The Epiphany (2013)
It is commonly thought that the technical language of some Church documents and theological writings makes them not only largely meaningless but can even lead to spiritual indifference for ordinary Catholics. And yet, because, such doctrinal terminology has been finely tuned over many centuries by some of the greatest minds and the deepest hearts among the disciples of Christ, in many cases it most subtly articulates and protects supremely beautiful truths about God and His great goodness toward men, truths well able to kindle ardent flames of divine love and glowing words of divine praise from faithful men and women still to be found who, in even these most modern times, are able to quieten their multitudinous thoughts and distractions long enough for them to dispassionately hear, thoughtfully appreciate, and gratefully learn from the teaching of Mother Church.
Our God is uniquely transcendent in all His perfections, such is the teaching of both Christian philosophy and Catholic dogma: He cannot be contained within any limits because He is infinite, and infinity is limitless: He is the Almighty and the All Holy, whose sovereign Power sublimely sustains and gives expression to His incomparable Wisdom and supreme Goodness.
In line with such appreciations of God we find in today’s Gospel reading that the Magi first became aware of the proximate birth of the Christ through the appearance of an extraordinarily bright star in the heavens; whereupon, they set out without delay to follow its lead, taking with them incense for the most holy Being announced by this new heavenly phenomenon. Their high expectations, were to be super-abundantly confirmed later by certain shepherds who reported an angel having appeared to them -- as they were watching over their sheep in the fields -- proclaiming the birth of a most Holy Child; and, moreover, that a veritable multitude of the heavenly host had thereupon joined the angel, singing the praises of God and the glory of this Child, using words which enabled the Magi to recognize Him as the Holy One Whose star they had been so diligently following: words speaking of and echoing round the heavens where their guiding star had first appeared:
Glory to God in the highest.
The Magi, following the lead of the star, expected to find the One they were seeking among the highest on earth, that is, in Jerusalem, the city where the great God of Israel had chosen to dwell; perhaps, indeed, at the court of him who was the present Rome-favoured king of this Chosen People and builder of their glorious Temple which was one of the wonders of the Roman world. And, in line with such expectancy, they had brought with them a second gift; this time, one of royal gold.
They had been well received by Israel’s king, Herod, who, after having summoned and enquired of his most learned scribes and scholars, priests and sages, encouraged the Magi in their search for the Child with an oracle taken from the age-old Jewish scriptures:
You, Bethlehem, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.
The Magi, therefore, proceeded confidently in their search for the Child by continuing to follow the heavenly star of great beauty in accordance with the ancient oracle and the royal encouragement given them in the great and holy city of Jerusalem where the One to come was clearly foreknown, anxiously expected, and, it would seem, reverently desired.
However, since no limits can be set to God’s perfections, although He is indeed limitlessly in majesty, He is also limitless in humility: being greater than all, yet there is none more lowly than He. Therefore, when the Magi eventually arrived at the spot over which the star itself seemed to have stopped, they saw, to their surprise, that it was nothing more than a house or shelter containing a manger:
They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the young Child with Mary His mother. They prostrated themselves and did Him homage.
This was not what they had expected to find, and yet, turning to open up and offer their gifts, they realized how wondrously wise had been the Power that had inspired and brought them thus far. For, opening their treasures, they revealed the thoughts that had led them to carefully chose their special offerings; not only frankincense for the holy and gold for the great, but also myrrh, essential indeed for the anointing of one specially chosen, but also – and this was not part of their intention -- much appreciated for the weak to be embalmed in their embrace of death, and for the lowly and rejected to be succoured and comforted in their pain and distress:
They brought Jesus to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it; and then they crucified Him. (Mark 15:22-24)
Nicodemus came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. (John 19:39-40)
People of God, today we celebrate the Epiphany, the manifestation of the glory and majesty of Jesus. I hope that, having now come to some appreciation of the rich content of the technical terminology used in the Church’s teaching at times, you are aware that the glory and the power, the majesty and the beauty, of Jesus in all His perfections, in no way excludes you; because those perfections extend -- so to speak -- down as well as up. God is the greatest, He is also the least; supremely majestic, and yet there is none so humble. In the Eucharist here at Mass He offers Himself to be our very own, heavenly food, while on every hand He supports the whole of creation and is worshipped by myriads of angels; He reigns in majesty and bliss and yet none, be they ever so lowly, suffer what He, their Lord and Master cannot, or will not, share for their comfort and saving. In His omnipotent power, He is the first and the last, the beginning and the end of all things; in His wisdom He pervades the heights and the depths, He surveys all times and seasons, past, present, and to come. Above all, He knows our minds and hearts in all their twists and turns wherein even we ourselves are frequently at a loss. This He can do because of His great love, the love whereby He originally made us in His own likeness, and the yet greater love whereby He remade us, when He sacrificed His Son for our salvation, Who subsequently rose on the third day for our glorification, before endowing Mother Church with His Father’s Promise -- His own most Holy Spirit -- for our personal sanctification and gradual re-formation in His likeness as children of the Father.
People of God, let us understand aright the essence of this divine celebration and manifestation which is the Epiphany: our God is unique, infinite, and transcendent, in His perfections; and yet all His perfections are such as to be summed up by these three words of St. John, God is love.
For those still daunted and somewhat put-off by the technological scholarship required for the doctrinal expression and defence of God-given truth as well as its theological understanding and development, let love explain all: because love sustains all, love inspires all. Love, and love alone – divine love, that is, to be rightly appreciated and appropriately understood -- embraces all that Mother Church teaches, all that the Scriptures contain, and all the human mind can ever aspire to understand and appreciate about Jesus, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and for the supreme glory of Him Who is the God and Father of us all.