(Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12)
Why do we love certain people more than others? … because of their goodness, perhaps, or their beauty? or might it be due to their understanding, sympathy, wisdom, strength, courage? We could go on trying to find such reasons but to no purpose, for the point is that we love someone because of who they are, because of their unique personality, as known and experienced by us. We cannot love someone who is personally unknown to us. Although we can admire what we know or hear of another, nevertheless, such admiration can only become true love after having met, personally encountered, and, in some measure, learned to personally appreciate, the other.
Since that is undoubtedly true, don't you think it strange that Christians and Catholics speak so little about the beauty, goodness, wisdom and love, of God? Ostensibly Christian witness, also, is too often couched in terms of an impersonal ethic: doing good to the needy and underprivileged; loving one’s neighbour and especially children; social involvement and comments in favour of international peace. Worthy people usually, promoting, as a rule, admirable projects and good proposals, but all too often with little to suggest a committed Christian giving convincing witness – even when perhaps necessarily implicit and indirect -- to the Faith as a source of hope and joy, a power for personal fulfilment and eternal salvation, for true social justice, international cooperation and cohesion, and for human advancement.
However, the heavenly fulfilment to which we all aspire as disciples of Jesus will not be ours just because we have kept what acknowledged rules demanded of us or general expectations desired of us: the ultimate criterion for the Christian and Catholic appreciation of our whole life will be "Did you love (or sincerely try to love) the Lord your God with your whole mind, heart, soul, and strength?" Without such personal love for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, our Christian life can only be -- and inevitably appear to be -- bleak and formal, our Christian witness only lifeless and uninspiring; all in stark contrast to the words of the prophet Isaiah we heard in the first reading:
Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you.
Christians -- above all we who are privileged to be Catholics -- should indeed shine out because we are called both to reflect, and make known, the glory of the Lord which has shone upon us through our faith in the Good News of Jesus. We are not like our brothers, the Jews and the Muslims. They speak of God: at times, they speak good, holy, and beautiful things about God; indeed the Jews speak of Him in ways very close, at times, to our own appreciation. And yet, the Christian faith is so much more glorious than either Judaism or Islam: for we speak not only of the external glory of God, but of the supreme and unimaginably beautiful Personal beatitude of the Father, with His Son, in the Holy Spirit; a beatitude in which we can hope to share in and through Jesus our Saviour, Son of Man and God Incarnate.
We do not know God simply because He has spoken inspiring words through His prophets; nor do we praise Him just because He has reportedly done great and wonderful deeds; above all, we confess, love and worship God, as Father, Son and Spirit: the Father Whose voice is our most secret and original calling, and whose Presence will be our ultimate destiny; the Son Who took our flesh and became our Brother that He might show Himself as our Saviour, and Who, to this very day, continues to give Himself as flesh and blood for you and me to eat and drink in Mother Church, thereby enabling us to live with His life, by His Spirit; and the Holy Spirit Whom we love and praise, in Whom we trust and rejoice, since He is ever with us as our Advocate, our strength and comfort, our light and guide, our hope and our joy.
People of God, today's great solemnity of the Epiphany, the shining forth of God's glory, especially invites us to glory in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, by telling us, in the words of the prophet Isaiah:
Lift up your eyes all round (that is, appreciate the Faith you profess and the Church in which you live); then you shall see and become radiant, and your heart shall swell with joy.
Jesus came to teach us with Him to recognize and in Him to appreciate the Father as a Person, His Father, our Father; He gave us His own Spirit -- comforting and encouraging our hearts, enlightening and strengthening our minds -- to form us in Jesus, and in His likeness, for the Father:
When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; He will tell you things to come.
The Spirit also helps in our weaknesses; for we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. (John. 16:13; Romans 8:26)
The Father is so personally committed to us that, having given His only Son for us, He speaks to each of us personally and most secretly that we might turn to Jesus and find our salvation in Him:
No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:44)
He looks for, and expects in return, a similarly personal and whole-hearted response and commitment from us. Jesus assures us that the Father wants to be our most perfect Father:
It is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. (Matthew 10:20)
And He wants to be recognized and loved -- in Spirit and in Truth -- by children who will ultimately have learned to lay down their lives and confidently turn to Him, saying in deepest trust and self-abandonment: "Abba, Father"
Our Lord Jesus is indeed the Messiah foretold by the prophets; proclaimed by angels and manifested by a star at His birth; revealed by the Father at His baptism in the Jordan; He is, indeed, the Messiah come to change the water of our life into the finest wine. And this wonderful Jesus Who died on Calvary for our individual sins -- yours and mine -- rose on the third day for the salvation of all; and from His throne in heaven now embraces us so closely to Himself that we live in Him and by His Spirit given to each of us at our baptism in Mother Church, and to be continually honoured and increasingly reverenced in us by our faithful living as her children, and, above all, to be most gratefully and lovingly refreshed and renewed by our reception of the Eucharist at Holy Mass.
And then, this Holy Spirit -- relating to each and every one of us individually – works His divine purposes in the secret depths of our minds and hearts forming and attuning us to recognize and appreciate His presence and urging us to respond to His inspirations. Indeed, He is so personal to us that it is His task to lead each one of us to our own individual and personal fulfilment and perfection in Jesus for the Father.
People of God, Christians and even Catholics today are often afraid of the wonders of our faith. Many, each according to their own make-up, want to imagine what they can easily accept or appreciate: some, a distant God Who demands, not personal communion and commitment in love, but merely the impersonal observance of laws, such as Sunday Mass, baptism, first Communion etc.; others like to fancy a God who is so like us as to be satisfied with actions serving no higher aims than those largely humanistic ideals of doing good to everyone so that we may all live in peace and prosperity. They want to be able to tick-off the laws they have complied with, or tot-up the accepted good things they have done; and this, because they cannot bear to feel unsure of themselves, because they are afraid to trust totally in God’s merciful goodness and in His unknown plans and future purposes for us.
Jesus, however, came to lift His disciples up to heavenly glory, lift them up, that is, with Himself, from human nothingness and need, as experienced by Himself on Calvary, through selfless trust and unconditional love, to share with Him in the depths of divine charity where Father, Son and Holy Spirit are eternally and indivisibly one. For we belong to Jesus, as St. Paul tells us, just as Jesus belongs to God; our relationship with God is that personal:
For all things are yours, whether (it be the Church) or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (1 Cor. 3:21-4:1)
There, in the Son, by the Holy Spirit, caught up into the mystery of the personal charity uniting the Most Holy Trinity, and echoing the songs of myriads of angels, you and I are called to personally share in the great, eternal, and unimaginable, ecstasy of praise to the glory of Him Who, as St. Paul (Eph. 4:6) tells us, is:
The one God and Father of all, Who is over all, through all, and in all.