THOUGHTS FROM MY EPIPHANY HOMILY
Epiphany… a season no just of information, but of illumination… of the light and warmth that comes from worshipping Christ in his humanity – thoroughly established at Christmas – and now in his divinity. Joining the magi on bended knee we find ourselves called to deeper conversion, and also mission… a mission to spread the good news in every dimension of life. We’re also equipped with tools for mission. Epiphany marks the beginning – in some senses – of sacramental economy… that is to say, the use of the things of this earth for the purposes of conveying divine life. Let’s explore some of these tools and how they relate to our Epiphany mission.
Time and Knowledge Matter…
The magi were astronomers, masters of natural sciences from the East. Unlike scholars today, engaging in siloed, categorized fields of inquiry, the ancients simply studied. All higher knowledge was categorized as “philosophy;” literally the love (philos) of wisdom (sophia). Scholars like the magi observed the stars to track the movement of seasons, plant crops, map geography, chart sea journeys and much more. Now, for the first time, that natural, rational wisdom is turned by our Lord’s birth toward the purposes of evangelization. Brothers and sisters the Church never fears knowledge or the Truth… she shouldn’t, anyway… because Christ is the Way the Truth and the Life… Like the magi we can and should always use natural reason to guide us to the author of all Truth, Jesus. It’s interesting to note also that the first sin was the seizure of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil… and now among the first things to be redeemed is knowledge.
There’s more thought… because it’s not just ephemeral knowledge that is baptized in this Epiphany season… Time itself is turned to Christ. The magi’s astronomy was first and foremost about the movement of time… and now, in the fullness of time, they find themselves at the foot of the Infant Lord. Like knowledge time is precious. Its value only increases as we consider its finite nature. Your life and mine will eventually end. We have seventy years, eighty for those who are strong (cf Ps. 90:10). Time itself will come to an end at the final judgment. Time is precious… and we can use it for God’s eternal purposes or our own all too mortal ones.
Time and knowledge are great… but epiphany also very definitely touches on stuff… matter. How did the magi choose to worship God? They brought him stuff… literally the stuff of the earth: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Royal gold acknowledges Jesus as King. Mystic frankincense proclaims him High Priest. Embalming myrrh recognizes and prepares for his saving death.
Matter begins to be sanctified when Jesus takes our humanity to himself… today’s feast marks the expansion of this mystery to the things of this earth. The holiness of things culminates with the establishment of the seven sacraments. Common water baptizes us into his death and resurrection. Simple bread and wine become his body and blood. Vegetable oil is given healing and blessing qualities for anointing. Simple words are granted the power to absolve sin. How amazing the uses of stuff! There’s nothing wrong with having stuff. What do we use it for?? Therein lies the critical question.
The final thing to consider in sacramental economy and missions is we, our very selves. At some point, for all their knowledge and wealth, each of the magi had to make a decision, “I’m going to journey across the desert to an unknown destination, to worship and unknown king.” That’s a massive personal investment. It’s not just that they took a physically perilous trip across the desert… We can only imagine the cost of taking such a trip. At a personal level did they risk their reputations on this trek? And as if all that wasn’t enough, on arriving in Jerusalem they take their very lives in their hands as they unwittingly rouse the anger of Herod (cf Mt 2). Ultimately, all of us need to make a personal decision… an investment of the whole of our lives into the Jesus experience. It’s important.
On the negative side, we’ve seen what happens when even a few of us walk away from Jesus, when we turn hypocrite. I’m referring, of course, to the scandalous news that has rocked the Church since this past summer. A tiny minority of individuals have brought the whole Church to it knees shaking the faith of us all. The personal investment of individuals matters.
On the positive side, I think of an old colleague, Ed Sullivan. Ed just died a few days ago. He was an active Knight of Columbus serving others, praying, and befriending all those he met. Mundane stuff, right? But in the midst of these mundane exercises Ed met some college guys and invited them to found a K of C council at the Catholic University of America. From that council have come vowed priests and religious… and ten times as many good faithful Catholic men who will be husbands, fathers of families and raise up a generation of faith and hope! …all because one simple man was a friend to a few others. The personal investment of individuals matters. How will you invest yourself after the example of the Magi.
A season of epiphanies…
The Feast of the Epiphany may have happened this past Sunday, but the season of Epiphany is far from over. On the old calendar there was a whole explicit season called “Epiphanytide”. Remnants of this are still with us. The second Sunday after Christmas is Epiphany when the magi worship Christ. The Third Sunday after Christmas (now called the First of Ordinary Time) is the Baptism of the Lord, when the voice of the Father recognizes his Son and the Spirit descend on him in the form of a dove (Lk 3). The fourth Sunday After Christmas (now reckoned as the 2nd of Ordinary Time) may appear non-descript as the priests dress in Green once more… but look at the Gospel… It’s the wedding at Cana (Jn 2) when Jesus performs his first public miracle and people begin to recognize his divinity… a third epiphany moment! Spend these weeks absorbing the light and warmth of epiphany in all its forms… Like the Lord and the magi, start using the things of this world to convey his divine life to others.