10 Jan Epiphany-Archbishop B. O’Brien
Homily by Archbishop Brendan M. O’Brien
Each year, on this feast of the Epiphany, we have the Gospel account which tells the story of the wise men who find their way to Jesus. We call this feast ‘epiphany’ because this word of Greek origin means ‘manifestation’ or ‘showing forth’; the manifestation or showing forth of Jesus as the Son of God, as Saviour of the world. Through his gospel account of the journey of the Magi, these foreigners from afar, St. Matthew shows his hearers that Jesus did not come simply for his own people, the Jews, but that He is a universal saviour. Jews and Gentiles have access to salvation. The Good News is not fenced in by distinctions of race, class, language, or sex, but is meant for all.
The story of the Magi, which we see depicted at our crib. is a journey narrative. They were people on a quest, looking for more in their lives. If they had simply been satisfied, they would have stayed put. I would like to suggest that we can see in their quest something of our own journey, our own unique story of faith. Some of us came to faith in Christ as adults, drawn perhaps by the witness and example of others. Some of us grew up in the faith, being baptized as children and nurtured by the example of our family, our parish, our school. In either case, like the Magi, our journey of faith needs to continue, as we seek to know more deeply the presence of Jesus in our lives.
When we look at the biblical account of the journey of the wise men, we may find some similarity with our own journey of faith. The first thing we notice is that God took the initiative. God showed them a light, the light of a star. This is how the wise men were attracted to Christ. It was not through the traditional channels of religious revelation. At the start of their journey, they did not have the benefit of the Jewish scriptures or the Jewish tradition. Rather, it was through a sign, a star, which was in keeping with their own line of learning and reading of the heavens. This is how the call of God came to them.
If we consider the journey of faith today, we can see that God’s call to us may come in many different ways. It may start in admiration and love of God’s creation, both in its immensity and grandeur and in its microscopic intricacy. A journey of faith may be prompted by some crisis in our lives or by our experience of love and relationships. The Word of God may be what draws us – some word or phrase of Scripture suddenly understood or highlighted in a new way. Whatever it is that may lead us to a new religious awareness, this needs to be pursued. Just as the wise men set out on a journey to find the Christ Child, so we can call our religious search a ‘journey of faith’.
The second observation I would make is that both the Magi and Herod ask the question “where” is the Infant King of the Jews. But they are spoken from two very different hearts. Herod is panic-stricken at the thought of losing his power to another “King of the Jews”. For their part, the Magi’s question is a posed out of a genuine desire to find something, to find someone. We see that the path of the Magi led them through unexpected suspicion and scheming, and even placed them in peril.
When we respond to God’s call to know him more deeply, we can recognize a certain journey unfolding before us. There are moments when all is tranquil and peaceful, when we may feel close to God; whereas other moments may be more stormy and questioning, as more is asked of us or as we face opposition or lack of support from those around us and from our own resistance to growth and change.
The third observation I would make is that, when the journey of the Magi ended in success, when the seekers became finders, their response was to offer gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. The gospel passage tells us as well that they didn’t remain there; they moved along. In fact, the text says that they went back “by a different way”. Perhaps this is not just a reference to geography, but rather that they returned with a new and different way of relating to life.
When our journey of faith is successful, a similar transformation is meant to take place. In the third Eucharistic Prayer, after the consecration, the priest offers the gift of the Body and Blood of Christ to the Father. He says, “Look with favour on your Church’s offering, and see the Victim whose death has reconciled us to yourself”. And then he says: “May he (Christ) make us an everlasting gift to you (the Father).” In the Eucharist, we are the receivers; we are nourished by the body and blood of Christ and filled with his Holy Spirit. But this is meant to make us gifts offered back to the Giver, ‘God the Father’. How do we become gifts? We do this when we give of our most precious commodities: our time, our love, whatever abilities we have; in this way, we can become for someone else that ray of help and hope that will encourage them on their journey of faith.
One author, commenting on the journey of the Magi, makes the connection with our own faith journey in this way:
“Our life is a journey home to God. Like the Magi’s trip, there will be detours, questions, and risks along the way. We know where we are going… to eventual union with God. How and when are unknown, but, through faith, our destination is assured. Our gifts to the Christ Child are the gifts we have left along the road, the gifts we give in response to others: the food we give to the poor, the shelter to the homeless, the gift of ourselves beside the vulnerable and the outsiders.”
As we continue our celebration of the feast of the Epiphany, let us pray that we may be attentive to the signs through which the Lord manifests himself to us today, so that we can journey forward in faith, being a seeker, a finder, and, finally, a giver, as were the wise men of old.