We come to the final week of the Christmas season by celebrating the Epiphany. Epiphany means appearance or manifestation, and so we celebrate the 3 wise men or magi that followed the star to the Christ child.
Before we reflect on what this celebration means for us today, it is helpful to have an understanding of who the Magi were and what they were doing. The magi were the ones who were summoned by the king whenever he wanted advice or to learn about something. The Magi were literally wise men who were very learned in philosophy and astrology, among other subjects, and so able to read the signs in the stars. The magi, in general, were Gentiles, or people who did not believe in the one true God of Israel. However, even though these 3 magi were Gentiles, they still knew the prophecies of the Jewish believers.
For example, they knew the prophecies like Numbers chapter 24 revealed that a star would come from Judah to show the way to the Messiah; and Micah which foretold that the future King of Israel would be from Bethlehem. Likewise, they knew Isaiah 60, our 1st reading, which declares that the God of Israel would be the light of all kings and all nations. And when the Messiah is born, gifts of gold and frankincense were to be brought as a sign of conversion in praise and adoration to the One true God. These magi knew all these prophecies and had them stored in the back of their mind, perhaps they went about their normal business every day but still wondered every so often if these prophecies would ever come true. Can you imagine then when they saw the star from Judah shining brightly at the very time it was prophesied the Messiah would be born. Curious, as good students, they sought the truth and followed the star bringing with them their gifts to find the Christ-child. And our Gospel states, they were overjoyed at seeing the star and upon seeing the child with Mary, they prostrated themselves and did him homage. They prostrated themselves in worship of the Messiah and Savior who had come among them, and offered Him their gifts. So what does this mean for us?
My brothers and sisters, we are to learn from these Magi, and do what they did. First of all, notice how their study and learning prepared and opened them to faith. How much have you, or are you studying the faith? The more we learn about the amazing events and prophecies of the Old Testament and how indeed Christ fulfills them, our faith grows. The more we learn about what the teachings of the faith are, and exactly why they are for our good, then the more we will want to put our trust in God. The more we learn about our faith, the more we will grow and fall more in love with God and our faith, and the better we will be able to share it with others. The book we gave you as our gift to you this Christmas, Why We’re Catholic, by Trent Horn, is a great place to start. In addition, while you’re in the car, listen to Catholic radio- AM 1310. If you do, I guarantee you learn and grow in your faith. Besides books and radio, there are hundreds of video resources for all ages provided for you free of charge on Formed.org. Raise your hand if you have watched and learned anything on Formed.org? Good. How many of you have heard of Formed.org? If you have only heard of it, I seriously ask you to ask yourself why you haven’t taken advantage of it? With all these resources available, there really is no reason why you (and I) can’t learn and grow and fall even more in love with your faith. It is worth the sacrifice of time; and I promise you that is the most important thing you can do on this earth, for only that leads to eternal life.
When the Magi came and saw their Savior, they believed- they were converted and prostrated themselves in worship. My brothers and sisters, just as real as the little Jesus is born and the Magi encountered Him, is just as real as Jesus is present upon this Altar and in this tabernacle. Yet, how many of us recognize that truth when we walk in? We are supposed to genuflect on one knee (or bow if you can’t) toward the Tabernacle, when we enter and exit the pew in recognition and reverence for the Presence of God in our midst. God literally tabernacles amongst us, how amazing, but how well do you recognize and show that reality. Sadly, I can see that many of you don’t genuflect, or if you do, it is only very quick and half-hearted. God wants each one of us to really know, recognize, honor, and love His Presence. And parents, of children of any age, please teach your children what they are doing when they come into a Church, we are never too old to learn and appreciate.
What is your mentality when you come to Mass-why do you come- do you come to give yourself in worship, or do you only come to receive? I know that for some of you it is hard enough just to show up, and God and I am glad you are making the effort to be here. For others of us it might be easy to come to Mass out of habit or routine, but sometimes our hearts are not fully present. However, God wants us not just to come, but to come and give ourselves in worship. Hopefully, we all know we should participate fully at Mass. Every Mass truly is a celebration, but yet many only show up but don’t fully participate in the festivities of the Mass. One of the ways we enter into the festivities is by singing and responding to the prayers out loud. Ask yourself, if all you are doing is standing and sitting during the Mass, and maybe responding as if in a whisper, but you don’t bother to open the songbook or sing out loud, can you really say you are giving your whole heart and self in love and worship to God? Does He deserve a little more whole-hearted effort?
Yes, God is a very generous God, and He gives Himself to us in the Eucharist at every Mass, no matter what, without any dependence or condition placed on us. But if we only come to receive, then we are short changing ourselves. While God gives the gift of Himself no matter what, we are more open and better able to receive the gift when we give of ourselves in love and worship from our hearts. It really is true, we get out of it what we put into it. So if you don’t get anything out of Mass, then perhaps it is because you aren’t giving enough to receive. The more and better we give ourselves in love and worship, the more effective and impactful the gift of Our Lord will be for us.
Finally, the wise men brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. What heavy and expensive gifts. However, think about it, what good would these gifts be for a little baby and His parents? What they would need most, I would think, would be diapers, don’t you? I wonder if Joseph thought, Gee thanks for giving this heavy satchel full of gold that I now have to carry all the way back to Jerusalem! Joking aside, you see, the magi did not give because of the Holy Family’s need, they gave as an act of conversion and sacrifice. These wise men truly knew they were in the Presence of the King of the Universe. They knew they were encountering the Divine, and so they gave accordingly. They gave of themselves in these very expensive gifts not because of the need of the receiver, but they gave simply out of their need to give. Because that is what converted hearts do, they generously give back. And so I ask you, if you tithe, and give money for the good and service of the Church- something that statistically only a small percentage of Catholics do- do you give only if you determine if it is a worthy cause, or do you give of yourself as an act of love. The reason God and the Church asks you to tithe, (10% of your total income, by the way) is not just because the Church in all her many organizations and services depend upon your generosity, but also because simply put- you need to give. Because your and my tithing is a sign and an act of conversion. It takes a converted heart to recognize that all the resources and income that we have is a gift from God, and to know God simply expects us to give back and use 10% of the gifts and resources He has given us for the good of His Church. The magi gave very expensive gifts, their gifts were a sacrifice. They didn’t give of their excess, or of what they happened to have with them or left over. Their gifts were planned, and they were sacrificial. God and the Church encourages you to plan to give, to tithe 10% of your total income to your parish and larger Church, and to see that your giving is an act of sacrifice. Our giving should be an act of trust that He is our loving Father who will provide for us. Again, it takes a converted heart, one who truly knows the true meaning and extent of Christ’s sacrifice for us, to truly give of ourselves sacrificially for the good of others. And while I and the Finance Council do our best to be good and transparent stewards of the gifts you give us, and we thank you for your generosity, I ask you to look at if and how much you are tithing. Is your giving an act of sacrificial love? How can you work towards making it so?
And so, my brothers and sisters, we are challenged by these Magi to truly seek the Lord and when we encounter Him to truly be converted and offer Him ourselves- our worship and gifts. So that when we encounter Him in every Mass, we give of ourselves fully in love and worship. Our every action we do here at Mass, from our genuflecting, to our singing, responding, and our tithing, should be an act of love. They should be a sign and response of true recognition, with all of our hearts, of God’s Presence among us. What is your gift you are bringing to the Lord?BACK TO LIST