It is commonly thought that the technical terminology of some Church documents and theological writings makes them not only largely meaningless but even conducive 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 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 worldly worries and the multitudinous noises and distractions of society around them long enough for them to dispassionately listen to, thoughtfully appreciate, and gratefully learn from the teaching of Mother Church.
Our God is unique and 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 expresses and sustains 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 and without delay, they set out to follow its lead, bearing as their first gift, incense for the most holy Being announced by this new heavenly phenomenon. Their high expectations were to be abundantly confirmed by certain shepherds – mentioned by Saint Luke -- who reported that, as they were watching over their sheep in the fields during the night, an angel from heaven appeared to them proclaiming the birth of One most Holy, and that a veritable multitude of the heavenly host thereupon joined the angel, singing the praises of God and the glory of the Child Whom the Magi had been so diligently seeking, with the words:
Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth.
The Magi, having long followed the lead of the star from heaven, had 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. Consequently, in line with this 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, confidently proceeded in their search for the Child by continuing to follow the star of great beauty in accordance with the ancient oracle, taking grateful advantage of the royal encouragement given them in the holy city of Jerusalem where the One to come was clearly foreknown, expected, and -- it would seem -- reverently desired.
However, since no limits can be set to God’s perfections, though God is indeed limitlessly in majesty, He is also limitless in humility: He is greater than all, yet there is none more lowly than He. Therefore, when the Magi eventually arrived at the spot over which their guiding star seemed to have stopped, they saw -- to their surprise indeed, but not to their dismay -- that there was little more to be seen than a house or shelter containing a manger, in which:
They saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him.
This was not what they had expected to find, and yet, turning to take up and offer their gifts, they realized how wondrously wise had been the Power that had brought them thus far; for, bringing forth their gifts, they found – as intended -- not only frankincense for the holy and gold for the great, but also myrrh, essential indeed -- and again intended -- for the anointing of high priests and kings, and also – and this was quite unintentional -- much appreciated for the weak who need to be embalmed in death, and for the lowly and rejected who need succour and comfort in their pain and distress:
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)
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)
People of God, today we celebrate the Epiphany, the celebration of the glory and majesty of Jesus. However, I hope that, having come to some appreciation of the rich content of the technical terminology used in the Church’s teaching at times, you are now 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 down as well as up, so to speak: 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 as bread and wine to be our spiritual food, and yet His power is such that He supports the earthly being of all that is around us, while His eternal majesty is worshipped by myriads of angels in heaven. He reigns in glory and bliss, and yet none -- be they brought ever so low in the bitterness of their sufferings – endure any torment or degradation that He, their Lord and Master, will not take upon Himself and share with them for their comfort and salvation. In His omnipotent power He is the first and the last, the beginning and the end of all; in His wisdom He pervades the heights and the depths as 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 so frequently and disastrously at a loss. This He can do because of His great love: the love that originally led Him to make us in His own likeness, and the love whereby He remade us when -- having sacrificed Himself in our flesh for our redemption -- He endowed us with His own most Holy Spirit.
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 myriad perfections; and yet all His perfections can be summed up by these three words of St. John: God is love. All the divine perfections are varied manifestations of His essential love, and so, divine charity and Jesus’ love for humankind is the key that gently opens for our understanding and gratitude all God’s wondrous doings and awesome plans.
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 – embraces and supports all that Mother Church teaches, all the saving and inspiring wisdom that her Holy Scriptures contain, and all that the human mind can ever rise to understand and come to appreciate about Jesus our Saviour – Son of God and Son of man -- under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and for the glory of Him Who is the God and Father of us all.