06 January 2024

Homily - The Solemnity of the Epiphany

 The Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord 

Dear brothers and sisters,


     The Magi from the East are not unlike 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,” as were the Magi, not over flocks, but over the heavens, which is why they could say, “We have seen his star at its rising” (Luke 2:8; Matthew 2:2). Both groups, shepherds and Magi, waited for something - or, rather, someone – who would radically change their lives.


The Magi looked intentionally for the star, and therefore saw it at its rising, and, having seen it, they followed it because they were weary, restless, uncertain, and ill at ease. They sought meaning, purpose, and direction for their lives. Within their hearts, there was an intimation of the 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 angels; the Magi through 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, 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, though they knew him not. 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?


Their journey 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 and the Magi, if we set out with haste, we, too, will realize 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 Herod, 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 of the Holy Family, “they prostrated themselves;” they lowered themselves to the ground before the Holy Infant (Matthew 2:11).


We imitate these Magi each time we enter the church. We, too, fall down in worship whenever we genuflect before the Lord present in the Holy Eucharist. We, too, have entered the Lord’s house and have fallen down before him, but when we bend our knee, is it merely an external action, or is it also an external sign of an internal sentiment or adoration? For the Magi, it was both, and so it should be with us.


This act of adoration is no simple gesture, but 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]


It is only by adoring this King that will we find true freedom. We must learn to recognize the Real Presence of the Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar and so, with the Magi, adore him with all that we are.

     When they fell down before him, the Magi “opened their treasures” to the Christ Child (Matthew 2:11). We, too, want to open our treasures to him, but what treasure do we have to give so noble, so beautiful, so holy a Child? Most of us have no gold, or frankincense, or myrrh to offer. Or have we? Blessed Aelfric of Eynsham offered this insight:


To the born King we bring gold, if we are shining in his sight with the brightness of heavenly wisdom. Incense we bring him, if we set fire to our thoughts on the altar of our heart with the eagerness of holy prayers, so that through heavenly desire we may give forth something of a sweet smell. Myrrh we offer him if we quell the lusts of the flesh by self-restraint.[5]


When combined together, these three gifts are an expression of the treasure of our hearts, the treasure of our lives. Let us, then, open our hearts to him, and he will in turn open the treasure of his heart to 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.[6]


This is what Herod failed to see; this is what so many others today fail to see, as well.


     Both Herod and the Magi said they wanted to adore the Child Jesus. The Magi wanted to do so externally to express the interior sentiment of their hearts. Herod wanted to perform an external show; he refused to submit to the Newborn King and open his heart; he refused to be conquered by Love. The Magi, on the other hand, opened their hearts to him and allowed their encounter with Christ to transform their entire lives. This is why they “departed for their country by another way” (Matthew 2:12). They simply could not return the way they had come because everything now was changed.


This is what happens to us when we prostrate ourselves before the Lord and open our hearts to the Child of Bethlehem, when we sincerely adore the Lord of heaven and earth and 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 the Lord with the Magi, for “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.”[7] Present on the altar is the One whom Father Damien called “the one companion who will never leave me.” This is why he went on to say, “Be not afraid then in your solitary conversations to tell Him of your miseries, your fears, your worries, of those who are dear to you, of your projects, and of your hopes. Do so with confidence and with an open heart.”


Today, then, let us seek to offer him the gift of gold, our lives shining with wisdom. Let us seek to offer him the gift of frankincense, our hearts set afire with love of him. And let us seek to offer him the gift of myrrh, the quelling our passions in his service. Let us seek to open the treasure of our hearts to him and yield to the power of his love; let us adore him, not as Herod did, but as the Magi did, with hearts filled with faith and a yearning for salvation. Let us adore him and be conquered by love! Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions 1.1.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Address at the Welcoming Ceremony at the Cologne Airport, 18 August 2005.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., Homily, 21 August 2005.

[5] Aelfric of Eynsham, Sermon for the Epiphany of the Lord. In Benjamin Thorpe, trans., Homilies of the Anglo-Saxon Church (1844).

[6] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 21 August 2005.

[7] Ibid., Address at the Welcoming Ceremony at the Cologne Airport, 18 August 2005.

Homily - 1 January 2024 - Mary knows how to join joys and sorrows

The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Dear brothers and sisters,


     As today we commemorate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, we ought to remember that Our Lady was, mostly, a mother like any other. “At the beginning of a new year, we are invited, as it were, to attend her school, the school of the faithful disciple in the Lord, in order to learn from her to accept in faith and prayer the salvation God desires to pour out upon those who trust in his merciful love.”[1]


As all mothers do, the Mother of God experienced great joy at the Birth of her Son. And, as all mothers do, she worried about his future. Mary knew, as every mother knows, that


Every child born into the world – every tiny, innocent, adorable little baby – however loved, however cared for, will grow up to face some kind of sorrow, and the inevitability of death. Of course no one wants to think about such things, especially when they look at a newborn baby; but pretending otherwise, not wanting to think otherwise, doesn’t make it any less true.[2]


Mary must have contemplated her Son’s future, especially after hearing the words of Simeon, which we heard yesterday: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted” (Luke 2:35). What did Simeon mean?


     During these days of Christmas, we do all that we can to keep everything joyful and cheery and thinking about Mary’s sorrow, even with her joy, does not seem something we should be doing.


Our images of Christmas joy, both secular and sacred, are all childlike wonder and picture-perfect families gathered round the tree. And this is nice, of course, for those who have children or happy families, but for those who don’t – those who have lost children or parents or others dear to them, those who face loneliness or exclusion, those who want but don’t have children, family, or home – it can be intensely painful. Not everyone can choose not to think about grief at Christmas; many people will find it intrudes upon them, whether they wish it or not.[3]


The medievals, who often approached the world with greater honesty than we do, recognized this, and even knew it to be true of the Virgin Mother of God.


     We see this understanding in many medieval carols, in which, of course, we also find great mirth and gladness. The Franciscan friar, John of Grimestone, recorded many of these carols for us in the fourteenth century. One of these carols contains what are presented as deeply moving thoughts Mary sings in a lullaby to the Christ Child:


Lullay, lullay, little boy, king of all things!

When I think of thy sad state, I hardly wish to sing;

But I may lament for sorrow, if love be in my heart,

For such pains as thou shalt suffer were never none so sharp.

Lullay, lullay, little child, no wonder that thou cry;

Thy body will grow pale and white, and then it shall grow dry.[4]


Here already Mary is contemplating the death of her Son for us upon the Cross; she knows that her Son was born that man no more may die. She has a deep sorrow for him in her heart because, as she says, she always has a deep love for him in her heart; love and sorrow often go together, even at Christmas.


     Our Lady ends her mournful lullaby with this profound insight: “Lullay, lullay, little child, softly sleep and fast; / in sorrow endeth every love but thine, at the last.” Mary knows that while every other love will end, the love of her Holy Infant will endure; his love will never end. This is why she willingly her endured seven sorrows out of love for him and remained with him to the end (cf. Luke 2:35).


     Years later, from his Cross, “When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son’ (John 19:26)! That beloved disciple stood in for each of us, for we are all his beloved disciples if we remain near to him and to the Mother of God. What is more, in that moment, Jesus entrusted us to his mother. Mary, the Mother of God and our mother, will look after us, her children, with the same maternal love and care with which she looked after Jesus, if we remain near to her.


     As we enter into this new solar year with both concern and hope, let us entrust ourselves anew to the maternal care of our Mother who knows how to join sorrows with joys. May she show us the Face of her Son, teach us to listen to him, and ask her Son to bless us with his peace. Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 1 January 2006.

[2] Eleanor Parker, “‘Lullay, little child, rest thee a throwe,’” A Clerk of Oxford, 28 December 2014. Available at https://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.com/2014/12/lullay-little-child-rest-thee-throwe.html.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.