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Friday, 5 January 2018

Epiphany 2018

The Epiphany of Our Lord (2018)

(Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12)

This great solemnity of the Epiphany evokes the majesty, glory, and power, of the Promised One Who comes: a majesty testified to by the Father Himself speaking from heaven at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan; a glory manifested and confirmed again by the voice of the Father at His Transfiguration of Jesus on the mount; a super-abundant power and saving compassion displayed at the wedding feast of Cana where Jesus inconspicuously changed water into rich and copious new wine.  These signs, not only of Jesus’ majesty, glory and power, buy also of His sympathy and compassion, give us unshakeable confidence that what Jesus has promised, He can and will fulfil in and for His Church, in and for you and me gathered here today to praise His most Holy Name. 

As you heard in the Gospel reading, this humble Lord of majesty, glory, and power, is the One to Whom the heavens themselves -- nature’s primeval powers -- gave obedient witness by means of the guiding star; the One Whom the inspired prophets and the ancient scriptures had foretold would come, even disclosing the very place of His birth, Bethlehem in the land of Judah; the One recognized and worshiped by the Magi -- the first-fruits of the Gentiles -- as supreme King, Prophet, and Priest.  Yes indeed, we worshiping People of God are in tune with creation itself, and are united with our ancient fathers and all who, throughout the ages, have humbly searched for God to the best of their abilities; and, being endowed with such a privilege, we have very, very good reason to rejoice on this most holy day.

Our Blessed Lord and Saviour does not reserve this His glory to Himself, as a right understanding of our first reading shows:

Rise up in splendour, Jerusalem (Mother Church)! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.   See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears His glory. Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.

In these days of scandals, contradiction and rejection, we must never forget the truth of Isaiah’s prophecy, for Mother Church is -- even today -- supremely privileged as the spouse of Christ: for her proclamation of Jesus’ Gospel still enables whole peoples surrounded by the darkness of this world to walk safely and surely by the Holy Spirit along the way of Jesus’ teaching; and the shining radiance of her saints is further inspiration for those called by God to themselves triumph by the Spirit and reign with Jesus over the sin of the world.

Let us consider those prophetic words a little more closely:

          Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.

Mother Church can, and does, enrich the world with her proclamation of the truth of Jesus; nevertheless, besides the light of Mother Church’s teaching, the shining radiance of her people’s lives is required that the nations may be brought to walk with confidence and joy in the footsteps of the Lord.   That means, that all of us, each and every ordinary member of the Church. has a necessary role to play in enabling her to fulfil the commission given her by the Lord Jesus to continue in our world today the work of salvation that He started by His own life, death, and resurrection.  How are we to rise to such a calling?

Jesus once told the Samaritan woman asking Him for the water of life:

You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed, the Father seeks such people to worship Him. (John 4:22s.)

The world around us does indeed worship what it does not understand … money and power, pleasure and plenty, self-satisfaction and popular esteem, all so harmful to the well-being of modern, sin-weakened men … while rejecting and mocking that true salvation coming from those ‘Jews’ who believe in Jesus and live by His Spirit, as St. Paul teaches (Romans 2:28s., Philippians 3:3):

One is not a Jew outwardly. True circumcision is not outward, in the flesh.   Rather, one is a Jew inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, not the letter.

We are the (true) circumcision, we who worship through the Spirit of God, who boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put our confidence in flesh.

However, let us not truncate Jesus’ words for, having denied the world’s gospel and exposed its false gods, He went on to tell us how we can show forth the shining radiance of Mother Church:

The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed, the Father seeks such people to worship Him.

That is the only, worthy, programme we can set before ourselves as disciples of Jesus in the world of today, to worship the Father in Spirit and Truth, that is, to worship the Father in the Spirit and according to the Truth of Jesus’ Good News.

The Word of God, the Good News of Jesus’ proclamation made during His time on earth and continuing in His Church through all ages and all lands, is a word that does not return empty to God:

The word that goes forth from My mouth shall not return to Me void, but shall do My will, achieving the end for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)

That means, that if we hear and embrace the truth of Jesus’ Good News in sincerity, seeking to understand, love, and serve Him, and thus come to knowledge of the One Who sent Him; that is, if we sincerely seek Jesus and not ourselves, then that Word, that Truth, will achieve the end for which it has been passed down for our hearing and will set the Spirit at work in us: the Spirit of prayer Who supplies for our inability to pray at times, the Spirit of power Who enables us to do what is beyond our natural powers. 

Having found Jesus and worshiped Him in Spirit and in Truth, the Magi did not find it hard to leave without meeting Herod again.  There was much splendour awaiting them in Herod’s palace, there were many gifts on his tables and flattery a-plenty from his own lips and those of his courtiers, but what was that in comparison with the peace and joy they had just experienced in the cave at Bethlehem?  Could those who there had been so privileged to hear or hear of the angels’ chorus, ever want to hear, let alone be seduced by, the siren music of Herod’s dancers and the lascivious pleasures of scents and cushions, voluptuousness and wine?

For all who have made the Magi’s trip to Bethlehem and have begun to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth, the following words of St. Paul (Philippians 3:13s.) express all that is necessary and desirable:

Forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.

However, it is essential for us in the present troubled times for Mother Church to realize just what we are meant to be fighting against … what programme of Jesus we are called to give our lives (and deaths!) to furthering.

The stark challenge of Jesus to the world of today is the same as that which He made abundantly clear to the leaders and people of the Jewish theocracy at the beginning of His public ministry: He had come to destroy sin in the Chosen People’s practice of their divinely-covenanted faith, and – for love of His own Person, and through faith in His spoken words and in the Father Who had sent Him to speak those words – to eradicate sin from the hearts and minds of His authentic disciples by the Gift of His own most Holy Spirit and the solemn promise of eternal life as children of God.

That challenge of Jesus is Mother Church’s commission, her work in and for the world of today.  She must seek to destroy sin in the religious, social, political, and economic world man has created, and to do that she must seek to destroy sin in individual men, and above all in each and every one of us who profess ourselves proud to have received our Catholic inheritance.

Mother Church’s task today is not to re-convert peoples who have tasted and rejected Christianity, by making things easier, cosier, more natural (not so super-natural!), for their practice.  Her task now is to propose to all men and women of good will the glory of Jesus   proclaimed by the Apostles and maintained throughout the ages by her dogmatic Tradition and her enduring response of disciplined obedience; to help men and women of today look humbly at Jesus and -- glimpsing something of His Personal goodness, beauty, and truth -- to gladly and gratefully recognize their own suffering from sin, yes, their own sinfulness, and to joyfully accept the privilege of being able to hope for the purity of  eternal life in Jesus, by the Spirit, as prospectively glorious members of God the Father’s heavenly family.

As you therefore seek in all sincerity to keep fresh in your hearts and hear ever-anew in Mother Church the Word of God, the star that God’s unfailing Word will most certainly cause to rise for you and within you -- usually without you noticing it – will guide you if you try to follow it as did the Magi of old. 

People of God -- you chosen of the Father -- let that leading light draw you to worship Jesus whole-heartedly as the Father expects of each of you personally.  In that way your meeting with Jesus will be one of incomparable joy for you; and, as you give your gifts to Him you will begin to find your true selves, each of you being gradually trans-formed into a unique likeness of the Son, by the Holy Spirit, and as a personal gift for the Father, one to be endowed with a family place of honour at His eternal banquet of divine love.