"The obedience of the star calls us to imitate its humble service: to be servants, as best we can, of the grace that invites all men to find Christ."
~ Saint Leo the Great, pope
(from the Office of Readings for the Solemnity of the Epiphany)
Homily: Solemnity of the Epiphany – Cycle C
You all know Fr. Mike, right? Now, I know that you all will think that I am taking advantage of his not being here this week, but we’re going to talk about Fr. Mike a little. One of the things that impressed me about Fr. Mike (well, I should say that it shocked me at first, but then I was impressed) was his lack of inhibition with talking to strangers about their religious lives. During my first weeks here, Fr. Mike took me around to different places in order to get me orientated to business related stuff in the parish (you know, like putting my signature on file at banks and things like that). At almost every stop, he would inquire into the religious life of the person who was helping us.
Being a newly ordained priest, I wasn’t yet used to the fact that walking around with a collar on basically gives you a free pass to talk to people about religion and so I was a little bit shocked when Fr. Mike would ask these strangers if they went to church and if so what church they went to. Almost just as shocking, however, was that fact that multiple times the answer was “no, I’ve never gone to church.” Did you hear that? It wasn’t “oh, I was going to this church, but I stopped,” rather, it was “I’ve never gone to church.” Talking about this later with Fr. Mike, he assured me that this was a rather typical response from people: that many people here in Cass County have been growing up completely “unchurched.”
The three wise men—a.k.a. the Magi—were also “unchurched,” (at least in the Judeo-Christian sense of the term). These kings from the east were astronomers and probably practiced some sort of pagan religion (if they practiced any religion at all). Thus, they knew little to nothing about a God who purportedly had chosen a specific people, living in the land of Canaan, to be his own people and that this God had promised to send them a Messiah, a king who would rule on the throne of one of their great forefathers. What they did know, however, was that the appearance of a great star in the sky was an indication that a great king had been born.
Thus, when these three kings from the orient saw the great star appear in the west, they knew what it meant. And even though they were pagans, they were good men and, thus, they knew that it would be right to make a journey to find this newborn king and to pay him homage, bringing him kingly gifts to honor him.
Here a couple of thousand years later, we find ourselves at a bit of a disadvantage to those kings. We live in an age when rulers—that is, those who govern societies—are chosen from among the people whom they will rule. In other words, we elect our government officials (like we did, for better or for worse, this past November). This is what we are used to. Back in the time of the Magi, however, great rulers were born—that is, destined from infancy to be royalty—and great natural signs were often cited as accompanying their births as a signal that the child’s destiny had been ordained by God. We, as a people, however, have decided that it would be better if we relied more on our reason; choosing our government leaders based on what we perceive to be their merits, rather than on the interpretation of some natural sign.
As a result, we have generations of people who have stopped looking for signs. In other words, we have generations of people who have stopped believing in God’s providential presence among us and have come to rely completely on themselves to make decisions in their lives. Thus, there are many people—including many who live around us here in Cass County—who are fumbling in the dark, trying to make sense of life without the providential guidance of God, which is readily available to them! The only thing that keeps them fumbling in the dark is that they haven’t seen a light bright enough to break into the darkness and lead them out of it.
In the first reading today, we heard the prophet Isaiah proclaim to the people, “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.” My brothers and sisters, this message applies to us today just as much as it did to the Israelites over two-thousand years ago. We, the Church, are the New Jerusalem; the city on which God’s light shines. Thus, we are called to be a light to the nations, to those stumbling in darkness around us. Yet, for the most part, it seems, we are content to cover up that light as we walk out of this place so that those walking in darkness never see it. We refuse to engage friends and neighbors—and often even our own family members—about faith, about what we believe, and about how what we believe makes a positive difference in our lives. We refuse to pray in public, even if it is just a small prayer of blessing over a meal in a restaurant. No, even though we receive life itself when we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus from this altar, we are content to let those walking in darkness to remain in darkness because we worry that they would be offended if we talked to them about it (or, worse yet, that they would start asking us about our faith).
My brothers and sisters, the world desperately needs another star, like the one those wise men saw nearly two-thousand years ago. The world needs a new Epiphany! Our task as those who profess Christ as Lord is to be that epiphany. In other words, we are called to be that star, shining brighter than any other star, that catches the attention of those dwelling in darkness and leads them to an encounter with Christ: an encounter that will manifest the light of salvation for them so that they may live in the joy that comes from knowing him.
My brothers and sisters, this is the new evangelization that the Pope has called for, but it won’t happen overnight. In order to be that star for others, we first need to renew and deepen our own faith. This Year of Faith is the perfect opportunity to do that. Our parish is offering many different opportunities for you each to learn more about our faith (like the Catholicism series and Theology on Tap) and there are a multitude of other resources out there that you can take advantage of (such as videos, books, websites… in short, whatever works best for you to learn). By this intentional effort to renew and deepen our faith, we will grow in confidence in the truth of our faith. When that confidence grows, so too will grow a desire to share our faith with others; in other words, our desire to be that star for others will grow.
Friends, we need a sense of urgency about this. You know, we almost had the end of the world last month! Praise God that we didn’t because just think of all of the people that would have been lost! I mean, seriously: think of all of the people we know who would have been lost to the fires of hell because we refused to share Christ’s light with them. I can name three right off the bat: my cousin Joe, my friend Jake, and my sister’s husband Jason. My guess is that most of us can at least think of one. If so, please pray for that person. Pray also for God’s wisdom to know how he may be calling you to share his light with that person. Then pray for the courage to do it. My friends, I promise you, God will not fail to answer these prayers.
First things first, however. First, we need to come to Christ ourselves to honor him as our King and the good news is that he will be appearing before us soon, here on this altar. O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January 6, 2013
Solemnity of the Epiphany