Epiphany

Epiphany!  The dictionary defines it as a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.  That’s definitely what we have today.  The Magi came from a far land to worship the newborn king, the Baby Jesus.  A star led them to Bethlehem and to the manger where Jesus lay.

Every year we put up the crib before Christmas.  Then we symbolically place the figure of the baby in the manger on Christmas Eve.  Today we complete the picture with the arrival of the figures of the three kings.  There’s one more week of the Christmas season which ends with the baptism of Jesus.  Next Sunday we’ll take it all down.

There’s a ton of symbolism in the way we celebrate the birth of Christ. We spend four weeks getting ready for Him to come.  Then we have the glorious celebration of His birth on December 25.  On the following Sunday we commemorate the Holy Family.

This one’s a little strange.  All of a sudden Jesus is twelve years old.  He’s separated from Mary and Joseph and they look for Him for three days.  When they finally found Him He said the words that must have broken Joseph’s heart, “Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?”  The lesson we learn is that apparently Mary and Joseph still weren’t quite sure what to make of this

“Son of God”.  If they did, wouldn’t the temple have been the first place they looked?  Where else did they look for three days?  But I digress.

Getting back to our Liturgical calendar, on January 1 we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.  Jesus is a baby again. Sometimes this is called the feast of the circumcision, because that’s how the day’s Gospel ends.  But the emphasis here should be on Mary.  “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart”.  Imagine how overwhelmed this young girl must have been.

That brings us to today, the Epiphany; a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.  Seeing a tiny newborn lying in a feeding trough for animals, about as simple and homely an experience as anyone is likely to have, the Magi suddenly, intuitively perceive the reality of what they’re seeing; the Son of God.

We know that the shepherds have seen the child but these men aren’t shepherds.  They’re not even Jews!  They’re powerful kings from a foreign land and they’ve been called by God, led by a star, to be witnesses to the birth of the Messiah.  The Gospel ends with them departing for their own country to deliver the good news of what they’ve seen.

Here’s the thing.  Jesus wasn’t sent just for the Jews.  Paul tells us in the second reading that “the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise of Jesus Christ through the Gospel.”  He may have been the Messiah that the Jewish people had been waiting for but He was our Messiah too.

You and I can have an epiphany just like the Magi did.  Jesus reveals Himself to us in many ways, usually in ways that we’ll miss if we’re not paying attention.  Someone says or does something that touches your heart.  You pick up a book and something in its pages seems to speak just to you.  Maybe you see a small child or a homeless person and you feel the need to do something.

The other day there was a dog on Telegraph Road.  He must have been hurt because he was running back and forth from one side of the street to the other.  There was a major traffic jam because everyone stopped not wanting to hurt it.  I thought at the time that there was still goodness in the world.  So many people were willing to be late for work rather than take a chance on hitting someone’s pet.

Your epiphany may come in church.  It may come at work.  It may come while you’re driving your car.  You never know.  We have to be paying attention.

Next Sunday we’ll take down the Christmas decorations and return to Ordinary Time.  But even in the taking down there’s symbolism.  The trees and the lights and the manger may be gone, but Jesus remains with us.  We just have to look a little harder to see Him.  Finding Him in the ordinary things of our daily lives is our Epiphany.

This ends my homily but I was listening to Cardinal Dolan’s homily for Sunday and he made an interesting point.  The Magi  were looking for an adult king.  Imagine how surprised they were to find an infant!  You can listen to the Cardinal’s homily here.

Christmas

“‘for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joythat will be for all the people.  For today in the city of David a Savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.  And this will be a sign for you:  you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’  And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel praising God and saying ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.'”

 

Merry Christmas!

veggie tales

Thanksgiving

I will be busy tomorrow so I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving.   Tomorrow is a day set aside to give thanks for all our blessings.  It’s not a religious holiday per se, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and even atheists can certainly give thanks, each in their own way.

It’s so sad that the pursuit of the almighty dollar has pushed its way into this special day.  Stores will be open tomorrow, Thanksgiving, some as early as 6:00 am or possibly earlier to get as much of our money as they can before we spend it somewhere else.  My guess is that 2012 may be the last time that stores practice any restraint at all.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m an entrepreneur at heart with many years of retail experience under my belt.  There’s nothing wrong with doing your best to get your share of the consumer dollar.  In fact, back in the ’70s I had a big customer who was open on Thanksgiving and my family spent several Thanksgivings in a motel in Southeast Missouri waiting for dad to get back from work.  We were there all weekend and the kids enjoyed swimming in the indoor pool and mom enjoyed having the turkey dinner prepared and served by someone else.  But that was the exception.  It was a tradition with that particular retailer that went back many years.

Here’s the thing.  Most Americans have a budget for Christmas.  That’s what they’re going to spend.  Whether the big box stores force everyone to be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from now until December 24, or if they all get together and decide to be open from 9:00 – 5:00 Monday thru Friday, the spend isn’t going to change.  Extending “black Friday” until Thanksgiving becomes “black Thursday” isn’t going to increase the total pie.  But retailers, especially the big boxes have gotten the idea that they must get our money first before we spend it all.  For that, they’re willing to sacrifice our national day of thanks on the altar of greed.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving, with you family and friends, around the dining room table, in front of the television or the fireplace.  Of course, many churches have a Thanksgiving service and that’s a great way to start the day.  Don’t get sucked into the idea that the proper place to spend this special day is lined up for hours waiting for some store to open.  Besides, prices will be lower later on and you won’t have to sleep on the sidewalk or fight the crowds.

The Twelfth Day of Christmas

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The Gospel for today is the story of the loaves and the fishes.  Of course this famous story is the precursor of the Eucharist.  Jesus fed the crowd with a small amount of food with enough left over for each of the disciples to have a wicker basket full of the leftovers.

Father Thomas Merton had this t0 say about the Eucharist in his book, The Living Bread:

“Now in the sacrament of the Eucharist, precisely, when we ask the question [What is this?] of the consecrated Host, we must listen to the answer of faith, which responds in the words of Christ “This is my Body.”  The words “my Body” designate the only substantial being which is now present.  There no longer remains anything of the substance of bread.  We see the accidents of bread, but they contain the substance of the Body of Christ.”

The Eucharist may be one of the greatest tests of our faith.  It looks like bread.  It tastes like bread.  Common sense tells us that it must be just that, a simple combination of flour and water.  But Jesus said it was His Body.  If he lied to us about that, how can we believe anything else He said?

But He didn’t and doesn’t lie.  It’s Jesus’ inability to tell us a falsehood that makes our faith possible and tests our faith as well.  Face it, He made some pretty outrageous claims.  Some believed His words.  Some didn’t.  As we head into the final days of Christmas, we might want to examine our faith.  Without faith how can there be life?  The answer is that there can’t.  Everyone, even atheists, have faith in something.

We have faith that we’ll wake up tomorrow morning.  We have no proof.  We have faith.  We have faith that the car coming toward us at 60 miles per hour will stay in its own lane.  The driver could be drunk or could be talking on his or her cell phone and not paying attention.  Again, no proof.  Just faith.  The examples go on and on.

But if we have faith in God and in the words of His Son, then faith in anything else is trivial at best.  If we don’t wake up tomorrow or if that other driver does crash into us head-on, we know, through faith, that God has something better waiting for us.  How do we know?  I think you know the answer.

The Eleventh Day of Christmas

candle

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“The people who dwell in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.”

This quote from today’s Gospel is definitely applicable to 2010 as well as it was to the first century.  We live in a land overshadowed by death.  Abortion is the law of the land and it looks like you and I will soon have to pay for it with our tax dollars.  But we have seen a great light; at least those of us who are willing to see it.

As we begin a new year, it’s up to you and me to help others to see the light.  Jesus doesn’t call us to be just His followers.  He also calls us to be leaders.  There is nothing that we can do in this life that’s any greater than showing others the way.  We weren’t created to be passive Christians.  We can avoid a lot of sin by avoiding contact with others.  But as God said at the very beginning, “It’s not good for man to be alone.”

Those words, taken in context, were about the love of a man and a woman.  But they can be used just as well to tell us that we’re not on a solitary journey.  A wise person (my daughter, who was a teenager at the time) wrote in my breviary on my ordination day, “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.”

Seeing the light is just the first step.  Sharing the light is our highest calling.


Mary, the Mother of God

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Today we celebrate the Blessed Virgin as the Mother of God.  No, we don’t worship Mary as some of our separated brethren might think.  We worship only God.  But how can we worship Him and not hold His mother in the highest regard?  After all, even before she was born, God chose her to bear His son.

But even the Almighty Creator of the universe had to depend on Mary’s saying “yes” to a plan that must have seemed outrageous to such a young girl.  But she had the faith to submit to God’s will and bear the Son who would save us all.

One of my favorite songs at this time of year is called “Mary, Did You Know?”, especially when it says, “Mary, did you know that when you kiss your little baby that you kiss the face of God?”  What a great line.

But couldn’t you say the same thing to any mother?  Jesus is present in all of us and every little baby’s face is the face of God.  As you celebrate this special day, look at a baby, at a mother, or especially at an expectant mother and recall this simple line.  It says so much in such a few words.

God bless all mothers, and especially our Blessed Mother, whose feast we celebrate today.

[Full disclosure.  My oldest son and my youngest son both informed us on the same day that we would again become grandparents next summer.  As you might imagine, I’m especially aware of the miracle of birth during this Christmas season.  God’s face is definitely part of our Christmas celebration this year.]

The Seventh Day of Christmas

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Even though the Catholic Church year began on November 30, the first Sunday of Advent, we all live and work according to the secular calendar making this the last day of 2009.  Some of us might say “good riddance”, and rightly so.

The New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day tradition in the US is to look back on “the year that was”.  We’ll hear the best songs of 2009 on the radio and TV will bombard us with “best of” and “worst of” lists of every imaginable kind.  Today and tomorrow might be a good time to compile our own “best” and “worst” lists for 2009.  Then we can make our plans for the new year.

How can we avoid the “worsts” in 2010 and how can we improve on the “bests”?  It’s certainly a worthwhile exercise as long as we remember one thing.  The first step of any improvement plan is to include God in the planning and in the execution.  No matter how many lists we make, or how many self-help books we read, if God isn’t included we’re unlikely to succeed.

So, to you and yours, a heartfelt prayer that 2010 may be the best year of your life to be followed by many more that are even better. See you next year!

Happy New Year!