Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Mal 3:1-4; Heb 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40 (2:22-32)

One night in bed a wife said to her husband: “You used to hold my hand when we were courting.” Wearily he reached across, held her hand for a second and tried to get back to sleep. A few moments later she said: “Then you used to kiss me.” Mildly irritated, he reached across, gave her a peck on the cheek and settled down to sleep.

Thirty seconds later she said: “Then you used to bite my neck” Angrily, he threw back the bed clothes and got out of bed. “Where are you going?” she asked. He answered, “To get my teeth!”

We are celebrating every year Mother’s Day (every 2nd Sunday of May) and Father’s Day (every 3rd Sunday of June). But why don’t we have Parents’ Day where we celebrate father and mother together as a couple?

Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. And for me this can be a good day to focus on both parents together. In the image of Joseph and Mary presenting Jesus in the Temple, we have a wonderful model of husband and wife united together in practicing the faith and in raising their child in the faith. In today’s gospel both parents of Jesus, together, they make the long journey to Jerusalem to present their firstborn Child Jesus in the Temple as the law of God requires them to do.

The Law is mentioned three times in this reading: everything is being done “according to the Law,” that is, the Law of Moses. Jesus appears as fully within the Law; everything is being done the right way; he is fully identified with the Jewish people, or as a commentator with a lot of hindsight put it, “completely immersed in humanity.”  Very well, if there is to be hindsight, then let’s see this child as a grown man put to death in accordance with the same Law.

The Law of Moses requires every firstborn of the people of Israel to be offered to God, for God had slain the firstborn of the Egyptians but spared those of the Israelites when he liberated Israel from slavery. Every firstborn of the Israelites was therefore a memorial of this great event in Israel’s history.

I am sure that this is the first time the child Jesus enters His Temple. And His presence in the Temple makes a difference particularly on Simeon and Anna. It is because His presence is worth dying for. Just look at Simeon, he was ready to die not because of old age but because of his encounter with Jesus which simply completed and satisfied all his longings. For Simeon, only Jesus satisfies.

They are wonderful examples of the clarity that can be found in old people.  Every night of life the Church’s Night Prayer repeats Simeon’s canticle.  “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace….”  It is deeply meaningful.  Every day is like a short lifetime, and nightfall reminds us of approaching death.  The end is therefore not to be dreaded as something we have always excluded from our consciousness, but welcomed as a fulfillment – much as the body welcomes the prospect of rest and sleep.

I read this story of a young boy who was as naughty as can be. He had already been transferred from one school to another to help him with formative interventions offered by the different schools but to no avail. Finally, his parents transferred him to a Catholic school. And lo and behold, the boy changed on day one. Asked why the sudden change in his attitude, the boy replied: “When I saw that man nailed on the cross on every wall of my new school I knew they really mean business. It was like being told always, ‘Behave or else…’”

Anyway, the presence of the crucified Christ changed the boy, although for a wrong reason. But if God is always before us or present in us would it spell a big difference on how do we do things?

Actually we are not only celebrating the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. As we celebrate this feast, we are also celebrating other two occasions and these are: Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Candle-mass. In this feast of the Presentation, we are also celebrating the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Actually, she is not subject to the law of purification, but devotion and zeal to honor God by every observance prescribed by His law, prompted Mary to perform this act of religion.

It is also called the Feast of Encounter because the New Testament, represented by the baby Jesus, encountered the Old Testament, represented by Simeon and Anna. The Law of Moses ordained that after childbirth a woman should continue for a certain period of time the law calls her unclean, during which time she was not to appear in public. This term was of forty days following the birth of a son, and double that time for a daughter. When the term expired, the mother was to bring to the Temple a lamb and a young pigeon or turtle-dove, as an offering to God.

Today Mary is bringing her sacrifice to the temple: two birds. She was supposed to bring one bird and one lamb, but a poor woman is allowed to bring two birds instead. Here is another sign that our Lord was not ashamed to be poor. The lamb or the first bird was a burnt offering to the Lord. It was not eaten as most sacrifices are. It was burned up entirely.

The odor of the burning animal rose with the smoke and the sweet smell made atonement to the Lord for the mother. The second animal, always a bird, was killed with a thumbnail, its blood squeezed out, and then the meat was eaten by the priest’s family. It was an offering for unintentional or unavoidable sin, in this case, touching blood.

These sacrifices are bizarre to us, even more so than sacrifices in general. The idea that a woman would need to atone for giving birth or had committed a sin while doing so is strange; we are uncomfortable that such a thing would be required in the Law given to Moses by God.

It seems that Luke was also uncomfortable with the idea since he makes no mention of the actual sacrifice. He instead tells us about two people whom Mary and Joseph met on their way in: an old man and an old woman. The old man, Simeon, just runs up and takes Jesus, blessing and praising God. The old woman, Anna, appears, thanks God, and begins telling people about the child.

Here Jesus is welcomed by the people Israel in the way that he ought to have been welcomed. All Israel is represented in these two people who were longing for the Messiah. We celebrate today the fulfillment of the Old Testament.

Let us be more like Simeon and Anna.  Let us be joyful and announce to the world that Jesus Christ is the light that enlightens our lives. Let us strive to imitate also the humility of the ever-blessed Mother of God, remembering that humility is the path which leads to lasting peace and brings us closer to God, who gives His grace to the humble. Amen.

3rd Sunday of the Year [A] 2014

3rd Sunday of the Year [A] 2014

Is.8:23-29; 1 Cor.1:10-13; Matt.4:12-23

Three men were pacing nervously outside the delivery room at a hospital when the head nurse came out beaming. To the first she said, “Congratulations, sir, you are the father of twins.” “Terrific!” said the man, “I just signed a contract with the Minnesota Twins and this’ll be great press.” To the second man the nurse said, “Congratulations to you too. You are the father of healthy triplets!” “Fantastic!” he said. “I’m the vice-president of 3-M Company. This’ll be great P.R.!”

At that point the third man turned ashen and ran for the door. “What’s wrong, sir?  Where are you going?” called the nurse. As he jumped into his car, the man shouted, “I’m dashing to my office to resign.  I’m the president of 7-UP!”  John the Baptist and Jesus surprised the self-righteous Jews by their call to repentance. Today’s Gospel, from the fourth chapter of Matthew, offers us Christians an equally surprising and shocking announcement by Jesus: “Repent; the kingdom of God is near.”

Today’s Scripture readings tell us that Christ has brought us into the Light (4:16), by calling us to repentance (4:17). The first and last readings at every Sunday Mass are designed to echo each other, making a theme for the day. It is not always successful, but today they are a perfect match.

The first reading contains the prophetic reference to Christ as the Light that dispels darkness. Matthew wanted his readers to recognize that the Light Isaiah had spoken of, had finally appeared with the coming of Jesus. The second reading advises the Corinthians to live as children of the Light, avoiding divisions and rivalries, because several factions had arisen among the Corinthians, each claiming allegiance to its first Christian teacher or to a particular Apostle.

In the first reading the scene is this: in 732 or 734 B.C. an Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser III, captured great numbers of Galileans and brought them into exile and slavery. “King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria came and…carried the people captive to Assyria” (2 Kings 15:29).  Nevertheless the prophet Isaiah is addressing a message of hope to them: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

Many centuries later Jesus of Nazareth would go to live in that very part of the country where the people had been taken into slavery. Because of the geographical coincidence the words of the ancient prophet came spontaneously to mind. To the people of his own time Jesus too would be a light of hope in dark times. God appeared now to be fulfilling the prophecy made long ago by Isaiah.

Jesus is the bearer of light and joy:

Light: “I am the light of the world,” he said (John 8:12; 9:5). Another time he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). These come to the same thing: Without light, a way is not a way in practice: you can’t follow it. The truth is a kind of light: when something is true it is standing in plain sight. Life is a kind of light: there is a lightsome quality about someone who is fully alive.

Joy: “You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest” (first reading).  Isaiah spoke these words in a time of utter depression for the people. Perhaps this is the test of real joy: whether it can cut through thick atmospheres of gloom.

The second reading advises the Corinthians to live as children of the Light, avoiding divisions and rivalries, because several factions had arisen among the Corinthians, each claiming allegiance to its first Christian teacher or to a particular Apostle. Since Corinth was a wild and woolly place, Saint Paul needed to wield his authority there quite severely. Throughout this letter, he was very concerned with preserving the unity of the Christian community.

Paul wanted the Christians to rise above these immature rivalries and to follow the humility and obedience of Jesus Who had emptied Himself for them all.  Paul argued that people who live in the Light must avoid divisions and rivalries.  Christ cannot be divided, nor can His message be changed to suit its hearers.  So Paul urged his readers to heal all divisions in their community so they would bear united witness to the Lord.  They needed to keep their focus on Jesus Christ.

After John was arrested, Jesus chose Galilee as the base for his teaching, preaching and healing mission. That choice fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah (9:1-2).  Nazareth and Capernaum of Galilee were in the territory of Zebulon and Naphtali. It would seem that Jesus’ trip to Capernaum was made, not just as a missionary trip, but to establish Capernaum as his home base.  Capernaum by the sea was a small agricultural and fishing village of Galilee on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Matthew tells us that the people to whom Jesus brought his ministry had been sitting in darkness, but that Jesus’ coming had brought them a great Light.  The area was called the “Galilee of the Gentiles” because there was a large population of Hellenistic pagans mixed in with the Jews who had only recently begun to resettle a land devastated by earlier wars.

Jesus used exactly the same words John the Baptist had used:  “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.”  “To repent” means that we make a complete change of direction in our lives.  Jesus knew what repentance, or change of direction, meant, because he had just made a big change in his own life. Repentance, properly understood, is an “I can’t” experience rather than an “I can” experience.

If repentance is promising God, “I can do better,” then we are trying to keep ourselves in control of our lives.  When we come before God confessing, “I can’t do better,” then we are dying to self.  We are giving up control of our lives.  We are throwing our sinful lives on the mercy of God.  We are inviting God to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves — namely to raise the dead — to change and recreate us.  “Repent” is in the present tense — “Keep on repenting!”  “Continually be repentant!”  Repentance is the ongoing lifestyle of the people in the kingdom.

When we receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, we are sent forth to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom and to defend the Catholic faith. Each Christian has received a unique call to preach the Good News of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness and salvation through his or her daily life.

This call challenges us to rebuild our lives, homes and communities in the justice and peace that Jesus proclaims. As we continue with the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us ask the Lord Jesus to give us the strength and perseverance to answer His calling, so that we may faithfully serve the Lord, doing His Divine will as best as we can by cooperating with his grace. Amen.

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is.49: 3, 5-6, 1.Cor1:1-3, John 1:29-34

A priest and taxi driver both died and went to heaven. St. Peter was at the Pearly gates waiting for them. ‘Come with me’, said St Peter to the taxi driver. The taxi driver did as he was told and followed St Peter to a mansion. It had anything you could imagine from a bowling alley to an Olympic size pool. ‘Wow, thank you’, said the taxi driver.

Next, St Peter led the priest to a rugged old shack with a bunk bed and a little old television set. ‘Wait, I think you are a little mixed up’, said the priest. ‘Shouldn’t I be the one who gets the mansion? After all, I was a priest, went to church every day, and preached God’s word.’ ‘Yes, that is true. But during your sermons people slept. When the taxi driver drove, everyone prayed.

As happens each year, the lectionary remains with Christmas themes (and with St John’s gospel) for one more week. It is as if the church is still enjoying Christmas and is reluctant to move on to Ordinary Time and St Matthew. The passage has a double focus: Jesus and John the Baptist. John invites us to “look” at Jesus; he reflects on his mission to proclaim Jesus to the world. We are free to identify with either:

– To celebrate times when some John the Baptist (a person, a word or an event) invites us to take

a fresh look at Jesus “coming towards us.”

– To celebrate our mission as parents, teachers, friends, community leaders, spiritual guides to

“Proclaim” to the world (and often to ourselves) that those in our care are sacred.

A mother was preparing the family’s favorite Sunday morning breakfast – pancakes. Ryan, age 6, and Dan, age 4 began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Mom saw this as a “teachable moment”. “You know, boys, if Jesus was here, he would probably say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.” Ryan turned to Dan, and with all the authority of an older brother, said, “Dan, you be Jesus.”

The central theme of today’s readings is a challenge to live like the Lamb of God and to die like the Lamb of God. In both the first and second readings, God calls individuals to his service entrusting them with a mission. The first reading is from the “Songs of the Suffering Servant” in Isaiah, where aspects of Jesus’ own life and mission are foreshadowed.

In the second reading, Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians that they are “sanctified and called to be holy” like all who call on the name of Jesus. The Gospel passage presents three themes, namely, John’s witness to Jesus, Jesus’ epiphany and identification as the “Lamb of God,” and the call to discipleship.

A testimony can be a statement of a truth about something or someone, or a public expression of a religious experience.  John the Baptist gives testimony to Jesus by pointing out that he is the Lamb of God (vv 29, 36); a man who was before me (v 30); the one on whom the Holy Spirit remained (v 33); and the Son of God (v 34).

John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the Jews as the “Lamb of God” on the second day (Jn 1:29).  He repeats it on the third day. “Lamb of God” is the most meaningful title given to Jesus in the Bible.  It is used 29 times in the book of Revelation.  It sums up the love, the sacrifice and the triumph of Christ.  John’s introduction probably brought five pictures of the “lamb” in the mind of his Jewish listeners.

1) The Lamb of Atonement (Lev. 16: 20-22).  A lamb was brought to the Temple on the Day of Atonement.  Placing his hands over its head, the high priest transferred all the sins of his people on it.  It was then sent into the forest to be killed by some wild animal.

2) The Lamb of Daily Atonement (Ex. 29: 38-42; Numbers 28: 1-8). This was the lamb sacrificed on the “Black Altar” of the Temple every morning and evening to atone for the sins of the Jews.

3) The Paschal Lamb (Ex. 12: 11ss), whose blood saved the first born of the Jewish families in Egypt from the Angel of destruction.”  This lamb reminded them also of the Paschal Lamb which they killed every year on the Passover Feast.

4) The Lamb of the Prophets which portrayed One who, by His sacrifice, will redeem his people: “The gentle lamb led to the slaughter house” (Jer. 11: 19), “like a lamb to the slaughter” (Is 53:7).  Both refer to the sufferings and sacrifice of Christ.

5) The Lamb of the Conquerors. This was the picture of a horned lamb on the Jewish flag at the time of Maccabaean liberation war, used as a sign of conquering majesty and power.  The great Jewish conquerors like Samuel, David and Solomon were described by the ancient Jewish historians as “horned lambs.”

Christ as Lamb of God is a title familiar to us.  In the Eucharist, at “the    breaking of the bread” we proclaim in word or song what the Baptist said.  Our traditional fraction anthem is the Agnus Dei – “Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us/grant us peace.”

In this prayer we give expression to our deepest understanding of the identity and purpose of Jesus Christ as our Lamb and Lord.  By His life of love and sacrifice, we believe and affirm that He is the One Who came and continues to come into a broken world to take our sins upon Himself.

We need to live and die like the Lamb of God. Live like a lamb by leading pure, innocent, humble, selfless lives obeying the Christ’s commandment of love; appreciating the loving providence and protecting care of the Good Shepherd in His Church; eating the Body and drinking the Blood of the Good Shepherd and deriving spiritual strength from his Holy Spirit through the Sacraments and prayers.

Die like a sacrificial lamb by sharing our blessings of health, wealth and talents with others in the family, parish and community; bearing witness to Christ in our illness, pain and suffering; offering our suffering for the salvation of souls and as reparation for our sins and those of others.

We need to be witnesses to the Lamb of God.  Today’s Gospel reminds us that being a disciple of Jesus means that we grow by faith to become witnesses for Him.  And bearing witness to Christ is an active, not passive, lifetime enterprise. One cannot be a disciple of Jesus at a distance any more than one can be a distant lover.

To love Christ is to be drawn close to Him, to know Christ personally and experience Him through the Bible, through prayers and sacraments, and to inspire others to want to know him.  To help Christ is to share the Good News about Him with others.  Blessed are we when we bring to others the gifts of love, peace, justice, tolerance, and mercy, thus becoming witnesses for the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.



Is.42:1-4, 6-7, Acts.10:34-38, Mtt.3:13-17

Story: A little elderly lady came home from church and discovered a burglar in her house. At the top of her lungs, she yelled “Acts 2:38 – Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins!” The burglar froze and stood there motionless while she called the cops. When the cops arrived, they handcuffed the burglar and said, “Wow that is amazing! Why did you stop when she yelled out the Bible verse?” “Bible verse?!” the burglar said, “I thought she had an axe and two 38s!”

Today’s feast, the baptism of Jesus, is one of those strange luminal times in the Church calendar year because it is two things at once: today is both the last Sunday of our Christmas season and the first Sunday in Ordinary time. Jesus’ baptism is recorded in the three synoptic Gospels, namely Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

In each of these Gospels the scene is presented as a very important turning point in Jesus’ life. As we reflect on what is happening here in the life of Jesus, it is important for us to connect it with our own lives, with our baptism and what that means for each one of us.

What baptism means for you and me is precisely what it meant for Jesus. He was beginning His public life, his mission. His baptism is his inauguration, his rite of entrance into that mission. In the waters of Jordan he has been initiated, called, commissioned. In the waters of baptism we, too, have been initiated, called, and commissioned.

In Nigeria the baptism of a child is usually followed by a happy reception where children are sure to eat one thing, RICE. As a result, the baptism dress is sometimes referred to as a child’s rice dress, and baptism itself is called Rice celebration. Thinking of baptism easily makes people think of rice. And sometimes when you are talking of the rites of baptism, all they hear is the rice of baptism. Though the connection between baptism and rice is altogether accidental, one can utilize it as a memory aid for the meaning of baptism.

So what does this four letter RICE signify in connection with baptism?  Here is how one can explain.

R stands for rebirth. All three gospels tell us about Jesus’ baptism in the muddy River Jordan. In baptism we are born again by water and the Holy Spirit, We are cleansed from original sin and become sons and daughters of God in a special way.

I stands for Initiation. At baptism we are initiated or admitted into full membership in the church, the community of the children of God in the world. You have become a disciple of Jesus.

C stands for Commissioning. Until baptism, Jesus had lived a laid back life in Nazareth for thirty years. His was a humble existence as a carpenter. Life with his mother in their sleepy village was blissful. There were three good meals daily. All those things were changed with his baptism.

The work for which He was sent by His Father was beginning. It would consume all His energies. It would cost Him His life. But billions of people would be richer because of his life. He would fulfill the job definition given to Him by His Father, which is laid out in detail in today’s reading from Isaiah.

He was to open the eyes of the blind, free prisoners from confinement, from the dungeon those who live in darkness. In Baptism we are commissioned to spread the kingdom of God. We commit ourselves to be servants of God, to do God’s will and serve God with our whole lives.

E stands for Empowerment. At baptism the Holy Spirit comes into our lives and empowers us, equips us, gives us the moral strength to say no to evil and to live as God’s children that we have become. Now, we might legitimately ask a question: Why did Jesus himself be baptized? He needed no baptism, no repentance, for he was without sin.

In this baptism Jesus wanted to show thereby his solidarity with the entire humanity, to associate himself fully with sinful men. It was self-abasement. But in spite of all that, what we need to learn from today’s feast is only one thing and that is the art of commitment.

Nothing has the value without commitment. Commitment is not everything that’s needed, but it is the key element. Nothing else will work without it. And there’s nothing easy about commitment. The culture that surrounds us sends us many messages that work against the keeping of our commitments.

I’m not saying that all movies and all TV shows are bad. There are really good movies about commitment and keeping one’s promises. But clearly our surrounding culture promotes self-interest, not self-sacrifice. Casual friendships can be fun like we see on television. But they can, at the same time, be deadly.

Think of how young men and women have been ravaged by superficial promises. Look at what happens to people who treat their intimacy as something that is merely casual and fun. The excitement of a casual and superficial life-style quickly leads to depression, a sense of emptiness, loss, degradation, and loss of the ability to trust and believe.

Compare that sort of living with living in the joy of a genuine and loving true friendship, one filled with commitment. After all, when you stop and think about it, commitment and faith go together. Each builds up the other. Commitment is the key element of all noble adventures, wonderful discoveries, and heroic human deeds.

Jesus started with it. So did Mary, His mother. Likewise St. Joseph remained faithful to his commitments. Is there anyone here thinking of making a commitment to the Lord and to your parents? Anyone here thinking of becoming a priest? If you are, then begin with commitment. And if you’re talking with someone who is thinking about any noble endeavor tell him or her to start with commitment.

Commitment isn’t everything. A lot of other things are needed in any success story. But commitment is the key element. Nothing else will work without it. I’ve heard the life-stories of lots of people, true-life stories running through those accounts are stories involving deep, loving commitment, stories that can make you cry.

Journey now back to your baptism. Come to know about your baptism, Who baptized you? Who are your God parents and who were there on the day of your baptism? Now open your ears once again. Hopefully you will hear the voice of God saying to you:

“You are my beloved son. On you my favor rests. You are my beloved daughter and I Will love you no matter what.”

It is because of God’s commitment to us that we in turn can give committed love to others. Making a commitment is the most important part of any great task that we undertake. But it’s not the only thing. We need to acquire education and knowledge. We need to practice and develop our skills.

We hear of mothers and fathers who stay with their children through horrible sicknesses and terrible misfortunes, giving them their message of faithful and steadfast caring love. And we hear stories and accounts of men and women of great nobility and great character who at terrible costs to themselves, maintain their commitments to loved ones, to friends and to noble causes, all in great self-sacrifice.

That’s why we have the Sacrament of Baptism and the Sacrament of Confirmation. And that is also why Matrimony and Ordination are also sacraments. All of them are sacraments of commitment.

They are holy moments, holy moments that fill us with the Spirit that anointed Jesus Christ who, in His commitment, saw the heavens open and heard a voice thundering: “You are my beloved son. On you my favor rests.”

We cannot possibly pinpoint when that realization came to full flower. But certainly at His baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptizer He had in full measure into that realization. Certainly at that moment, the one we just heard about in today’s Gospel account, He was committing Himself to the destiny that lay in front of Him. A booming voice from heaven proclaimed: “You are my beloved Son. On you my favor rests.”

Jesus knew that our heavenly Father had special plans for Him. But in His human nature He could not know all of the details of precisely how that would be worked out.

Nevertheless, He made His commitment. Baptism calls us to live lives like that. Let us always remember our Rebirth (Baptism), our initiation to the church and how we were commissioned by the Lord to be pure and keep the light that was given to us and let us ask the Holy Spirit to empower us each day. Amen.

Epiphany of the Lord Year: A

Epiphany of the Lord Year: A

Is. 60:1-6; Eph. 3:2-3, 5-6; Mt. 2:1-12

The great British educator, Sir Ken Robinson, tells the story of three little boys, five and six year olds, who played the role of the three King’s at their Kindergarten Nativity Play.  They came marching in before the manger with paper hats and each carrying on box.  The first boy laid his box before the baby Jesus and announced, “I have brought you gold.”

The second laid his box down and announced, “I have brought you myrrh.”  Now the third boy came down with sudden stage fright, but he plowed through it, remembered he had to put his box down but forgot his line.  So he announced, “Frank sent this.”

There are very many Epiphany stories revolving around the three Kings and their mission to seek, worship and give gifts to the King of Kings. These and many other Epiphany stories are wonderful, but they concern mostly the gift aspect of the Matthew 2. The Greek word Epiphany means appearance or manifestation or showing forth, marks   Jesus’ first appearance to the Gentiles.

“Epiphany” refers to God’s Self-revelation as well as to the revelation of Jesus as His Son. There is message that is fundamental to the Epiphany that we might not reflect on as thoroughly as we should.  We hear this message in today’s second reading.  The message is a message of mystery. St. Paul speaks about a great mystery that has been revealed.

As a privileged recipient of 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 that Jesus extended 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.

The wise men came from the East. Ours is not the first age to look east for wisdom; the East has always had a reputation for it.  The word ‘magi’ is translated here as “wise men.”  ‘Magus’ meant different things: a magus was a member of the Persian priestly caste; or one who possessed occult knowledge and power (this is the origin of our word ‘magic’).

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.

Herod was one of history’s great tyrants: he spared no one, not even his own family; to keep his grip on power he murdered his wife, three of his sons, his brother-in-law, an uncle, and even his mother-in-law.  He had been appointed “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate in 40 BC and he had already reigned for over thirty years.  He was in no mind to hear of a new king, especially one who was no son of his. “He was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.”

This encounter Magi with Herod 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.

FLASH NEWS! There will be no Epiphany celebration in Washington, DC this year. It’s because they could not find three wise men.

Tradition calls the magi “kings” –  judging, probably, by the wealth of the gifts they brought.  At any rate they came looking for a king.  Where do you look for a king?  In a palace.  Who else is likely to be there?  A royal family.  But the Magi came to a cave or a stable where they found a poor family, with animals and perhaps a few shepherds.  All the appearances would have told them they had made a ridiculous mistake, yet “falling to their knees, they did him homage.”

The Magi offered gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold is the gift for a king. Frankincense is for the temple worship fit for a priest. Myrrh is used to embalm the bodies of the dead. Surely, these gifts are not for children. Yet these were the gifts that the three wise men offered. They foretold that Jesus was the true king, the perfect High priest and Savior of the world.

The Magi were pagan astrologers called to the manger, called to faith.  Their journey is our journey, the journey of people throughout the world and throughout history being called to the manger, being called to faith.  The Epiphany is the celebration of our being included in the Mystery of Jesus Christ; not just included, more than included.

Would God include others in His Plan for their salvation?  Yes, the Epiphany tells us, this was always God’s plan.  He never intended to be the God for only one portion of mankind.  Even more, all people would be co-heirs of the Grace of Christ. It was difficult for Jewish Christians to buy into the message of the Epiphany. It is also difficult for many of us. We tend to see life through our own limited frames of reference.

This is what St. Paul says that this was a secret hidden for all ages, this coming of the Lord for everyone.  It is up to us to reveal the secret.  We do this by treating others with respect, particularly those who are different from us in their culture or region or externals, but the same as us in what matters, their union with Jesus Christ.

Let us make sure that we belong to the third group. 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. Let us plot a better path for our lives.

Let us become the Star, leading others to Jesus, as the star led the Magi to Him. Like the Magi, let us offer Jesus our gifts on this feast of Epiphany. The first gift might be friendship with God. 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.

A third gift might be the gift of reconciliation. This gift repairs damaged relationships.   It requires honesty, humility, understanding, forgiveness and patience. 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, either from the heart or the heart itself. Because:

“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!” Amen