December 30, 2019

Epiphany of the Lord (Jan 5, 2020 Sunday)

Epiphany of the Lord (Jan 5th Sunday) 1- page summary 

Introduction: The Greek word Epiphany (επιφάνεια), means appearance or manifestation. Multiple revelations of Jesus as God are celebrated in the Feast of the Epiphany. First, the angels revealed Jesus to the shepherds. In the Western Church, the Feast of the Epiphany celebrates Jesus’ first appearance to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi, while in the Eastern Church, the feast is the commemoration of   the Baptism of Christ where the Father and the Holy Spirit gave combined testimony to Jesus’ identity as Son of God.   Later, in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus revealed himself as the promised Messiah, and at Cana Jesus revealed his Divinity by transforming water into wine.

Scripture lessons summarized:   Today’s Gospel teaches us how Christ enriches those who bring him their hearts. The adoration of the Magi fulfills the oracle of Isaiah (first reading), prophesying that the nations of the world would travel to the Holy City following a brilliant light and would bring gold and incense to contribute to the worship of God. Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 72) includes a verse about kings coming from foreign lands to pay homage to a just king in Israel. Paul’s letter to the Church of Ephesus (today’s second reading), expresses God’s secret plan in clear terms: “the Gentiles are…copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” Today’s Gospel reminds us that if God permitted the Magi – foreigners and pagans – to recognize and give Jesus proper respect as the King of Jews, we should know that there is nothing in our sinful lives that will keep God from bringing us to Jesus. There were three groups of people who reacted to the Epiphany of Christ’s birth. The first group, headed by King Herod the Great, tried to eliminate him, the second group, priests and scribes, ignored him, and the third group, represented by the shepherds and the Magi, came to adore him.

Life Messages: (1) Let us make sure that we belong to the third group:  a) by worshiping Jesus at Mass with the gold of our love, the myrrh of our humility and the frankincense of our adoration; b) by giving a new direction to our lives. As the Magi chose another route to return to their homes, we need to choose a better way of life, abstaining from proud and impure thoughts, evil habits and selfish behavior;  c) by becoming stars leading others to Jesus as the star led the Magi to Jesus — removing the darkness of the evil around us and radiating Jesus’ love through selfless service, unconditional forgiveness and compassionate care.
(2) On this feast of the Epiphany, let us, like the Magi, offer Jesus our grateful use of his gifts to us: (a) His gift of friendship with God in the form of wholehearted love and devotion;  (b) His gift of friendship with others by leading them to Jesus through our exemplary lives of Christian charity in action; (c) His gift of reconciliation with God by daily asking His pardon and forgiveness for our sins and giving unconditional forgiveness to our offenders; and      (d)  His gift of peace by  seeking God’s peace in our own lives through prayer, leading a Sacramental life and meditation daily on the Word of God.

EPIPHANY OF THE LORD (Jan 5, 2020): Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12 (Full text)

Homily starter anecdotes: # 1: “Because you never know what’s going to happen next.” A survey was made among school children asking the question why they enjoyed reading Harry Potter novels and watching Harry Potter movies. The most common answer was, “Because you never know what’s going to happen next.” This same sense of suspense and surprise prompted us to watch the episodes of the Star War movies. The same desire for epiphany with the thrill and suspense awaiting them prompted adults to watch James Bond films and encouraged the great explorers like Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus to make risky and adventurous journeys. It is the same curiosity which led the Magi to follow the star of Bethlehem. An element of suspense marked every moment in the journey of the Magi, who never knew what road the Spirit of God was going to take them down next. Today’s readings invite us to have the same curiosity as explorers and movie fans do, so that we may discover the “epiphany,” or manifestation, or Self- revelation, of our God in every person and every event, everywhere. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

#2: History of Epiphany: Next to Easter, Epiphany is the oldest season of the Church year. In Asia Minor and Egypt, Epiphany was observed as early as the second century. The Festival of the Epiphany fell (and still falls), on January 6. It was observed as a unitive festival — both the birth and Baptism of Jesus were celebrated at this time. January 6 was chosen as Epiphany Day because it was the winter solstice, a pagan festival celebrating the birthday of the sun god. In 331 AD the solstice was moved to December 25, but January 6 continued to be observed. Christians substituted Epiphany for the solstice. The emphasis was upon the re-birth of light. In keeping with this time, the First Lesson for Epiphany Day is appropriate: “Arise, shine; for your light has come.” The unitive Festival of Epiphany was divided when December 25 was chosen as the birthday of Jesus. The Church in the East continued to celebrate Epiphany in terms of the Baptism of Jesus while the Western Church associated Epiphany with the visit of the Magi. For the East, the Baptism of Jesus was more vital because of the Gnostic heresy claiming that only at his baptism did Jesus become the Son of God. On the other hand, to associate Epiphany with the Magi is appropriate, for the Magi might not have gotten to Bethlehem until a year after Jesus’ birth. By this time the Holy Family was in a house rather than in a stable. If this was the case, then the Magi could not have been a part of the manger scene popularly portrayed in today’s Christmas scenes and plays. The Vatican II lectionary and calendar combine the two by placing the visit of the Magi on Epiphany Day and the Baptism of Jesus on Epiphany 1 (The First Sunday after the Epiphany). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

# 3: Adventurers: When pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager made their historic flight in 1986 with their spindly Voyager aircraft, the whole world followed it with excitement. For nine days a sky-watch was kept tracking their first non-stop global flight without refueling. Achievers and risk-takers like Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager have always fascinated us. Marco Polo journeying to India and China, Christopher Columbus coming to America, Admiral Byrd going to the South Pole, our Astronauts flying to the moon: such adventurers have always aroused our admiration and our skepticism. – It was no different at the time of the Magi in today’s Gospel story. To the cynical observer the Magi must have seemed foolish to go following a star. These astrologers had to be a little crazy leaving the security of their homeland to venture forth into a strange country presided over by a madman like Herod. Nevertheless, to the person with the eyes of Faith, the Magi had discovered an immense secret. They found not only the secret of the star but the secret of the whole universe – the secret of God’s incredible love for His people. For the Child they found was no ordinary child but the very Son of God become man. (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 

Introduction: The Greek word Epiphany (epiphanos), which means appearance or manifestation or showing forth, is used to describe   Jesus’ first appearance to the Gentiles.  Originally the word Epiphany referred to the visit of a king to the people of his provinces. “Epiphany” refers to God’s Self-revelation as well as to the revelation of Jesus as His Son to all mankind.   Epiphany is an older celebration than the feast of Christmas, having originated in the East in the late second century.  In Italy and Spain, the gifts traditionally associated with the Christmas season are exchanged today, on the feast of the Epiphany. Among Italians, it is believed that the gifts are brought by the old woman, Befana (from Epiphany), whereas Spanish custom attributes the gifts to the Kings or Magi. In the Western Church, the feast commemorates the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.  In the Eastern Church, the feast also commemorates   the Baptism of Christ. The angels revealed Jesus to the shepherds, and the star revealed him to the Magi, who had already received hints of Him from the Jewish Scriptures.  Later, God the Father revealed   Jesus’ identity to Israel at his Baptism in the Jordan.  In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus revealed himself as the promised Messiah.   Finally, Jesus revealed himself as a miracle worker at the wedding of Cana, thus revealing his Divinity. These multiple revelations are all suggested by the Feast of the Epiphany.

Scripture readings summarized: Isaiah 60:1-6, is chosen as today’s first reading, partly because it mentions non-Jews bringing gifts in homage to the God of Israel. Here the Prophet Isaiah, consoling the people in exile, speaks of the restoration of the New Jerusalem from which the glory of Yahweh becomes visible even to the pagan nations. Thus, the prophet in this passage celebrates the Divine Light emanating from Jerusalem and foresees all the nations acknowledging that Light, enjoying that Light and walking by that Light. As a sign of gratitude for the priceless lessons of Faith offered by Jerusalem, the nations will bring wealth by land and sea, especially gold for the Temple and frankincense for the sacrifice.Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 72) declares that all the kings of the earth will pay homage to and serve the God of Israel and His Messiah. Thus, these two readings express hope for a time when “the people of God” will embrace all nations. As the privileged recipient of a Divine “epiphany”, Saint Paul reveals God’s “secret plan” – that the Gentiles also have a part with the Jews in Divine blessings. Hence, in the second reading, St. Paul affirms the mystery of God’s plan of salvation in Christ. Paul explains that this plan includes both Jews and Gentiles. Jesus implemented this Divine plan by extending membership in his Church, making it available to all peoples. Thus, the Jews and the Gentiles have become “coheirs, members of the same Body and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” Hence, there are no second-class members of Jesus’ Body, the Church. Paul claims that he was commissioned by Christ to make this mystery known to the world. Today’s Gospel teaches us how Christ enriches those who bring Him their hearts. Since the Magi came with joy in their hearts to visit the Christ Child, God allowed them to see wondrous things. At the same time, today’s Gospel hints at different reactions to the news of Jesus’ birth, foreshadowing his passion and death, as well as the risen Jesus’ mandate to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19).

Gospel exegesis: The Magi and the star: The Magi were not Kings, but a caste of Persian priests who served Kings, using their skills in interpreting dreams and watching movements of stars. The sixth century Italian tradition, that there were three Magi, Casper, Balthazar, and Melchior, is based on the fact that three gifts are mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel:  gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Magi may actually have been Persian priests or Babylonian astronomers or Nabataean spice-traders. Eventually, however, they were pictured as representatives of different peoples and races.  The Orthodox Church holds that the Magi consisted of twelve Kings, corresponding in number to the twelve tribes of Israel.   Commentary on the Torah by Jewish rabbis suggested that a star appeared in the sky at the births of Abraham, Isaac and Moses.  Likewise, in the Book of Numbers (24:17), the prophet Balaam speaks of “a star that shall come out of Jacob.”  Stars were believed to be signs from God, announcing important events.   Thus, the brightness of the Light to which kings were drawn was made visible in the star they followed. They were led by God’s power to Christ and brought gifts to him and his family—to Mary and Joseph—as Isaiah and the psalmist foresaw.

The gifts: Gold, frankincense and myrrh may be thought of as prophesying Jesus’ future, gold representing his kingship as well as divinity, frankincense a symbol of his priestly role, and myrrh a prefiguring of his death and embalming. Gold was a gift for Kings, and the Magi accepted the baby Jesus as the king of the Jews. Gold is also a symbol of Divinity and is mentioned throughout the Bible. Pagan idols were often made from gold and the Ark of the Covenant was overlaid with gold (Ex 25:10-17).The gift of gold to the Christ Child was symbolic of His Divinity—God in flesh. Frankincense is highly fragrant when burned and was therefore used in worship, where it was burned as a pleasant offering to God (Ex 30:34) Frankincense is a symbol of holiness and righteousness. The gift of frankincense to the Christ Child was symbolic of his willingness to become a sacrifice, wholly giving himself up, analogous to a burnt offering. Myrrh was used by the High Priest as an anointing oil (Ex 30:23) Myrrh was used in ancient times for embalming the bodies of the dead before burial. It was a fitting “gift” for Jesus who was born to die. It was also sometimes mingled with wine to form an article of drink. (Mt 27:34) refers to it as “gall.” Such a drink was offered to, and refused by, our Savior when he was about to be crucified, as a stupefying potion (Mk 15:23). Myrrh symbolizes bitterness, suffering, and affliction. The baby Jesus would grow to suffer greatly as a man and would pay the ultimate price when He gave his life on the cross to redeem all mankind, if they chose to believe in Him and receive this gift. In addition, myrrh was used an oriental remedy for intestinal worms in infants, a useful gift for a new baby. These gifts were not only expensive but portable. “Laden with gold and spices, the journey of the magi evokes those journeys made to Solomon by the Queen of Sheba and the ‘kings of the earth’ (see 1 Kgs 10:2,252 Chr 9:24). Interestingly, the only other places where frankincense and myrrh are mentioned together are in songs about Solomon (see Song of Songs 3:64:6,14)” (Dr. Scott Hahn). Perhaps Joseph sold the gifts to finance the Holy Family’s trip to Egypt and Mary kept myrrh in her medicine chest. The gifts might have been God’s way of providing for the journey that lay ahead.

The triple reactions: The Epiphany can be looked on as a symbol for our pilgrimage through life to Christ.   The feast invites us to see ourselves as images of the Magi, a people on a journey to Christ.     Today’s Gospel also tells us the story of the Magi’s encounter with the evil King Herod.   This encounter symbolizes three reactions to Jesus’ birth:  hatred, indifference, and adoration: a) a group of people headed by Herod planned to destroy Jesus;  b) another group, composed of priests and scribes, ignored Jesus;  c) the members of a third group — shepherds and the magi — adored Jesus and offered themselves to Him.

A) The destructive group:  King Herod considered Jesus a potential threat to his kingship.  Herod the Great was a cruel and selfish king who murdered his mother-in-law, wife, two brothers-in-law and three children on suspicion that they had plotted against him. Herod, in today’s Gospel, asks the chief priests and scribes where the Messiah is to be born. Their answer says much more, combining two strands of Old Testament promise – one revealing the Messiah to be from the line of David (see 2 Sm 2:5), the other predicting “a ruler of Israel” who will “shepherd his flock” and whose “greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth” (see Mi 5:1-3) (Dr. Hann). Later, the scribes and Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus because he had criticized them and tried to reform some of their practices. Today, many oppose Christ and his Church because of their selfish motives, evil ways and unjust lives. Children still have Herods to fear. In the United States alone, one and a half million innocent, unborn children are aborted annually.

B) The group that ignored Christ:  The scribes, the Pharisees and the Jewish priests knew that there were nearly 500 prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the promised Messiah.  They were able to tell Herod the exact time and place of Jesus’ birth.   They were in the habit of concluding their reading from the prophets on the Sabbath day by saying, “We shall now pray for the speedy arrival of the Messiah.”   Unfortunately, they were more interested in their own selfish gains than in discovering the truth. Hence, they refused to go and see the child Jesus — even though Bethlehem was quite close to Jerusalem.  Today, many Christians remind us of this group.   They practice their religion from selfish motives, such as to gain political power, prestige and recognition by society.   They ignore Jesus’ teachings in their private lives.

C) The group that adored Jesus and offered Him gifts:  This group was composed of the shepherds and the Magi.  The shepherds offered the only gifts they had: love, tears of joy, and probably woolen clothes and milk from their sheep.  The Magi, probably Persian astrologers, were following the star that Balaam predicted would rise along with the ruler’s staff over the house of Jacob (see Nm 24:17). The Magi offered gold, in recognition of Jesus as the King of the Jews; frankincense, in acknowledgment that he was God, and myrrh as a symbol of his human nature. “Like the Magi, every person has two great ‘books’ which provide the signs to guide this pilgrimage: the book of creation and the book of Sacred Scripture. What is important is that we be attentive, alert, and listen to God Who speaks to us, who always speaks to us.” (Pope Francis)

Life Messages: (1) Let us make sure that we belong to the third group.  a) Let us worship Jesus at Mass, every day if we can, with the gold of our love, the myrrh of our humility and the frankincense of our adoration.  Let us offer God our very selves, promising Him that we will use His blessings to do good for our fellow men.   b) Let us plot a better course for our lives as the Magi did, choosing for ourselves a better way of life in the New Year by abstaining from proud and impure thoughts, evil habits and selfish behavior and sharing our love with others in acts of charity.   c)  Let us become stars, leading others to Jesus, as the star led the Magi to Him.   We can remove or lessen the darkness of the evil around us by being, if not like stars, at least like candles, radiating Jesus’ love by selfless service, unconditional forgiveness and compassionate care.

(2) Like the Magi, let us offer Jesus his gifts to us on this feast of Epiphany. (a) The first gift might be friendship with God.  After all, the whole point of Christmas is that God’s Son became one of us to redeem us and call us friends. God wants our friendship in the form of wholehearted love and devotion.  (b) A second gift might be friendship with others. This kind of friendship can be costly.   The price it exacts is vulnerability and openness to others. The Good News, however, is that, in offering friendship to others, we will receive back many blessings.   (c)  A third gift might be the gift of reconciliation. This gift repairs damaged relationships.   It requires honesty, humility, understanding, forgiveness and patience.   (d)   The fourth gift of this season is the gift of peace:  seeking God’s peace in our own lives through prayer, the Sacramental life and daily meditation on the Word of God. It is out of humble gratitude that we give Him from the heart our gifts of worship, prayer, singing, possessions, talents and time. As we give our insignificant, little gifts to God, the good news is that God accepts them! Like the Magi offering their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, we offer what we have, from the heart, in response to what that Child has given to us – Himself.

Let us conclude with a 19th century English carol, Christina Rosetti’s A Christmas Carol, which begins, “In the bleak midwinter.” The carol sums up, in its last stanza, the nature of “giving to the Christ Child.”

What can I give him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I could give a Lamb.

If I were a wise man, I could do my part.

What I can I give Him?  Give Him my heart!”

JOKE OF THE WEEK: 1) “I want the big cow!”: It was an excited little girl who told me this story. The first two wise men got down from their camels and offered their precious gifts to the Baby. He declined them. When the Baby Jesus declined the gift of the third also, the exasperated wise man asked, “Then what do you want?” The Child Jesus answered quickly and with a warm smile, “Your big cow!”

2) A husband asked his wife, “Why would God give the wise men a star to guide them?” She replied, “Because God knows men are too proud to ask directions.”

3) Three Wise Women: While they were talking about the story of the three wise men, a woman asked her parish priest this question, “Do you know why God gave the star to the wise men?” When he professed his ignorance, she told him: “God knows men are too proud to ask directions. If there had been three wise women instead of three wise men, they would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and given some practical gifts!”

4) Epiphany of a pilot: A helicopter was flying around above Seattle yesterday when an electrical malfunction disabled all the aircraft’s electronic navigation and communications equipment. Due to the clouds and haze, the pilot could not determine the helicopter’s position and course to steer to the airport. The pilot saw a tall building, flew toward it, circled, drew a handwritten sign, and held it in the helicopter’s window. The pilot’s sign said, “Where am I?” in large letters. People in the tall building quickly responded to the aircraft, drew a large sign, and held it in a building window. Their sign said, “You are in a helicopter.” The pilot smiled, waved, looked at his map, determined the course to steer to Sea-Tac airport, and landed safely. After they were on the ground, the co-pilot asked the pilot how the “You are in a helicopter” sign helped determine their position. The pilot responded, “I knew that had to be the Microsoft building because, similar to their help-lines, they gave me a technically correct but completely useless answer.”

USEFUL WEBSITES OF THE WEEK (for weekday homilies)

  1. Don Schwager based on William Barclay’s commentary: http://dailyscripture.servantsoftheword.org/readings/
  2. USCCB video homily: http://www.usccb.org/bible/reflections/index.cfm
  3. Fr. Nick’s collection: http://www.catholicsermons.com/homilies/weekday
  4. Saint of the Day: 1) https://www.franciscanmedia.org/source/saint-of-the-day/ 2) http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/SaintofDay/default.asp
  5. http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/homily/the-virgin-shall-be-with-child/652/
  6. Regnum Christi Mediations: http://www.regnumchristi.org/english/meditaciones/index.phtml?se=39&ca=95&te=60
  7. Video Scripture study by Fr. Geoffrey Plant: https://www.youtube.com/user/GeoffreyPlant2066

24-Additional anecdotes:

1. A woman among the Magi? Rev. Benedict Thomas Viviano, a renowned Gospel of Matthew professor, Dominican friar and priest (https://www.stlbeacon.org/#!/content/17405/viviano_writes_about_a_woman_magi), has a new Biblical theory that may change nativity scenes across the globe: there was one Wise Woman (or more) among the Wise Men. His original theory was published in 2011 in Studies of Matthew by Leuven University Press. It’s “perfectly plausible” that Matthew would have understood the magi as some sort of Eastern sages, he said. “On the other hand, the masculine plural magoi does not close the question of gender. “The main reason to think of the presence of one or more women among the magi is the background story of the queen of Sheba, with her quest for Israelite royal wisdom, her reverent awe, and her three gifts fit for a king,” Viviano suggested. His second reason to suspect the presence of the feminine is the Israelite tradition of personifying wisdom as a woman, he said (Proverbs 8:22-30; 9:1-6; Book of Sirach, 24). Viviano’s third argument for his female magi cause is that Matthew’s Gospel later characterizes Jesus as embodying wisdom, which Jewish literature considers female and even terms Lady Wisdom. The passages he refers to are Matthew, Chapter 11:19 and 25-30. What difference it would have made if there was a woman among the magi? A women’s magazine says: They would have come before the birth of Jesus, brought provisions for the child and his mother and the woman would have served as a midwife! (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

2) An epiphany in the airport. We spot what looks like a mom, a dad, and three teenage daughters. The girls and their mom are each holding a bouquet of roses. We are wondering what the story is. Whom are they expecting? The dad keeps looking at his watch. The mom keeps turning her head to make sure she hears each airport announcement. Finally, the door opens. First come the “rushers”–men and women in suits with briefcases and bags over their shoulders, rushing towards phones, bathrooms, and their cars or rent-a-cars. We’re still wondering and watching to learn whom this family we’ve been studying is there to meet. Then out come a young Marine, his wife, and their obviously brand-new baby. The three girls run to the couple and the baby. Then Mom. Dad. Hugs. Kisses. Embraces. “OOPS! The flowers!” But the baby is the center of attention. Each member of the family gets closer and closer to the mother and each opens the bundle in pink to have a first peek at this new life on the planet. We’re seeing it from a distance. It’s better than the evening news. Then we notice several other smiling people also watching the same scene. There are many other hugging scenes, people meeting people, but this is the big one. We’re smiling too. A tear of joy. What wonderful moment we are photographing into our memory. We’re thinking, “Family! Children! Grandchildren!” This is what life is all about. We’re experiencing an epiphany. Life is filled with them. Praise God! (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

3) Artaban’s gift: There’s a story called “The Other Wise Man” by Henry van Dyke. It’s about a fourth person who is supposed to accompany the other three wise men on their journey to search for the newborn King. The name of the person is Artaban. As Artaban prepares for the journey, he takes with him a bag of precious stones to give to the baby King. On this way to join the other three wise men, Artaban stops to help a poor person. The delay is just enough to make him miss his rendezvous with the others. Artaban never does catch up with them. He constantly runs into people who need help. And he always stops to help them. Eventually, Artaban gives away all his precious stones. As the story ends, Artaban is old and poor. He has never realized his dream to meet the King of Kings. But the story doesn’t end here. One day Artaban is in Jerusalem. Authorities are about to execute a criminal. When Artaban sees the criminal, his heart skips a beat. Something tells him this is the King of Kings for whom he has been searching all his life. Artaban is heartbroken when he sees he can do nothing to help the King. Then something remarkable happens. Artaban hears the King’s voice say to him: “Don’t be broken-hearted, Artaban. You’ve been helping me all your life. When I was hungry, you gave me food. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink. When I was naked, you clothed me. When I was a stranger, you took me in” (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies).

4) Epiphany of a drummer: Consider a true story of a young man named Tony. He travelled all over the world, appearing widely on stage and on television as a drummer in a world-famous music group. Then one day Tony felt called to the priesthood. When he resigned from the music group to enter a seminary, some people thought him to be a fool. The story could end here. And if it did, some would consider it to be a sad story. It would be the story of a young man who let a dream slip through his fingers. But the story doesn’t end here. Tony’s now a priest in the diocese of Dallas. And he’s tremendously happy. Jesus will someday say to him what he said to Artaban: “You’ve been helping me all your life, Tony. What you did for your Parishioners, you did for me.” (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies).(http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

5) Lesser epiphanies of Robert and Edison: Let’s start by reminding ourselves: God keeps appearing; we still have epiphanies. One kind of lesser epiphany is an “aha” experience. We sometimes get an “aha” when studying the Bible. For days, Robert had been bothered by a big sin he’d committed — that so awful, so nasty sin we dread telling in confession. Then, reading about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, Robert felt, “Aha! If God can raise his friend Lazarus from the dead, God can forgive me this great sin I committed!” A “lesser epiphany!” When Robert went to confession, he knew God loved him, deeply and totally.
We have “lesser epiphanies” as others treat us with kindness. After Thomas Edison had finished making the very first light bulb, Edison gave the light bulb to a young assistant to carry upstairs. Crash! The young man dropped the light bulb! Twenty-four hours later, a second light bulb completed, Edison handed the second light bulb to the same young lad. Edison knew, accidents happen, but the young man was still a fine young man. Here was a “lesser epiphany” — God’s love manifested in the kind gesture of a great inventor. Have no doubt. God continues to appear among us. When we attune ourselves to God, we see “lesser epiphanies” every day. There may be no star hovering overhead, but we recognize God in the kind gesture, in the “aha” insight; we see God in the love we receive and are called to give. (Fr. Clyde Bonar) (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

6) The Hostess of the Magi missed Child Jesus: Once upon a time there lived in Bethlehem a woman named Babushka. She kept the cleanest and neatest house in town and was also the best cook. She heard rumors of three kings coming across the desert but paid no attention to them because she had so much work to do. Then she heard the sounds of drums and pipes and a cavalcade of riders. She looked out the window and there were three richly dressed kings coming towards her house. They told her that they had come to honor the little prince who had been born in Bethlehem and they needed food and lodging. Babushka cooked a wonderful meal for them, remade all the beds, and wore herself out. The next morning the kings begged her to come with them so she too might see the little prince. Babushka said she would follow after them as soon as she finished the dishes. She cleaned the house again and then took out of a cabinet the toys of her own little prince who had died so long ago. She had no more need of them and would give them to the new little prince. She put them in a basket and sat down for a moment’s rest before she followed the wise men. Hours later she woke up, grabbed the basket, and rushed into town. But the kings were gone and so were the little prince and his parents. Ever after, it is said, Babushka has followed after them. Whenever she finds a newborn babe, she looks to see if he is the little prince. Even if he (or in our days she too), is not there, Babushka leaves a toy for the child. I think she probably found the prince early on, but we still should learn from her lesson: we should never let the important interfere with the essential. (Fr. Andrew Greely) (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

7) A new Magi story: In this story, the three wise men, Gaspar, Balthassar and Melchior, were three different ages.  Gaspar was a young man, Balthassar a middle-aged man and Melchior an elderly man.  They found a cave where the Holy One was and entered to do him homage one at a time.  Melchior the old man entered first.  He found an old man like himself in the cave.  They shared stories and spoke of memory and gratitude.  Middle-aged Balthassar entered next.  He found a man his own age there.  They spoke passionately about leadership and responsibility.  Young Gaspar was the last to enter.  He found a young prophet waiting for him.  They spoke about reform and promise.  Afterward when the three kings spoke to each other about their encounter with the Christ, they were shocked at each other’s stories.  So, they got their gifts of gold frankincense and myrrh together and all three went into the cave.  They found a baby there, the infant Jesus only twelve days old.  There is a deep message here.  Jesus reveals himself to all people, at all stages of their lives, whether they are Jew or Gentile. (Fr. Pellegrino). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

8) O Henry’s story of real love through sacrificial sharing: “Gift of the Magi”:  (A summarized version):   It was Christmas Eve, during the days of the depression of the 1930’s. Della and James, a newly married couple, were very poor. They loved each other dearly, but money was hard come by.  In fact, as Christmas approached, they were unhappy because they had no money to buy presents for each other. They had two possessions that they valued deeply:  James had a gold watch which had belonged to his father, and Della had long and beautiful golden-brown hair. Della knew that James’ watch had no matching chain–only a worn-out leather strap. A matching chain would be an ideal gift for her husband, but she lacked the money to buy it.

As she stood before the mirror, her eyes fell on her long brown tresses. She was very proud of her beautiful hair, but she knew what she had to do. She faltered a moment, but nothing could stand in the way of love. She hastened to the “hair-dealers,” sold her hair for twenty dollars, and went round shop after shop, hunting for the ideal gift. At last she found it: a gold chain for her husband’s watch. She was very happy and proud of the gift. She knew James would love it, the fruit of her sacrifice.

James came in, beaming with love, proud of the gift he had bought for Della. He knew she would be very happy with the gift.  But when he saw her, his face fell. She thought he was angry at what she had done. She tried to console him by saying that her hair would grow fast, and soon it would be as beautiful as before. That is when he gave her his gift. It was an expensive set of combs, with gem-studded rims.   She had always wanted them for her hair! She was very happy, but with a tinge of sadness. She knew it would be some time before she could use the precious gift.

Then, with tears in her eyes, she presented him with the gift she had bought. As he looked at the beautiful chain, he said with a sigh: “I guess our gifts will have to wait for some time. The combs were very expensive; I had to sell my watch to buy the combs!” These were the perfect gifts:  gifts of sacrificial love. Both James and Della were very happy for, like the Magi, they had discovered LOVE through self-sacrifice.(http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

9) Angel at work? The British express train raced through the night, its powerful headlight piercing the darkness. Queen Victoria was a passenger on the train. Suddenly the engineer saw a startling sight. Revealed in the beam of the engine’s light was a strange figure in a black cloak standing in the middle of the tracks and waving its arms. The engineer grabbed for the brake and brought the train to a grinding halt. He and his fellow trainmen clambered down to see what had stopped them. But they could find no trace of the strange figure. On a hunch the engineer walked a few yards further up the tracks. Suddenly he stopped and stared into the fog in horror. A bridge had been washed out in the middle and ahead of them it had toppled into a swollen stream. If the engineer had not heeded the ghostly figure, his train would have plummeted down into the stream. While the bridge and tracks were being repaired, the crew made a more intensive search for the strange flagman. But not until they got to London did they solve the mystery. At the base of the engine’s headlight the engineer discovered a huge dead moth. He looked at it a moment, then on impulse wet its wings and pasted it to the glass of the lamp. Climbing back in to his cab, he switched on the light and saw the “flagman” in the beam. In the fog, it appeared to be a phantom figure, waving its arms. When Queen Victoria was told of the strange happening she said, “I’m sure it was no accident. It was God’s way of protecting us.” No, the figure the engineer saw in the headlight’s beam was not an angel…and yet God, quite possibly through the ministry of His unseen angels, had placed the moth on the headlight lens exactly when and where it was needed. Today’s Gospel tells us how God sent a star to lead the magi to His Son Jesus. (Billy Graham from Unto the Hills; quoted by Fr. Botelho). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

10) “It’s me Papa. Open the door, it’s your son.” The Buddha told a story. A young widower who loved his five-year-old son very much was away on business, and bandits came, burned down his whole village, and took his son away. When the man returned, he saw the ruins, and panicked. He took the charred corpse of an infant to be his own child, and he began to pull his hair and beat his chest, crying uncontrollably. He organized a cremation ceremony, collected the ashes and put them in a very beautiful velvet bag. Working, sleeping, eating, he always carried the bag of ashes with him. One day his real son escaped from the robbers and found his way home. He arrived at his father’s new cottage at midnight, and knocked at the door. You can imagine at that time, the young father was still carrying the bag of ashes, and crying. He asked, “Who is there?” And the child answered, “It’s me Papa. Open the door, it’s your son.” In his agitated state of mind the father thought that some mischievous boy was making fun of him, and he shouted at the child to go away, and he continued to cry. The boy knocked again and again, but the father refused to let him in. Some time passed, and finally the child left. From that time on, father and son never saw one another… After telling this story, the Buddha said, “Sometimes, somewhere you take something to be the truth. If you cling to it so much, when the truth comes in person and knocks at your door, you will not open it.” (Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk in his book Being Peace). We celebrate the feast of Epiphany. God breaks through. God is revealed. Truth happens.

11) Those who are at the top need to fear a fall: Raymond Brown, the great New Testament scholar, found an echo of the story of the Three Wise Men in the story of King Balak and the prophet Balaam in the Old Testament. Balak was a king of the Moabites. When the Israelites left Egypt under the leadership of Moses, Like king Herod who feared the birth of the Messiah and wanted to kill him, King Balak feared the Israelites wanted to destroy Moab, so he planned to destroy them. To accomplish his purpose, Balak summoned a famous prophet, Balaam, to place a curse on Israel. Balaam was an interesting character; he was a non-Israelite, and a practitioner of enchantment. He was capable of doing both good and evil. Balaam, the prophet, came from the east along with two servants, thereby, making the number three, like the Magi. And when he came, commanded to curse Israel, the Holy Spirit foiled King Balak’s efforts by blessing Israel through Balaam and foretelling the future greatness of Israel and the rise of its royal ruler. Balaam prophesied and said, “A star will come forth from Jacob, and a scepter will rise from Israel.” Like king Herod who massacred all the infants in Bethlehem 2 years-old and younger so that he wouldn’t miss the newborn King, the wicked king Balak tried to do the same thing by using a magus to destroy the Israelites, but his efforts were foiled. (John Rose in Sunday Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

12) Why a Feast only for the Magi and not for the shepherds? In the stories of Jesus’ birth, two special groups of people came to visit the newborn babe: the shepherds and the Magi. The Church has no special feast to commemorate the visit of the shepherds, but we have this special feast of Epiphany today to celebrate the visit of the magi. Why is that? It is because the visit of the Magi is an eye-opener. The shepherds learnt of the birth of Jesus through a direct Revelation from angels appearing in the midnight sky, and they believed the Message. This is direct and supernatural Revelation. Many of us have no problem with that. The Magi, on the other hand, learnt of the birth of Jesus by observing a star. The star did not say anything to them. They had to interpret this natural sign of the star to know what it meant and where it led. If we remember that the Magi or the three wise men divined God’s will by reading the movements of the stars and other heavenly bodies, then we can see how the visit of the Magi challenges some of our popular beliefs. (Fr. Munacchi). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

13) The star of Bethlehem: In Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “The Star,” we read about a Jesuit astrophysicist who makes a space trip with other scientists to a distant galaxy called the Phoenix Nebula. There they chance upon a solitary planet still orbiting the remnant of a central sun, which had exploded thousands of years ago. The explorers land their spacecraft on this planet and examine the scorched surface caused by that cosmic detonation. They discover a melted-down monolithic marker at the entrance of a great vault in which they find the carefully stored treasures and records of an advanced civilization. On their return trip to earth in our own galaxy, the Jesuit astrophysicist calculates the exact time when the light from this cosmic explosion in the Phoenix Nebula reached earth. It was the date of Christ’s birth when the light from that fire was seen as a bright new star appearing in the East. But now that he had solved an ancient mystery, he had a greater mystery to grapple with. How could a loving God allow a whole planet of intelligent being to be given a galactic conflagration, so that the symbol of their passing might shine above Bethlehem at his Son’s birth? This science-fiction story about the star of Bethlehem has its source in today’s Gospel. Mathew’s narration of the Magi uses the star as its central symbol. From its rising in the East to its coming to a standstill over Bethlehem, the star leads and guides the astrologers. (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

14) Horoscope mania: As we enter into a new year it is comforting to know that the stars are in our favor. We are still in the early years of the Age of Aquarius, which, according to Wikipedia, officially began November 11, 2011. “When the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars, then peace will guide the planets and love will spear the stars.“ That’s what the astrologers have been telling us, and it is not difficult to be impressed by the fact that an estimated fifty million North Americans consult the “Horoscope” in their newspapers, and that books on astrology have been selling by hundreds of thousands every year. Among young people, astrology is very much an “in” thing — unfortunately, in some cases, as a kind of substitute for religion, which they have rejected. As it is in all forms of prediction, astrology can be troublesome because so often it is ambiguous and is very hard to interpret. A man was telling his friend that an astrologer had said to him, “Your wife’s second husband will be rich, brilliant and handsome.” And the friend asked, “Didn’t it upset you to hear that kind of prediction?” “Yes, it did upset me very much,” the man answered. “I didn’t know my wife had been married before.” For some people, apparently, the star signs can mean what they want them to mean. But it is interesting to note that people are interpreting the star signs to mean we are moving into a new era of brotherhood, peace and love. This should be of the utmost importance to us Christians because our most reliable source for information concerning the world’s destiny — The New Testament – is saying the same thing. And, incredibly, it begins telling us the story of a baby’s birth. “We observed His star at its rising and have come to pay Him homage.” On this first Sunday of the New Year, if we have discovered the living presence of God deep in the core of our being then we will not have missed Jesus’ star at its rising, and we will know how to pay Him true homage. With God at the center of our lives we will bear homage to the newborn Babe through our gifts of heartfelt compassion, patient understanding and genuine concern for others. Our greatest gift to the world in this New Year or any other year is the gift of self. This is the homage we pay Him: to love one another as Jesus has loved us. (Millennium edition). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

15) Camel on the roof: We begin with a story from a collection of the lives of saints – the saints of Islam – which concerns a king of Balkh (now northern Afghanistan) named Ebrahim ibn Adam. Ebrahim was wealthy according to every earthly measure. At the same time, however, he sincerely and restlessly strove to be wealthy spiritually as well. “One night the king was roused from sleep by a fearful stumping on the roof above his bed. Alarmed, he shouted: ‘Who’s there?’ ‘A friend,’ came the reply from the roof. ‘I’ve lost my camel.’ Perturbed by such stupidity, Ebrahim screamed: ‘You fool! Are you looking for a camel on the roof?’ ‘You fool!’ the voice from the roof answered. ‘Are you looking for God in silk clothing, and lying on a golden bed?’” The story goes on, according to Jesuit theologian Walter G. Burghardt, to tell how these simple words filled the king with such terror that he arose from his sleep to become a most remarkable saint [Still Proclaiming Your Wonders: Homilies for the Eighties (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), 55.] The camel on the roof raises the Epiphany question, “Where are you looking for God?” This compelling question of life properly stands at the beginning of a new year, as does, “Where have you found God?”

16) “If I lose that, I am lost.” A great artist once painted a picture in which a solitary figure is seen rowing a small boat across the dark waters of a lonely lake. A high wind is churning up the waters causing white-crested billows to rage ominously around the tiny skiff. As he rows on, the boatman’s eyes are fixed on the one lone star shining through the darkness. Under the picture, the artist has inscribed these words: “If I lose that, I am lost.” In the manner of that dauntless boatman, our mission is to keep our eyes fixed on a certain star as we travel along life’s way. This very day, we join with the Wise Men from the East as the Star of Bethlehem guides us along the way to the place of the Savior’s birth. But, having paid homage to the newborn Babe, our eyes must remain fixed on Jesus’ star. In order that Jesus may number us among those who love Him and will carry on His work, we must follow His star to the foot of the cross. It is only from the cross that that guiding star can lead us to the empty tomb. It is there, at the place of Resurrection. (Millennium Edition).

17) We Live Like Beggars: Thomas Merton was a famous Christian writer. He was converted to the Catholic religion, and later became a Trappist monk. He was an author of many books. In one of his books, he says that he once met a Hindu sanyasi (ascetic). The sanyasi said to him that he loved two lovely Christian books: The Confessions of St. Augustine and The Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis. He suggested Merton read these two books. What an irony! A non-Christian recommending two great Christian classics to a Christian! This is the paradox in life — we have such wealth, yet, because of our ignorance, we live like beggars. The same thing happened to the Jews; they were the Chosen ones but did not find the Messiah. (John Rose in John’s Sunday Homilies). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

18) “I have a dream…..”On August 28,1963, before a quarter million Afro-Americans, Martin Luther King Jr. thundered, “I have a dream that former slaves and slave-owners will sit together at the table of brotherhood…I have a dream that little black boys/girls will be able to join hands with little white boys/girls as sisters and brothers… I have a dream that my four children will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Likewise, Mahatma Gandhi envisioned “The India of my dreams.” King and Gandhiji have left their footprints indelibly on the sands of human history. Ignatius of Loyola spent much time stargazing before birthing the Society of Jesus. Rabindranath Tagore’s prayer, “Amidst thy numberless stars, let me place my own little lamp,” is a must-say for modern Magi who leave familiar shores and follow stars. Remember, as you strip stars from your Christmas trees and cribs, ask yourself: “Who, and what, is my star?” Start this New Year with some dream and some star that will guide you towards Jesus Christ, Superstar, The Light of all nations. (Francis Gonsalves in Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds)

19) Looking at the Stars: It was a hot day in July 1969 on board an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. Sailors with binoculars were searching the sky above the carrier. Suddenly they let out a yell. There, orange and white parachutes exploded and bloomed in the blue sky. Dangling from them was a ball-like shape. It was the Apollo II space capsule. Minutes later the capsule plunged into the warm water of the Pacific. The splashdown climaxed a voyage that had put three men on the moon. When the smiling astronauts emerged from the capsule, President Nixon danced a little jig on the carrier deck. He had flown halfway around the world to witness this history-making moment. He said the splashdown climaxed the greatest week in the world since creation. In the exciting months ahead, the three astronauts made a good will tour around the world. They visited 23 countries in 45 days. One of the “most striking moments of the trip,” said Astronaut Ed Aldrin, was to visit the Vatican. The astronauts were especially moved by the unusual gifts presented them by Pope Paul VI. Writing in his book Return to Earth, Ed Aldrin says: “His Holiness unveiled three magnificent porcelain statues of the Three Wise Men. He said that these three men were directed to the infant Christ by looking at the stars and that we three also reached our destination by looking at the stars.” (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 

20) N-R0018-0060-st-matthew-and-the-angel The whispering angel: The seventeenth century painter Guido Reni has left us a magnificent painting of Matthew. An angel is whispering to him various events in the life of Jesus. The attentive Evangelist is frantically writing down all that he is told. The tale will become his Gospel. A portion of those whispers is today’s story of the Epiphany. It is only Matthew who tells us this tale filled with wonder. Why the other Evangelists ignored this magical story, we will never know — at least this side of the grave. (Fr. Gilhooly). v(http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

21) Bones of the wise men? If you ever visit Cologne (Köln) Cathedral in Germany you can walk around the sanctuary where, behind the main altar, you will find a large reliquary which is said to contain the bones or at least the skulls of the three wise men. “How did they get to Cologne?” you might ask. Ireland has been privileged to have been visited by the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux (2001) and St Anthony of Padua (2003) so that makes it easier for us to understand the explanation. The wise men’s bones are said to have been found in Persia and then brought to Constantinople by St Helena. St Helena was the mother of the emperor Constantine who was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. The bones were transferred from Constantinople to Milan in the fifth century and to Cologne in 1163. (Fr. Tommy Lane). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

22) The Magi at 40,000 feet: On Christmas morning, a single mom and her two sons, ages 14 and 12, boarded a plane in Atlanta. They were heading to San Diego to spend Christmas with friends. Another single mother boarded the same flight, wrangling two small boys, ages 2 and 3. The older boy was wearing a ”halo” neck brace to immobilize his head and spine. They took their seats two rows behind the first family. The younger child sat on her lap, and the boy in the halo took the middle seat — next to a man with a look of unmitigated dread. Both toddlers immediately started screaming. The boy in the halo wanted no part of the seat belt and the other didn’t want to sit on his mother’s lap. The first mom knew what the toddlers’ mom was going through. Once the plane was in the air, she got up and offered her seat to the ashen-faced man near the window. He looked spectacularly relieved. She took his place and offered the mom an extra pair of hands. For the next four hours she read Dr. Seuss, walked up and down the aisle with the boys, amused them with hand puppets, changed diapers, doled out Goldfish crackers and bottles. During the last hour of the flight, both children were asleep, and the two moms had a chance to talk. The toddler’s mom asked the first mom about her sons’ father. She told her about the divorce and a new relationship that was faltering. “And your sons: where is their father?” she asked gingerly. The toddlers’ mom spoke softly: “Six months ago, my husband was killed in a car accident. I was at home with the baby, and my older son” — she pointed to the three-year-old with the halo — “was airlifted in critical condition from the scene. He had a broken neck and severe internal injuries. It was touch and go for a while. He still has ways to go.” She went on to explain that she was on leave from Delta and was now trying to sort out the next moves for her and her boys. For now, she was taking them to see her family in California. She smiled wistfully. “You never know how quickly life can change. The life you plan . . .” Her voice trailed off as she smiled at the sleeping child in her lap. The first mom writes of that Christmas: “I had intended to be the generous one that morning. My gift to her was an extra pair of hands to wrangle spirited toddlers trapped on a plane. But her gift to me was of the Magi order. It was the gift of perspective, of being able to step back and appreciate what I have, however frustrating . . . thanks to that stranger on a plane, I discovered I had more patience and appreciation in me.” [From “The Magi at 40,000 feet” by Laura Wilkinson Sinton, The New York Times (December 22, 2011).] (Fr. Kayala). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

23) The Star of Bethlehem: Gordon Wilson’s daughter was killed by a bomb in Enniskillen on Remembrance Day 1987. Instead of calling for revenge, he forgave her killers and began a campaign for peace and reconciliation. He said: “I am a very ordinary sort of man. I have few personal ambitions and no political aspirations. I just want to live and let live. Life has been kind to me in the main, and I have tried to live by the Good Book. I do not profess to be a good man, but I aim to be. I would like to leave the world a better place than I found it, but I have no exaggerated ideas of my ability to do so. I have hitched my wagon to a star, a star of hope, the star of Bethlehem.
(Flor McCarthy in New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies; quoted by Fr. Botelho). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

24) The gift of the Magi, and our gift to Him: Once, the people of a very poor parish set their hearts on acquiring an expensive set of figures for their Christmas crib. They worked hard and managed to get a set of rare porcelain for their crib. The Church was left open on Christmas day so that the people could visit the crib. In the evening when the parish priest went to lock up, to his consternation he found the baby Jesus was missing. As he stood there, he spotted a little girl with a pram entering the church. She made straight for the crib, took the baby Jesus out of the pram and put him lovingly in the crib. As she was on her way out the priest stopped her and asked her what she was doing with the baby Jesus.  She told him that before Christmas she had prayed to baby Jesus for a pram. She had promised him that if she got the prom, he would have the first ride in it. She had got her pram so she was keeping her side of the bargain. –Christmas evokes generosity in all people, especially in children. It was the poverty of the infant Jesus that caused the Magi to open their treasures of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and lay them before him. What is our gift to him? (Flor McCarthy in New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies; quoted by Fr. Botelho). (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/20

“Scriptural Homilies” Cycle A (No. 11) by Fr. Tony: akadavil@gmail.com

Visit my website by clicking on http://frtonyshomilies.com/ for missed or previous Cycle A homilies, 141 Year of Faith “Adult Faith Formation Lessons” (useful for RCIA classes too) & 197 “Question of the Week.” Contact me only at akadavil@gmail.com. Visit http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church.html for the Vatican version of this homily and  the CBCI website https://cbci.in/SundayReflectionsNew.aspx?&id=cG2JDo4P6qU=&type=text. for a full version Or https://www.catholicsermons.com/homilies/sunday_homilies  under Fr. Tony or under CBCI for my website version.  Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604.