Sunday, January 6, 2013

Fr. Andersen's Epiphany Homily

A Homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart-St. Louis in Gervais, OR

January 6th, 2013 The Epiphany of the Lord

The Roman Martyrology for the eighth day in the Ides of January:

The Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, in which three manifestations of our great God and Lord Jesus Christ are recalled: In Bethlehem, the infant Jesus adored by the Magi; in the Jordan baptized by John, anointed by the Holy Spirit and called Son by God the Father; in Cana of Galilee at the wedding changing water into new wine He manifested His glory.

At Marianopolis, in the province of Quebec, Canada, Saint André (Alfred) Bessette, religious of the Congregation of Holy Cross who built a sanctuary as a token of honor to St. Joseph and cared for the same.

And elsewhere, many other holy martyrs, confessors, and holy virgins.

Thanks be to God.

The word ‘Epiphany’ refers to a manifestation. The Epiphany of the Lord is the manifestation of the Lord. So, for instance, we celebrate the Incarnation of the Lord on March 25th, which is the feast of the Annunciation. At the Annunciation, Mary conceived in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. At the moment of conception, the Eternal Son of the Father, Jesus Christ was made incarnate in her womb. Nine months later, on December 25th, at midnight, we celebrate the birth of the Word made flesh. Eight days after the birth, on January 1st, the Church commemorates the Circumcision of the Lord and His naming. At His circumcision, He receives the name of Jesus. Two days later, on January 3rd, the Church celebrates the feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus in honor of that event. The Church instructs all priests to bow our heads every time we say the name of Jesus during the Holy Mass and, by extension, at any time when we say the Most Holy Name of Jesus. We bow our heads at the Holy Name. You the faithful should always do the same.

Today, January 6th, we celebrate the Epiphany, or Manifestation of the Lord. The Roman Martyrology tells us that there are three manifestations recalled today: first, in Bethlehem, the infant Jesus adored by the Magi; second, in the Jordan baptized by John, anointed by the Holy Spirit and called Son by God the Father; and third, in Cana of Galilee at the wedding changing water into new wine He manifested His glory. All three of these manifestations are recalled and celebrated today. However, it seems that the Magi have captured our attention on this day. We honor them in a special way by moving the statues of the Three Wise Men to the Nativity set. The Church also honors them today by granting a special blessing of homes under their intercession.
I will bless chalk during this Mass that I will send home with you so that you can bless your homes with the Epiphany House Blessing. The Blessing itself can be done by the family together. The text of the Blessing is in the Bulletin, and I have extra copies of the blessing in English and in Spanish in the back for those who would like them. You will need a piece of chalk and some holy water to sprinkle around your house. So be sure to take some Holy Water home too. The Blessing can be done any time during the next week in what we call the season of Epiphany.

But there are two other manifestations that are recalled today: The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, and the manifestation of Jesus in changing water into wine at the wedding in Cana. The importance of Epiphany is so great that the Church will spend three weeks meditating upon this feast. Today we celebrate the Magi. Next Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, and the Sunday after that, we will proclaim the gospel of the Jesus changing water into wine at the Wedding in Cana.

Let us look now at the Magi. There is a prophecy in the Old Testament Book of Numbers given by a pagan prophet: Balaam, son of Beor, servant to the king of Moab. The King of Moab asks Balaam to curse Israel. “Balaam intends to do so, but God himself intervenes causing the prophet to proclaim a blessing upon Israel instead of a curse” (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, p. 91). This “non-Jew and …worshipper of other gods” (91) announced the following: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh: a star shall come forth out of Jacob and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel” (Num 24:17). Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has written about this in his new book: Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. He writes, “It is true that Balaam’s star is not a celestial body: the coming king is himself the star that shines upon the world and determines its fate” (92).
Because Balaam is a historical figure who is mentioned in extra-biblical sources, Pope Benedict says that “we may freely assume that this non-Jewish ‘pagan’ oracle would have circulated outside Judaism in some shape or form and would have set people thinking” (92). This leads us to the Magi. The Magi were foreigners. They were thought to be “strongly influenced by philosophy” (92). It is implied that the Magi have waited for a sign, and in fact they already know why they must follow the star. They seem to have heard this prophecy and follow the star in search of the newborn king. Thus the Magi are wise men and “in Saint Matthew’s Magi story, religious and philosophical wisdom is obviously an incentive to set off in the right direction, it is the wisdom that ultimately leads people to Christ” (93).

But a situation in which a prophecy would influence these men to leave everything to follow a star, tells us “they were a people of inner unrest, people of hope, people on the lookout for the true star of salvation. The men of whom Matthew speaks were not just astronomers. They were ‘wise’” (95). These men were on “a search for truth, a search for the true God and hence ‘philosophy’ in the original sense of the word” (95) which means a love of wisdom. That is why we call the Magi the three wise men. But why do we call them kings? We can 
look at Psalm Seventy-one. Verses ten and eleven say this: “The Kings of Tharsis and the islands shall offer presents: the kings of the Arabians and of Saba shall bring brings: and all kings of the earth shall adore him: all nations shall serve him” (Ps 71:10-11). We combine that with Isaiah chapter 60, which says this: “…the strength of the Gentiles shall come to thee. The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Madian and Epha: all they from Saba shall come, bringing gold and frankincense: and showing forth praise to the Lord” (Isaiah 60:5b-6).

What do we notice then about these wise men, the Magi, philosophers in search of truth and a love of wisdom? What do we notice about these three kings bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh? The prostrate themselves in worship before the child. St. John Chrysostom comments: “This Body, even lying in a manger, Magi reverenced. Yea, men profane and barbarous, leaving their country and their home, . . . set out on a long journey, and when they came, with fear and great trembling worshiped Him. Let us, then, at least imitate those Barbarians, we who are citizens of heaven” (quoted in Schneider, Dominus Est–It is the Lord!, 31). St. John Chrysostom has a good point. We who are Christians know Jesus to be God. We should not hesitate to fall down on our knees before Him. The Magi knew this without the grace of baptism or the sacraments. Let us adore Him in the Holy Eucharist by bending the knee before the Lord. Let us adore Him by bowing our heads at the very mention of His Name. Let us adore Him by receiving Holy Communion with the greatest reverence. If the Magi, who were barbarians prostrated themselves before Jesus without the grace of the Holy Spirit, then how much more should we adore Him––we who have received the light of the Holy Spirit and the gift of Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding by His grace. Let us imitate the three Wise Men. Come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord. 

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