Sunday, January 28, 2018

The authority of Jesus

Homily: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
          Last week we heard Jesus’ first words in the Gospel, according to Mark: “This is the time of fulfillment…”   In my homily, I reflected how Jesus was announcing that, with his coming onto the scene, the third age in human history had begun.  The first was the time of creation: lasting from the first word that God spoke to form light until the first sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, and their fall from grace.  The second age was the time of promise: lasting from that moment when God promised to raise up a descendant of Eve who would crush the head of the evil one and save us from sin and death until Jesus himself is born and begins his public ministry.  We are still living in this time of fulfillment, the third age, in which God has entered time and space in order to rescue it from destruction; and we await the coming of the fourth and final age: the age of glory, when Christ will return and evil, death, and sorrow will be banished from the universe forever.
          Very interesting, then, that we hear today the next “scene” from Mark’s Gospel and, right on the heels of Jesus’ proclamation that the “time of fulfillment” had begun, we see him do something new: “he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.”  Here, Jesus is indicating exactly what he proclaimed.  By teaching as one with his own authority—not as one who referenced the authority of rabbis who had gone before him, like the scribes all did—Jesus steps out of the box to indicate that something new, indeed, has begun.  The scriptures say that the people were astonished at his teaching: not necessarily because of what he taught (Mark does not record for us what he taught that day), but because he spoke as one having an authority all his own.
          The more keen hearers in the synagogue that day would have hearkened back to the words of Moses, recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, which we read in our first reading today: that “a prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from your own kin; to him you shall listen.”  Moses, to the Jewish people, is THE prophet, whose authority no one’s, except God’s, is greater.  Thus, for him to declare that a prophet like him will come—that is, one who teaches with authority, like he did—is something extraordinary indeed.  And if we fast-forward to the end of the book of Deuteronomy, we read there that “since then [the death of Moses] no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”  Thus, the response of the people in the synagogue with Jesus that day, “What is this? A new teaching with authority”, highlights that some of them knew that Jesus might be the one of whom Moses spoke.
          To solidify this authority, Jesus then drives out the demon (who, astonishingly, presents himself to him).  Jesus is teaching with his own authority, which would have been a scandal to many in the synagogue that day, because, like I said, the scribes always backed up their teaching with the teaching of the great master rabbis who went before them.  Jesus proves that he has the authority in himself to teach when, by his word, he drives the unclean spirit out from the man.
          Even the words of the spirit are telling of Jesus’ authority; and that he is not some “new rabbi”, but truly the prophet of whom Moses spoke.  “What have you to do with us?  Have you come to destroy us?”  Notice how the unclean spirit recognizes the power and authority within Jesus to destroy them.  “I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”  “The Holy One of God” is an Old Testament title given to the great prophets.  Therefore, the spirit is not only acknowledging Jesus’ power and authority, but he is acknowledging him as the prophet of whom Moses spoke.  In quieting the spirt and driving it out of the man, Jesus confirmed the spirit’s words.  Thus, all in the synagogue were “astonished” and “amazed”.
          My friends, if this is the time of fulfillment and Jesus is the prophet of whom Moses spoke, then we must listen to him if we want to experience the fruits that this time will produce.  Moses relates the consequences that God himself laid out for those who would not listen to this prophet: “Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I will make him answer for it.”  When God says “listen” he doesn’t just mean “hear and consider it”.  Rather, he means “obey”, in the sense of “listening so as to respond”.  Thus, the statement might as well read: “Whoever will not obey my words which he speaks in my name, I will make him answer for it.”  My friends, this is the time of fulfillment and Jesus is the prophet of whom Moses spoke (and more than a prophet, right?), and so we must obey the words that he has spoken, which are God the Father’s words, else we face him on the day of judgment and have to answer for it.
          “Okay, Father, I trust you.  But the problem is that God doesn’t speak to me.”  Bzzzt.  False.  Let me assure you that God’s words are readily available to you, in three different ways.  Number 1: the Bible.  The Bible is God’s Word, inspired and protected by the Holy Spirit, and it is living and effective for us today.  If we are going to answer for having obeyed God’s words, these are the first ones to which God is going to point.  Number 2: the teachings of the Church.  It is the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, who has preserved and proclaimed the Word of God throughout the generations and thus who has authentically presented it to and interpreted it for each passing generation.  My friends, the Bible and the Catechism are the two primary ways that you will hear God’s words spoken to you.  Obeying (that is, listening with a readiness to respond to) these words is the first step towards realizing the fruit of this time of fulfillment.
          The third way that God’s words come to us, however, is in the silence of our hearts.  Here, God speaks to us directly and personally.  To hear God’s words in this way is more challenging, because we have to tune the ears of our heart to hear his voice.  Nonetheless, it is a work that we must do; and the only way that we will do it is if we listen for his voice in silence.  When we do, we will begin to hear it.  It will be the voice that speaks with authority.  It will be the voice that echoes the revelation of the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church.  It will be the voice that urges you to give yourself for others.  You will know the voice of the enemy: he is the one who sows confusion, discord, and discouragement.  God’s voice brings clarity, unity, and encouragement.  And it is available to us, right now: we need only ask to hear it.
          Then, of course, we must obey it.  What do we get when we obey Jesus’ voice?  Well, nothing short than his power working in our lives.  This means, the power of this “time of fulfillment” in which the negative forces (that is, the unclean spirits) that affect us can be driven away; and when they aren’t: we receive the strength either to overcome them or persevere through them.  Friends, Jesus is the Son of God, the one of whom Moses spoke, and he has ushered in the “time of fulfillment” in which has come this “new teaching with authority”.  In a world full of talking heads full of hot air claiming their own authority but having no power to fulfill anything, let us listen to the Word of God, Jesus our Lord, so that his kingdom—the kingdom that will be fully realized in the age of glory—would be made present to us here today.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January 27th & 28th, 2018

Monday, January 22, 2018

Toward the age of glory

Homily: 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

          Today in our Gospel reading, we hear the first words that Jesus utters, according to the Gospel writer Mark; and they are rather mysterious ones.  “Repent and believe in the Gospel” is often touted as being his first words, but they aren’t.  Rather, his first words are: "This is the time of fulfillment."  “Huh?  What does this mean?”  It means that, when Jesus Christ came onto the scene, it was a turning point in the history of the world.  From this we have come to understand that, with Jesus, the third age of human history has been inaugurated.

          The first age was the era of creation.  During this period, mankind lived in the fullness of communion with God.  It was when Adam and Eve lived in paradise: in unspoiled friendship with God.  This, of course, ended when our first parents committed the first sin and, subsequently, fell from grace, allowing evil to enter into the world.

          From this, the second age began: the age of the Promise.  As we read in the book of Genesis, soon after the first sin, God promised Adam and Eve that he would send a Savior to free the human family from domination by the devil.  In this second age God gradually prepared the world, through the education of his chosen people, Israel, for the arrival of Jesus Christ.  This is the age of history encapsulated by the Old Testament in the Bible.

          With the coming of Jesus, the third age began: the "time of fulfillment," by which we mean, “the fulfillment of the promise of salvation.”  In this age, the Christian age, God actually entered into time and space in order to rescue it from sin and destruction.  He did so, at first, through the Incarnation, and he continues to do so through the activity of the Church, which is gradually expanding into every corner of the globe.  At the end of this third age, Christ will come again, ushering in the fourth and final age: the age of glory, when evil, death, and sorrow will be banished from his Kingdom forever.

          This is weird, of course, because we’re used to thinking of history in terms of secular “ages”: the “stone” age, the “bronze” age, the “iron” age, etc., none of which hinge on the life of Christ.  But if we see things from the perspective of these four “Christian” stages of history, things begin to make more sense: history seems to have a purpose and an end to which it is moving, which has the effect of filling us with wisdom, interior peace, and a sense of purpose.  Even still, I think that we have to ask ourselves: “Do we actually look at things this way?”

          You know, the advances of modern science and technology tend to make us forget about this.  Pleasures and power are so easy to find in our modern world that we can subconsciously start thinking that maybe we can create heaven on earth by ourselves, skipping over God's plan for history.  We forget what St. Paul always remembered—and what he explained in today's Second Reading—that "the world in its present form is passing away."  In forgetting this, we fail realize that our attempts to bypass God's plan for human history and to create heaven on earth was at the root of the most hideous crimes of the twentieth century.

          When Nazi fascism rejected Christ as the Lord of history and tried to put nationalism in his place, it led to a World War, the Holocaust, and the atomic bomb.  When Marxist Communism rejected Christ as the Lord of history and tried to put human work in his place, it led to a multi-national Soviet empire of state oppression, the mass starvation of 20 million peasants under Stalinist Russia, and the death of another 20 million under Mao Zedung's "Great Leap Forward" in China.  And, in our current age, secular humanism has rejected Christ as the Lord of history and is trying to put radical individualism in his place.  This has led to a moral recession that has fed the world's economic recession.  And it has already led to a global resurgence of child slavery and human trafficking, not to mention the death of more than 60 million unborn babies through legalized abortion.  You know, when we consider all these horrors—especially how wide-spread they are in today’s world—it’s not surprising that even the most fervent Christians can feel discouraged.

          But discouragement is a lie, because, as Saint Paul has already assured us, "the world in its present form is passing away."  Friends, Christ is building his Kingdom even in the midst of the world's evils.  He is giving meaning and hope to the drama of human history.  And when we put our trust in him and follow him, we become part of the everlasting solution, not the passing problem.

          You know, the most exciting aspect of the Christian view of history is that Christ is constantly inviting us to take part in it.  What happened in today's Gospel passage happens to each one of us throughout our lives.  Peter, Andrew, James, and John were all living their normal lives, working to keep food on the table.  By all external signs, they were indistinguishable from any of their contemporaries.

          But then one day Jesus Christ walked into their lives and called them each by name.  Jesus didn't see them as average people: that is, generic fishermen.  Jesus saw each one in the revealing light of God's love.  He knew that he had created them for an active role in his plan to redeem the human race and to conquer the forces of sin and evil.  And just as he invited each one of them to join him and to share his mission, so Jesus does with each of us.

          Some of us he calls to leave behind our nets, boats, and even our families, so that we can serve the Church full-time as “special agents”, if you will: that is, as priests, religious, and missionaries.  Others—the majority of us—he calls to be his ambassadors in the middle of our normal family and work life: bringing his redeeming power to the world from within, like leaven in a batch of dough.  Regardless of the end to which he calls us, he, nonetheless, calls each one of us.  And today he will renew his call when he offers himself to us, once again, here in the Eucharist.

          My brothers and sisters, by reminding us today of the true course of human history, Jesus has motivated us to renew our response to his call in our hearts: to let our friendship with him become the most important thing for us once again—more important than our plans, our pleasures, our hopes, and our comfort—because all those things are just part of the "world in its present form," which is "passing away."  Let us, then, renew our response to him today so as to conquer this age in which secular humanism tries to destroy all that is human (especially the most vulnerable among us) and, thus, usher in the age of glory in which we are restored to that perfect communion with God that we enjoyed in the age of creation, and in which Christ, our Savior, rules over all.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January 21, 2018

Sunday, January 14, 2018

La felicidad que buscas

Homilía: 2º Domingo en el Tiempo Ordinario – Ciclo B
          "¿Qué busca?" Esta es una pregunta común que nos hacemos cuando alguien tiene esa mirada de "búsqueda" en su rostro. Sin embargo, cuando Jesús hace esta pregunta, inmediatamente sentimos que quiere decir algo más que simplemente "¿Ha perdido algo?" Cuando Jesús pregunta, nos damos cuenta de que está hablando en términos "últimos": es decir, "¿Qué busca realmente?" y es una pregunta con la cual los seres humanos han estado luchando constantemente.
          Aristóteles era un pagano que vivió cuatrocientos años antes de Cristo. Pagano, lo que significaba que él no sabía, y mucho menos creía, en Dios como se le había revelado en la tradición judeocristiana. No obstante, era un filósofo increíble que podía observar el mundo que lo rodeaba y sacar conclusiones astutas sobre "cómo son las cosas". Era el mejor científico del mundo cuando la filosofía era la ciencia del mundo.
          Una de las cosas centrales que enseñó Aristóteles fue que todos los seres vivos tienen un fin—un telos en griego—por el cual se esfuerzan. Por ejemplo, según su observación, una planta lucha por el sol. Pudo ver esto por la forma en que una planta extenderá sus hojas más allá de sus raíces en un esfuerzo por alcanzar los rayos del sol. Nosotros, por supuesto, sabemos que la planta necesita los rayos del sol para tocar sus hojas para que ocurra la fotosíntesis, en la que convierte la energía de los rayos del sol en nutrientes para ayudarla a crecer, pero eso no cambia el hecho de que el espíritu viviente en la planta se esfuerza siempre hacia el sol como si alcanzarlo fuera su objetivo principal.
          Bueno, creo que todos podemos estar de acuerdo en que los seres humanos somos un poco más complejos que una planta. No obstante, Aristóteles todavía pensaba que tenemos un telos: un fin al que nos estamos esforzando. Cuando Aristóteles observó a los seres humanos para determinar por qué es lo que estamos esforzando, concluyó que el fin que todos estamos tratando de alcanzar es la felicidad. En otras palabras, cuando miraba las razones por las que los seres humanos hacen algo, podía ver que todas ellas se reducían a una cosa: la felicidad. En pocas palabras: todo lo que elegimos hacer, lo elegimos porque creemos que nos hará felices. Por supuesto, podríamos estar equivocados acerca de si nos hará felices o no, pero el hecho es que lo elegimos porque creemos que nos hará felices.
          Santo Tomás de Aquino vivió un poco más de 1500 años después de Aristóteles, pero fue uno de los primeros para sintetizar verdaderamente la filosofía de Aristóteles en la teología cristiana. Santo Tomás estuvo de acuerdo en que los seres humanos tienen un telos, y que este telos es la felicidad. Sin embargo, como Tomás era cristiano, pudo decirnos que la felicidad más verdadera y plena por la que podemos esforzar—la felicidad para la que fuimos creados—es lo que los teólogos cristianos llaman la Visión Beatífica: es decir, estar cara a cara con Dios, en comunión perfecta con él.
          Por lo tanto, para Aristóteles, la respuesta a la pregunta "¿Qué busca?" Es la felicidad. Para Santo Tomás de Aquino, la respuesta es la misma: la felicidad. Con él, sin embargo, la respuesta tiene una segunda parte: "¿Y qué es la felicidad? La Visión Beatífica." Y entonces, para Santo Tomás, la respuesta a la pregunta "¿Qué busca?" es simplemente Dios.
          Hermanos, tal vez toda esta charla sobre "cosas últimas" los tiene un poco exasperados. Si es así, lo entiendo. Para nosotros, que somos criaturas muy prácticas, es difícil pensar de manera tan abstracta. Para la mayoría de nosotros, puede ser difícil superar las preocupaciones del momento presente y del futuro cercano. "¿Qué busca?" "Bueno, busco mis llaves... o un nuevo trabajo... o que termine esta homilía..." Sospecho que fue difícil para los primeros discípulos de Jesús, también. Solo mira cómo respondieron a la pregunta de Jesús. "¿Qué buscan?", los pregunta. Los discípulos responden, "¿Dónde vives?" Supongo que ellos sintieron el peso de la pregunta, pero no estaban preparado para responderla y por eso se equivocan. Ellos no respondieron "Nada" pero tampoco dieron una respuesta directa. Su respuesta revela que reconocieron algo en Jesús, algo que aún no podían nombrar, pero algo en él que podría responder esa pregunta por él, y por eso quería saber más. Por lo tanto, ellos preguntaron: "¿Dónde vives?" para conocer mejor a Jesús y descubrirlo con seguridad.
          Hermanos, esto es lo mismo para nosotros. Quizás no tenemos una idea clara de qué buscamos. Creo que la mayoría de ustedes aquí, en este punto, están reconociendo que, en su esencia, lo que buscas es la felicidad. Tal vez un buen número de ustedes también reconozcan que es Jesús quien los puede llevar a la felicidad (es decir, a la felicidad real y duradera). Para otros, sin embargo, no estás tan seguro. De todos modos, para todos los que estamos aquí hoy, Jesús se vuelve hacia nosotros cuando lo estamos mirando y nos está preguntando "¿Qué buscas?" Quizás podamos responder con valentía: "¡Felicidad! ¡Y creo que usted puede llevarme a eso!" Quizás, sin embargo, lo mejor que podemos hacer es decir: "Jesús, ¿dónde vives?" Si es así, es bastante. Para el primero, Jesús dirá: "Ven y te mostraré tu felicidad". A la segunda, Jesús dirá: "Vengas a ver". Como vemos en ambos, Él nos invita a ir a él: porque él nos dará lo que buscamos si acercarnos a él.
          Este es nuestro trabajo: encontrar a Jesús, preguntarle dónde vives y ponernos a seguirlo allí. Luego, después de que lo escuchamos y estamos convencidos de que él es el Mesías, debemos ir y traerle otros a él también. Esta es nuestra vocación. Cuando lo aceptemos, Dios nos dará la gracia para cumplirlo. Así como Elí identificó la voz del Señor para el joven Samuel para que él pudiera seguirla, y al igual que Juan el Bautista señaló a sus discípulos a Jesús, y al igual que Andrés trajo a su hermano Simón Pedro a Jesús, nosotros también debemos continuar con esta larga cadena de discípulos-que-engendran-discípulos por conocer a Jesús primero (ayudado, como seguramente lo hemos sido, por otros) y luego señalándolo a otros y llevándoselos a él. Si hacemos esto, mis hermanos y hermanas, encontraremos lo que hemos estado buscando; y el reino de los cielos, el reino en el cual florece nuestra felicidad, el reino que está presente aquí en esta Eucaristía, se expandirá y crecerá en medio de nosotros.  Esto es lo que buscas.
          Que este nuevo año sea el año en que el reino de Dios crezca de una manera rica y poderosa, tanto en nuestros corazones como en esta comunidad. Así sea.
Dado en la parroquia de Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN
14 de enero, 2018

The happiness that you are looking for

Homily: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
          “What are you looking for?”  This is a common question that we ask one another whenever someone has that “searching” look on his / her face.  When Jesus asks this question, however, we immediately sense that he means something more than just “Have you lost something?”  When Jesus asks, we realize that he’s speaking in “ultimate” terms: that is, “What are you really looking for?”  And it is a question with which human beings have been constantly wrestling.
          The Greek philosopher Aristotle was a pagan who lived in the 4th century BC.  Pagan, which meant that he didn't know of, let alone believe in, God as he has been revealed in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  Nonetheless, he was an incredible philosopher who could observe the world around him and draw astute conclusions about "the way things are".  He was the world's top scientist when philosophy was the world's science.
          One of the core things that Aristotle taught was that all living things have an end—a telos in Greek—for which they are striving.  For example, by his observation, a plant is striving for the sun.  He could see this by the way that a plant will stretch out its leaves way beyond its roots in an effort to reach the rays of the sun.  We, of course, know that the plant needs the rays of the sun to hit its leaves for photosynthesis to happen, in which it converts the energy from the sun’s rays into nutrients to help it grow, but it doesn’t change the fact that the living spirit in the plant is striving always towards the sun as if reaching it was its ultimate purpose.
          Now, I think that we can all agree that we human beings are a little more complex than a plant.  Nonetheless, Aristotle still thought that we have a telos: an end to which we are striving.  When Aristotle observed human beings in order to determine for what it is that we are striving, he concluded that the end we are all trying to reach is “happiness”.  In other words, when he looked at the reasons why human beings do anything, he could see that all of them boiled down to one thing: happiness.  Simply stated: everything that we choose to do, we choose because we think that it will make us happy (or, at least, will lead us to happiness).  We, of course, could be wrong about whether or not it will make us happy, but the fact remains that we choose it because we think that it will make us happy.
          Saint Thomas Aquinas lived a little more than 1500 years after Aristotle, but he was one of the first to synthesize truly Aristotle’s philosophy into Christian theology.  Saint Thomas agreed that human beings have a telos, and that this telos is happiness.  Because Thomas was a Christian, however, he could tell us that the truest and fullest happiness for which we can strive—the happiness for which we were made—is what Christian Theologians call the Beatific Vision: that is, standing face to face with God, in perfect communion with him.
          For Aristotle, therefore, the answer to the question “What are you looking for?” is happiness.  For Saint Thomas Aquinas, the answer is the same: happiness.  With him, however, the answer has a second part: “And what is happiness?  The Beatific Vision.”  And so, for Saint Thomas, the answer to the question “What are you looking for?” is God.
          Friends, perhaps all of this talk about “ultimate things” has you a little exasperated.  If so, I understand.  It’s difficult for us, who are very practical creatures, to think so abstractly.  For most of us, it can be tough to get past the concerns of the present moment and the near future.  “What are you looking for?”  “Well, I’m looking for my keys… or for a new job… or for this homily to be over…”  I suspect that it was difficult for Jesus’ first disciples, too.  Just look at how they responded to Jesus’ question.  “What are you looking for?”, he asks.  Andrew responds, “Where are you staying?”  My guess is that Andrew felt the weight of the question, but was unprepared to answer it and so he equivocates.  He didn’t respond “Nothing” but he didn’t give a straight-forward answer, either.  His answer reveals that he recognized something in Jesus—something that he couldn’t yet name, but something in him that might answer that question for him—and so he wanted to know more.  Thus, he asked “Where are you staying?” so that he could get to know Jesus better and find out for sure.
          Friends, this is the same for us.  Perhaps we don’t have a clear idea of what it is that we are looking for.  My guess is that most of you here, at this point, are acknowledging that, at your core, what you are looking for is happiness.  Perhaps a good number of you also recognize that it is Jesus who can lead you to happiness (that is, to real, lasting happiness).  For others, however, you’re not so sure.  Regardless, for all of us here today, Jesus is turning to us as we are looking to him and he is asking us “What are you looking for?”  Perhaps we can answer boldly: “Happiness!  And I believe that you can lead me to it!”  Perhaps, however, the best we can muster is to say, “Jesus, where are you staying?”  If so, this is enough.  To the first, Jesus will say: “Come and I will show you your happiness.”  To the second, Jesus will say, “Come and you will see.”  As we see in both, He invites us to come to him: for he will give us what we are looking for if we come to him.
          This is our work: to find Jesus, to ask him where he is staying, and to put ourselves towards following him there.  Then, after we’ve heard him and are convinced that he is the Messiah, we must go and bring others to him, as well.  This is our vocation.  When we accept it, God will give us grace to fulfill it.  Just as Eli identified the Lord’s voice for young Samuel so that he could follow it, and just like John the Baptist pointed his disciples to Jesus, and just like Andrew then brought his brother Simon Peter to Jesus, so we, too, must continue this long chain of disciples-begetting-disciples by first coming to know Jesus (helped, as we most assuredly have been, by others) and then by pointing him out to others and bringing them to him.  If we do this, my brothers and sisters, we will find what we have been looking for; and the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom in which our happiness flourishes, the kingdom which is present to us here in this Eucharist, will expand and grow in our midst.  This, my friends, is what you are looking for.
          May this new year be the year that God’s kingdom grows in a rich and powerful way, both in our hearts and this community.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January 13th & 14th, 2018

Monday, January 8, 2018

Raising your gaze to see the sign

The Gothic-style church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome, Italy
Homily: The Epiphany of the Lord – Cycle B
          The church in which we are worshiping today is of the style of architecture known as “Gothic Revival”, which was an architectural trend in the 19th and early 20th centuries focused on recovering the Gothic style of church architecture.  Gothic architecture grew out of the high middle ages, beginning in France in the 12th century and lasting into the 16th century.  It grew out of the dominant style of architecture at the time, which was Romanesque architecture: so named because it was influenced by the architectural style of the Romans at the height of the Roman Empire.  Romanesque architecture was characterized by broad, relatively short, and strong buildings with thick pillars and comparatively little natural light.
          Gothic architecture changed that paradigm by beginning to stretch ceilings higher, while making naves (the main part of the church) narrower and longer.  Pillars became more slender and walls (now much taller) began to be filled with windows of beautiful colored glass, which let in an abundance of natural light.  While Romanesque architecture was meant to give the person entering a sense of solidity and permanence (a great theme of the Roman Empire), Gothic architecture was meant to give the person entering a sense of lightness and grandeur.  The Romanesque would invite you to look forward and around with strong confidence.  The Gothic would invite you to look up with a longing to leave the earth and enter into the heavenly heights.  (This idea, by the way, is why the ceiling of nearly every Gothic-style church was originally painted blue with stars: to attract the eye upward, towards the heights of heaven.)  The Gothic style of architecture was developed, it seems, to remind Christians to keep their eyes on what was most important: that is, on heavenly things.  This, perhaps, was also a reason for its revival in the 19th century.
          Today’s feast of the Epiphany of the Lord celebrates those who kept their eyes on heaven—and on heavenly things—and so received the grace of the revelation of Christ.  It also celebrates something that is often overlooked, I think: that God raised a star so that EVERYONE might know that the Messiah—the Christ of God—had been born.  This is a homily in itself—how God has used (and still uses) all of creation to reveal himself to mankind, going to such great lengths as to create a new star so that the birth of his Son would not be missed—but it is a homily for another day.  Today, we remember that God had raised a star so that EVERYONE would know that the Messiah had been born and yet that NO ONE was paying attention, except, it seems, these “magi from the east”.
          The fact that no one else was paying attention is apparent when the Magi arrive in Jerusalem and inquire about the whereabouts of the newborn king and King Herod and all of his court officers, the chief priests and the scribes, and all the people are caught unawares.  I imagine the response: “We saw his star at its rising…”  “What star?  Do you know what they’re talking about?”  These were the ones who (supposedly) were looking for the Messiah’s coming and who should have been the first to recognize the star.  As it turns out, however, they had their eyes fixed on the earth (that is, on worldly things) and so they all missed it.
          The lesson for us today, therefore, is two-fold.  First: God will go to great lengths to reveal himself to us (even to creating a new star!).  Second: If we are too focused on earth and on worldly things (and concerns), then we’ll miss God’s clear sign completely.  In Antigua Guatemala, where I first studied Spanish, I remember this moment: I had been there for a number of weeks already (maybe five or so) and I was walking through the streets to a church that I regularly visited.  Now all of the properties are pretty much walled-off at the street, but are often open spaces inside the walls in which, many times, the owners have elaborate gardens.  That day, as I was walking by what had become a familiar stretch of streets, out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of this slender and very tall evergreen tree towering above a particular property.  I remember thinking “When did that get put there?”  I was certain that I had never seen it before, but just as certain that it had to have been there the whole time and that I had never looked up to see it.  Well, from that day on, I intentionally started looking up and around above the wall line to see what I had been missing.  It was a lot!  By simply keeping my head focused on street level—that is, focused on my worldly concern of getting to where I was going—I was missing a lot.  We are often like this in our lives—our heads focused on street level and on the things that we need to accomplish today.  Today’s feast, therefore, is a reminder to “look up” often so that we don’t miss the signs God may be sending to us (something that a Gothic-style church can help us do: especially if it has retained its vibrant blue ceiling).
          Yet, there is still more that we must remember on this feast.  You see, there are people coming to us because they have seen a “new star” in their lives (that is, a sign from God calling them to move in a new direction, towards the Church) and when they come they are asking us: “Where do I find the one for whom the star was made?”  Too often, however, we respond like Herod and his people: “What star?  Did you see a star?”  This is a great failure; because God is relying on us to point them to Christ: especially Christ in the Eucharist.
          And even further: There are those whom we encounter who are so focused on the earth and worldly things (and concerns) that they will never see the “new star” on their own.  These we must help to raise their eyes to the heavens, so that they too may see the star and realize that, ultimately, all that we do in this world must move us to find the one for whom the star was made and, just as we have done for them, to lead others to do the same.  My friends, this is the meaning of Epiphany.  This is the reason that our church (like many others) is built the way it is.  This is the task given to each one of us.
          And so, let us pray the holy “magi from the east”—whom our tradition names Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar—be for us an example and our guide so that the light that shines forth from this Eucharist will be seen by all; and the prophecy of Isaiah that “all nations will stream toward it” will find its completion in us: God’s Holy Church.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January 7th, 2018