05 January 2009

Homily - 4 January 2009 - The Epiphany of the Lord

“We have seen his star at its rising,” the Magi told King Herod (Matthew 2:2). What does this mean?

These learned men from the East are much like the shepherds who adored the newborn King only a few days ago. The shepherds, we are told, were “keeping watch over their flocks by night” (Luke 2:8). The Magi were likewise keeping watch, not over flocks, but over the heavens. Both groups, shepherds and magi, awaited something – Someone – who would change their lives forever.

Why should the Magi have spent so much of their time and energy looking for some sign in the heavens? I tell you, they were not very different from us. They were weary, restless, uncertain and ill at ease. They sought meaning, purpose and direction for their lives. There was, perhaps, within their hearts an intimation of the profound insight of Saint Augustine: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”[1]

The shepherds learned of the birth of Christ through the announcement given them by the angels; the magi through the announcement of the star shining in the heavens. The shepherds set out “with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger” (Luke 2:16). The Magi, too, having seen the sign they awaited, must have set out with haste to worship the newborn King of the Jews.

They left everything behind and went in search of him who was the fulfillment of the deepest desires of their hearts. Looking at the courageous faith of these Magi, the question rightly comes to us: What must I leave behind in order to go in search of Christ?

The journey of the Magi was no easy venture. Coming from the East, they arrived at the goal of their pilgrimage, Bethlehem, through Jerusalem.

Like the Magi, all believers – and young people in particular – have been called to set out on the journey of life in search of truth, justice and love. We must seek this star, we must follow it. The ultimate goal of the journey can be found only through an encounter with Christ, an encounter which cannot take place without faith.[2]
If we set out like the shepherds, like the Magi – with haste – we, too, will realize that the answer to our deepest yearning is not a thing, but a person. “The happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy has a name and a face: it is Jesus of Nazareth, hidden in the Eucharist. Only he gives the fullness of life to humanity!”[3]

The Magi further told Heord, We “have come to do him homage” (Matthew 2:2). In Greek, they used a form of the word proskynesis, which is better translated as “we have come to adore him.” This is why, when they entered the house, “they prostrated themselves,” they fell down before the Holy Infant (Matthew 2:11).

Do we not imitate these Magi each time we enter the church? Do we not, too, fall down in worship whenever we genuflect before the Lord present in the Holy Eucharist? Yes, we, too, have entered the Lord’s house and have fallen down before him. But when we do fall down before him, when we bend our knee to him, is it merely an external action, or an internal one of deep faith as well?

This act of adoration is no simple gesture, but is one packed with meaning. To adore

refers to the gesture of submission, the recognition of God as our true measure, supplying the norm that we choose to follow. It means that freedom is not simply about enjoying life in total autonomy, but rather about living the measure of truth and goodness, so that we ourselves become true and good. This gesture is necessary even if initially our yearning for freedom makes us inclined to resist it.[4]
Only by adoring him will we find true freedom. We must learn to recognize the Real Presence of the Lord in the Sacrament of the Altar and to adore him with the Magi.

When the Magi fell down before him, they “opened their treasures” to the Christ Child (Matthew 2:11). We, too, want to open our treasures to him, but what treasure have we to give so noble, so beautiful, so holy a Child? We have the treasure of our heart, the treasure of our lives. Let us open it to him, and he will open his treasures for us!

The Latin word for this adoration is adoratio, meaning mouth to mouth contact. It is

a kiss, an embrace, and hence, ultimately love. Submission becomes union, because he to whom we submit is Love. In this way submission acquires a new meaning, because it does not impose anything on us from the outside, but liberates us deep within.[5]
This Herod failed to see.

Before the Magi and Herod said they wanted to adore the Child Jesus. The Magi wanted to do so internally in their hearts, while Herod wanted merely an external show. Herod refused to submit himself to the Child and hence refused to be conquered by Love. The Magi, on the other hand, allowed their encounter with Christ to transform their lives. This is why they “departed for their country by another way” (Matthew 2:12). They could not have returned the way they had come, for everything now was changed.

This is what happens to us when we adore the Lord, when we submit our lives to him: we are conquered by his love, we are changed and we become one with him, one with Love.

Here at this Holy Mass, we can adore with the Lord with the Magi.

Present on the altar is the One whom the Magi saw lying in the manger: Christ, the living Bread who came down from heaven to give life to the world, the true Lamb who gives his own life for the salvation of the mankind.[6]
Let us fall down before him, let us adore him; not as did Herod, but as the Magi, with hearts filled with faith and a desire for salvation. Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions 1.1.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Welcome Ceremony at the Cologne Airport, 18 August 2005.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Celebration Welcoming the Young People, 18 August 2005.
[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 21 August 2005.
[5] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 21 August 2005.
[6] Pope Benedict XVI, Celebration Welcoming the Young People, 18 August 2005.

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