08 January 2012

Homily - 8 January 2012

The Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord
At the Mass During the Day
Dear brothers and sisters,

As we celebrate today the great Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, there is a question before us that, perhaps because it is so obvious, is often over looked: Why did the Magi set out from the East in the first place?

The simple answer is that they set out to find the newborn king of the Jews.  But why did they set out for this royal infant?  There were surely other newborn kings of whom the Magi were aware but did not go to see.  Why set out to pay homage to this particular infant king?

They set out because they saw something both curious and wondrous, the star that heralded his birth, a star that moved through the constellations and guided them “to the place where the child was,” where it stopped overhead (Matthew 2:9).

Yet even this marvelous star cannot itself be the answer to our question because the Magi told King Herod they saw the star “at its rising” (Matthew 2:2).  What was it about this star that made them “overjoyed” (Matthew 2:10)?

Most of us are very much unaware of the stars overhead and which constellations are visible at which times of the year.  Even of the few constellations and planets we might recognize at sight, we are often unaware of their movements and only occasionally take notice of them.  We suddenly notice one day, for example, that the constellation Orion has ascended without noticing the stars Betelgeuse or Rigel at their rising, yet somehow the Magi noticed this heavenly wonder at the first moment of its rising.  What can this mean?

Of their motivation for scouring the heavens we can only surmise, yet we are not without direction.  Have we not all, at one time or another, looked to the stars for the answer or explanation to some great question of life?  When King David looked to the stars he was moved to sing:

When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you set in place –
What is man that you are mindful of him,
and a son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him little less than a god,
Crowned him with glory and honor (Psalm 8:4-6).

Seeing the beauty of the cosmos, David was led to contemplate his own smallness in the vast expanse of creation.  In this, he recognizes God’s love: small as he is, he is not forgotten.  And in this, he prophesies the coming of the Son of God who, though great, made himself small for us.

Those travelers from the east were Magi, that is, “passionate seekers after the truth,” as Blessed Pope John Paul II called them.[1]  Could it not be that they watched the heavens not simply for the announcements of royal births, but for the very meaning and purpose of life?  With this great question common to every man and woman, the Magi watched the heavens, looking for something so intently and earnestly that at the moment the star began to ascend, they saw it and immediately followed it.

In the light of this cosmic herald, the Magi recognized a sign of the glory of the One of whom it was sung: “Justice shall flower in his days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more” (cf. Isaiah 60:2; Psalm 72:7).  Through this star they somehow knew that “the Lord, the Mighty One, has come,” and so they set out at once to find him, to find the fulfillment of every longing and desire of their hearts (Entrance Antiphon).

Standing before that holy Child, the Magi recognized the truth of what Pope Benedict XVI has said: “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!”[2]

In our own day, we, too, have a great light to follow to find the happiness.  In fact, we have many such lights.  These lights are the saints of the Church whose examples shine brightly before us illuminating the path to authentic joy and peace, to Jesus himself present in the Church and present in a very real way in the Holy Eucharist.

Let us, then, follow the example of the Magi, who left everything behind to find the fulfillment of their deepest hope.  Let us follow the light of the Saints and go the Eucharistic King, that we, too, might do him homage, and leave him changed and overjoyed.  Amen.

[1] Blessed Pope John Paul II, Message for World Youth Day 2005, 7.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Celebration Welcoming the Young People, 18 August 2005.

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