I guess my favorite time of the year is Christmas, because of the immense beauty and awe-inspiring humility of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Not surprisingly, that’s probably the case for many people, as well. However, I also love the celebration, theology, and whole tradition surrounding the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, which used to be celebrated as an octave or celebration for 8 days, as is the case with Christmas and Easter. The whole story of the Coming of the Magi is loaded with love, drama, intrigue, and a desire to manipulate and slaughter our “tiny, vulnerable” Savior.
The first reading of the Holy Mass is from the prophet Isaiah, written during the Babylonian Captivity of 605-539 B.C. There were actually three deportations of the Jews across the desert, which is dated, approximately 605, 597 and 587 B.C. respectively and three “returns,” beginning in 539 B.C. and ending in 444 B.C. This was an exile that lasted about 70 years in Babylon and which took another 100 years to be fully restored. It was during this time period 2nd Isaiah or pseudo-Isaiah was prophesying and writing to the Jews in Exile. It was one of the darkest periods in Jewish history. So when Isaiah is saying “rise up in splendor, Jerusalem, your light has come.” I would be saying, what light? If this is the “glory of the Lord” shining upon me, take it away or turn up the brightness so I can see it. But, that is the faith inspired hope he is giving them while recognizing their present darkness and that “thick clouds cover the peoples.” At times in our lives it can feel that we are indeed in darkness and that spiritually “thick clouds” are covering our minds and hearts making it difficult to “see” the light of hope or even pray. Perhaps you have suffered some great difficulties this year and can’t relate to Isaiah’s faith. Amidst the troubles we can, with God’s grace, become a “shining radiance” even when all we can feel is loss, deprivation, pain, and suffering. The prophet was reminding them of God’s love for them and that He has not abandoned them, but actually it was they who abandoned Him and brought this upon themselves. Even amidst the Exile – look around you God is among you, you have not been slaughtered and will come back again, stronger from your desolation. Isaiah is not only prophesying about the great “return” from Babylon, but an even Greater Coming, that of the long awaited Messiah.
These words of Isaiah are important for us Catholics to remember, as well, because they are not just for Israel, but also for the Church, the New Jerusalem, as we are awaiting the Second Coming of Christ. We groan in anticipation awaiting the Coming of our Bridegroom. Jesus is the Bridegroom and the Church is the Bride. We are an anointed covenantal people who are supposed to have a special relationship with God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ. St. Paul reminds us of this in the second reading in his Letter to the Ephesians. He calls us to be good stewards of the divine grace God has bestowed upon us. Part of this stewardship is to protect the precious gift of Divine Grace within us through frequent reception of the Holy Sacrament of Reconciliation, Holy Mass every Sunday, Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, spiritual reading and some devotions. This will help our faith to grow and become more mature. Just as children need to study and do homework and practice for sports, we need to live and practice our faith. God, through St. Paul, reminds us non-Jews or Gentiles, who were made coheirs and “copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” We understand that the Coming of the Eastern Magi will signify that Jesus came as Messiah and Lord not only to the Jews, but the rest of the world, as well. St. John Paul II will expound on the St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, especially chapter five in his catechesis Theology of the Body. He will, in great detail, show the love between Christ and His Church mirrored or foreshadowed in the love between husband and wife in the Sacrament of Matrimony.
In the Gospel of St. Matthew 2:1-12, we get the account of the glorious Coming of the Eastern Magi. Some of the following notes and ideas I learned from listening to Bishop Barron’s talks on the Epiphany, which I highly recommend to you. Who and what were the “Magi?” Were they kings, astrologers, astronomers? Whatever they were doesn’t matter for our purposes here. Whatever they were – they were looking for God’s Presence and for God’s will in their lives. The Magi were trying to be attentive to God’s Presence, which we should be all the time, not just when it’s convenient for us. However, we get caught up with the distractions and busy-ness of life. Our jobs, anxieties, fears and worries become a drag or burden to us. For the Magi, the star was a sign to follow, to read, and to interpret. Sometimes we can notice the signs in our bodies, like pain, that there is something wrong and we can ignore it, medicate and suppress it or go to the doctor or priest and let an expert interpret the sign of pain: emotional, physical or spiritual. The Magi decided to do something about this celestial sign, which inferred a greater event on earth. The sign was pointing to something or someone, but who and what? So they took an arduous journey to follow the great sign. The journey took weeks and even months, perhaps. The journey would be fraught with dangers, such as the possibility of robbers, kidnappers, bad weather such as dust storms or worst. T.S. Eliot said of the Magi: “a hard coming they had of it.” They were educated in the stars, but they had to engage their will to go on the journey with the willingness to suffer privations and inconveniences, something many of us Western Catholics, including myself, have forgotten about in our secular culture of constant indulgence. It was neither a comfortable nor convenient journey. Many of us take travel for granted today and while modern travel is not perfect, it beats riding on the back of a camel or donkey as the Holy Family did and the Magi as well. They took the time to look for God! How much time do you or I spend in prayer looking for God? Calculate the amount of time you spend on the cell phone, video games, email, television, and sporting events and see how paltry the amount of time we have for Jesus. I too am poisoned by the world of convenience and entertainment being overly self-absorbed and self-focused, which is all so unfulfilling, isn’t it?
Isaiah’s words need to be remembered, because as Bishop Baron points out to us: for those Catholics who are on the right path to Christ, they must expect and accept the Cross, and opposition on the way. When good people are on the spiritual journey through Christ to God the Father, expect privations and many Satanic oriented roadblocks to be thrown in your path. True, honest disciples of Jesus Christ should expect opposition along the way, but fear not, many thousands of saints have shown us the way. However, the Light of God, Jesus Christ, has come to show us the way to the Father and He will always send His Spirit done on us to “overshadow us” and guide us. Remember you are anointed and will be given the grace to persevere, so be good stewards of that grace, God places within you, by protecting that grace from the poison of sin. But, the modern “Herod’s” of the world will try to manipulate you and undermine you as he tried to do with the Magi. He had no intention of going and doing “him homage.” His only diabolical intention was to kill based on fear. This was the same intention of Satan in the Garden of Eden at the dawn of Creation. He was trying to kill the Fatherhood of God in Adam. Pope St. John Paul II explains this very well in his catechesis called Men and Women He Created Them-A Theology of the Body. Oh how much Satan uses the secular culture to bully us to renounce Jesus Christ with threats. Jesus calls us to be “innocent as doves and wise as serpents.” Yes, we are called to have innocent, child-like virginal hearts focus on the Lord and the good of others, BUT be vigilant and attentive to see the Presence of God and the possible threats or traps from evil in your daily life.
The star was the sign to point to Christ. Once it reached Him, it rested over Him. The sign made them “overjoyed.” Yet, that was nothing compared to the experience of the One beyond the sign. When they came into The Presence of God Incarnate in baby Jesus “they prostrated themselves and did him homage.” The priest, through his sacred ordination, is called to be a sign leading you to The Presence in the Holy Eucharist. But, through our baptism and confirmations, true anointing, we are all called to be signs of God’s Presence in the world. The Magi came to Christ from one direction and left by “another way.” Venerable Fulton Sheen said no one who comes to Christ remains the same. But, we must be attentive and be present to Him who is trying to be present to and come to us. Get to Holy Mass early, allow yourselves to soak in the humble, Holy Presence of God in the Blessed Sacrament, not “if you can,” or “if it’s convenient.” It never will be convenient for us busy, important, overly self-absorbed Western Catholics. Let us do as the Magi did, come and humble ourselves before the awesome Real Presence of God veiled in sacramental “littleness.” All of us must learn in the School of Bethlehem and Nazareth to receive as baby Jesus did from Mary and Joseph and how Mary received Him in her womb at the Annunciation. We all need to learn how to receive love. St. John Paul II in Theology of the Body called this the Marian posture of receptivity modeled most perfectly in the female body. Think of the dangerous, long journey of the Magi, who only followed a star to guide them or the Holy Family who journeyed to Bethlehem and Egypt for you. Unless you journey along the Via Dolorosa with Christ, we have not truly traveled through Him, with Him, and in Him. Think of those words before pondering the awesome True Presence of Him in the Holy Eucharist. Have a Blessed Epiphany. Amen.
To Download a PDF Version of this Homily, Click Here: Epiphany – Year A
Father Tom DeSimone was ordained a priest on May 13, 2006, the Feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. He most recently served as Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in White Plains, NY. He served as the Spiritual Advisor and Director of Clergy Development at the Theology of the Body Institute from 2013-2016. Father Tom is from the Archdiocese of New York.