gave hospitality to one person who was cold, to another who needed reconciliation, to another who needed clothing. At the end of the day, he was disappointed that Christ had not come. That night he had another dream, and all those to whom he gave hospitality returned and a voice said, “Martin, do you not know me? I am Jesus. What you did to the least of these you did to me. (Fr. Kayala)
18) Returning Social security check: They tell of a man in a small town in South Dakota who tried to give some money back to the Social Security Administration, but could not. At age 65 the man retired from his work as a farm laborer and moved into town. His retirement house was extremely modest, sparsely furnished, and simply kept. Most could not manage on his meagre minimum security check. At the end of the first month of collecting on Social security, this humble man went to the bank with five dollars in cash and told the teller he wanted to return some money because the government had given him more than he needed. With that request he “blew everybody in the bank away.” They explained to him that he couldn’t do that, that the government could give out social security funds, but that there was no program set-up for taking any of it back! There was no category for people who wanted to give any of their social security back to the government. Application: To receive something graciously from another is as much a gift as giving. (Gerard Fuller in Stories for all Seasons) (Fr. Kayala).
19) Epiphany under water: There was once a holy monk who lived in Egypt. One day a young man came to visit him. The young man asked: “Oh, holy man, I want to know how to find God.” The monk was muscular and burly. He said: “Do you really want to find God?” The young man answered: “Oh, but I do.” So the monk took the young man down to the river. Suddenly, the monk grabbed the young man by the neck and held his head under water. At first the young man thought the monk was giving him a special baptism. But when after one minute the monk didn’t let go, the young man began struggling. Still the monk wouldn’t release him. Second by second, the young man fought harder and harder. After three minutes, the monk pulled the young man out of the water and said: “When you desire God as much as you desired air, you will have the epiphany of God.”
20) Herod and Stalin – pride leading to destruction: Why did Herod try to destroy Jesus, but the Magi worshipped him? The difference can be summed up in one word: humility. The Magi had humility, Herod lacked it. And history tells us where that lack of humility landed him. Herod spent his life trying to keep everything under his control. He became pathologically suspicious. He ended up murdering his own wife and three of his sons, because he thought they were plotting against him. In fact, his whole life was a series of violent, horrible crimes. His tyrannical fear of losing control eventually made him universally hated, even by his closest collaborators. As he lay dying, he ordered a thousand of his best servants and ministers to be led into a stadium and slaughtered, because he wanted to be sure there was mourning and sadness in his kingdom upon his death. Joseph Stalin, the equally bloody tyrant of early Soviet Russia, followed a similar path. He climbed the ladder of success by lying, double-crossing, and murdering. And once he had reached the top, he systematically eliminated all potential rivals. But soon he began to think everyone was a potential rival. He sent his best friends to concentration camps in Siberia. He became so suspicious of plots against his life that he slept in a different corner of his house every night. He, too, died fearful, miserable, and half-crazed. These extreme examples illustrate the all-important fact that we are not God. God is God. We are not meant to control everything; we are meant to humbly follow Christ, to trust him, to kneel before him, like the Magi, and say with our lives, “Thy will be done, not mine; thy Kingdom come; not mine.” Herod couldn’t say that, Stalin couldn’t say that – the Magi could. They gave everything over to Christ. And they went home full of joy. (E- Priest).
21) God who guided the magi guides us, too, provided we trust him: We really need to let this truth sink in. It’s like the story of the rock climber. He was in the mountains, climbing alone (a bad idea). And it was getting late. The sun had just gone down, and the temperature was dropping fast. He was descending a section of rock that was inclined beyond the vertical, like the inside of a steep roof. He was deep in the shadows of cliffs. Suddenly, he slipped, lost his grip, and did a free fall of about forty feet before his rope caught on the last stay he had driven into the rock. He was hanging like a spider on a strand of web. He tried to climb up the rope, but at the end of the long day, he just didn’t have the strength. He was hanging there in the void. It was dark. It was cold. He had nowhere to turn. So even though he wasn’t a Church-going man, he said a prayer: “God, if you’re up there, please help me.” Much to his surprise, he heard an answer. It said, “Cut your rope.” He was surprised but overjoyed to get an answer, but he didn’t like the answer he got. He looked below him. Only darkness. It was getting colder. He prayed again, “God, if that’s really you, please help me.” Again, he heard an answer, “It really is Me. Cut your rope. Trust Me.” He looked down again. It was getting colder. He couldn’t understand why God wanted him to cut his only support. He took out his knife. But he just couldn’t get himself to cut the rope. The next morning in the bright sunlight, a group of rock climbers found him hanging from his rope, frozen to death, ten feet above the ground. So many times, we are at the end of our rope and we need the help of someone we can trust – someone who is faithful, like God. He won’t always explain everything to us, because we simply can’t understand it all – our eyesight is limited. But when we hear His voice in our conscience, we know that the One Who is all-good and all-powerful is faithfully guiding us, as He guided the Wise Men, and He won’t leave us hanging – if we believe in Him. (E- Priest).
22) “Change your name or change your conduct!”: Alexander the Great, one of the most remarkable military leaders who ever lived, conquered almost the entire known world with a relatively small army. One night during a campaign, he couldn’t sleep and left his tent to walk around the camp. He came across a soldier asleep on guard duty – a serious offense. The penalty for falling asleep on guard duty was, in some cases, instant death: the commanding officer sometimes poured kerosene on the sleeping soldier and lit it. The soldier began to wake up as Alexander the Great approached him. Recognizing who was standing in front of him, the young man feared for his life. “Do you know what the penalty is for falling asleep on guard duty?” Alexander the Great asked the soldier. “Yes, sir,” the soldier responded in a quivering voice. “Soldier, what’s your name?” demanded Alexander the Great. “Alexander, sir.” Alexander the Great repeated the question: “What is your name?” “My name is Alexander, sir,” the soldier repeated. A third time and more loudly Alexander the Great asked, “What is your name?” A third time the soldier meekly said, “My name is Alexander, sir.” Alexander the Great then looked the young soldier straight in the eye. “Soldier,” he said with intensity, “either change your name or change your conduct!” We Christians who carry the name of Christ shouldn’t be afraid of following Christ – as Herod was. We should be glad to live up to our name, following Christ wherever he leads us – like the Magi. (From “Hot Illustrations”) E- Priest..
23) Conquer by this sign: The Battle of Milvian Bridge was fought between Roman Emperors Constantine I and Maxentius AD 312. On the evening of October 27, with the armies preparing for battle, Constantine had a vision. A most marvellous sign appeared to him from heaven. The famous sign in the sky was a cross of light, with the inscription, Conquer by this. At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle. Constantine delineated the sign on the shields of his soldiers, and proceeded to battle, and his troops stood to arms. Maxentius was defeated in the battle, and Constantine was acknowledged as emperor by the senate and people of Rome. Constantine’s victory brought relief to the Christians by ending persecution. 300 years before Constantine, God’s sign appeared on the sky as a luminous star. It announced the Good News that a Saviour was born to emancipate humanity from the clutches of evil. This sign was read by the simple shepherds and wise men. It led the wise men to Bethlehem. (Fr. Bobby).
24) “The light she lit in my life is still burning.” Mother Teresa once visited a poor man in Melbourne, Australia. He was living in a basement room, which was in a terrible state of neglect. There was no light in the room. He did not seem to have a friend in the world. She started to clean and tidy the room. At first he protested, “Leave it alone. It is all right as it is.” But she went ahead anyway. As she cleaned, she chatted with him. Under a pile of rubbish she found an oil lamp covered with dust. She cleaned it and discovered that it was beautiful. And she said to him, “You have got a beautiful lamp here. How she said to him, “You have got a beautiful lamp here. How come you never lighted it?” “Why should I light it?” “No one ever comes to see me.” Will you promise to light it if one of my sisters comes to see you?” “Yes,” he replied. “If I hear a human voice, I will light the lamp.” Two of Mother Teresa’s sisters began to visit him regularly. Things gradually improved for him. Every time the sisters came to visit him, he had the lamp lighted. Then one day he said to them: “Sisters, I will be able to manage myself from now on. Do me a favour. Tell the first sister who came to see me that the light she lit in my life is still burning.” The light that God lit to announce the coming of His son is still burning. The Magi followed the path of the great light and reached the cradle of Jesus. For the last twenty centuries many have followed the footprints of the Magi. Today, Jesus stands before us declaring, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Jn 8:12). (M K Paul; quoted by Fr. Bobby). L/19
“Scriptural Homilies” Cycle C (No 8) by Fr. Tony: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit my website by clicking on http://frtonyshomilies.com/for missed or previous Cycle B homilies, 141 Year of Faith “Adult Faith Formation Lessons” (useful for RCIA classes too) & 197 “Question of the Week.” Contact me only at email@example.com. Visit http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church.html for the Vatican version of this homily.
Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604.