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Friday, 6 January 2017

The Epiphany 2017

The Epiphany (2017)
(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 to us perhaps, for their physical or moral 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 so many leading Catholic and Christian speakers seem more adept at addressing politicians than their own Catholic/Christian people. We hear Christmas messages full of social and political concerns but with little attention being given to the Lord Jesus Himself directly and Personally envisaged, let alone known and loved ….. so little witnessing to the full pleroma of Christian Faith as a spiritual power capable of bestowing on its faithful believers not merely present purpose, patience, and power as a prelude to the joys of eternal salvation, but also as the unique source of hope for the unity, peace, and fulfilment of mankind.
Likewise, and perhaps as a result, ordinary Christian aspirations and witness are too often couched in terms of an impersonal ethic: doing good to the needy and underprivileged; loving one’s neighbour and especially children.  And the social involvement of the general public is determined less by any Christian imperative than by political correctness and the currently most acceptable mantra which is ‘anti-racism’, allied to the most currently feared and rabidly used personal accusation, of being ‘racist’. 
However, the heavenly fulfilment to which we all aspire as disciples of Jesus will not be ours just because we have observed what generally approved rules demanded of us or what popular expectations desired of us: the ultimate criterion for the Christian and Catholic appreciation of our whole life will be "Did you love (or sincerely search for and try to love) the Lord your God with your whole mind, heart, soul, and strength?"   Without such personal and loving aspiration toward the Lord Jesus, toward the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, our Christian witness can only be -- and inevitably appear to be -- bleak and formal, 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 to 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 fellow believers in God, 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 and the Holy Spirit in the sublime intimacy of the Most Holy Trinity; a beatitude to which we (!!) are called and hope we can actually come to share in, through the coming of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,  the Son of God made Man incarnate that we might become heavenly in Him.
We do not know God simply because He has spoken inspiring words through His prophets; nor do we praise Him just because He has done great and wonderful deeds, past or present; we confess and worship God, as One known and to-be-loved as Father, Son and Spirit: as Father Whose voice is our most secret and original calling, and in Whose Presence and before Whose face we will find our ultimate destiny; as Son sent by the Father to take our flesh and become our Brother that He might show Himself to be our Self-sacrificing Saviour, Who, to this very day, continues to give Himself as flesh and blood for us to eat and drink in Mother Church, thereby enabling us to live in Him, with Him, for those salvific purposes for which He Himself was originally sent; as the Holy Spirit, in Whom we trust, hope, and find peace of mind and heart  since He is ever with us as our Advocate, our strength and comfort, our light and our guide.
People of God, today's great solemnity of the Epiphany -- the shining forth of God's glory -- especially invites us to glory in and give glory to 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, that with Him and in Him we might learn to recognize and appreciate, to love and serve, the One Who sent Him, the One Who gave Him to us, as the Father, His Father and our Father; Jesus shares with us His own Most Holy Spirit -- comforting and encouraging our hearts, enlightening and strengthening our minds -- to form us in Himself, and in His own 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, and One with, us that, having given His only Son for all of us, He now speaks to each of us individually and most secretly that we might turn to Jesus and embrace the salvation being offered us 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 (Matthew 10:20):
It is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.
And He wants to be recognized and loved -- in Spirit and in Truth -- by children who will learn ultimately, in Jesus by the Spirit, to lay down their lives confidently, turning to Him with total trust and self-abandonment, saying: "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 He now embraces us and draws us so closely to Himself that we, though still on earth, live in Him and He in us by His Spirit given to each of us at our baptism in Mother Church: a discipleship of deepest intimacy to be most gratefully and lovingly refreshed and renewed by our reception of the Eucharist at Holy Mass.
And now, Jesus’ 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, His task is 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 his or her own make-up, prefer to imagine what they can easily accept or understand: 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 people so that we may all live in peace and prosperity; they want to be able to tick-off laws they have complied with, or tot-up popularly-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 sublime heights 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 Corinthians 3:21-4:1)
There, in the Son, by the Holy Spirit, caught up into the mystery of Personal Charity uniting the Most Holy Trinity, and echoing the songs of myriads of angels, you and I are called to most gratefully share in that great, eternal, and unimaginable ecstasy of praise to the glory of Him Who, as St. Paul (Ephesians 4:6) tells us, is:
        The one God and Father of all, Who is over all, through all, and in all.