Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Epiphany of the Lord

Mass for the Repose of the Soul of Benedict XVI

January 8, 2023
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, TX

Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13
Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
Matthew 2:1-12

The Solemnity of the Epiphany is about God’s self-revelation that both offers and requires the gift of faith. Through the Solemnity of the Epiphany, God invites us into the mystery of the truth — the truth that we seek to discover through reason and science and the fuller Truth that we come to know through the gift of faith. One truth, two paths: faith and reason.

The Magi, whom we meet in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew are not simply people who have a warm spiritual experience in seeing the precious Baby Jesus, they are people who have followed their path laid out by reason and the science of their contemporary times and then receive the revelation that the Infant Jesus is truly the Son of God, worthy of nothing less than worship.

In the first reading, Isaiah prophesies that Jerusalem will again be a great city and a light for the world. People from all nations will come to Jerusalem to worship God. Matthew reveals that this vision of Isaiah is fulfilled in the birth of Jesus with the visit of the Magi from Babylon and Persia. The Magi had embarked on a long journey from what is modern day Iraq and Iran to seek a king because they were looking for an ally for them to oppose the Romans in war. They determine, from watching the stars, that such a powerful king is to be born among the Jews, and they navigate their way to Jerusalem by searching the sky and following a star. In Jerusalem they encounter Herod, a petty tyrant fearful of losing his power and status.

The Magi begin their search for the discovery of a military leader, but they receive the revelation of the Son of God. Their search leads them to receive the revelation that the long-promised king is born in Bethlehem, but what they receive is beyond the human mind to discover with unaided reason — they receive the revelation that the infant is truly Divine and worthy of worship. They receive the revelation that in Bethlehem of Judea, the least among the cities of Israel, is born the Son of God. The Magi have the humility to pay attention to what God offers and to let go of what they were expecting to discover and receive the gift of Divine Revelation that surpasses anything their talented intellects could perceive.

A man of such humility was Joseph Ratzinger who reigned as pope for eight years. Pope Benedict XVI’s theological and social critics rightly saw him as one of the main obstacles in their attempt to change the doctrine of the Catholic Faith into an abstract theory that could capitulate to Marxism and the hedonism of the sexual revolution and still be called Catholic. By advancing a false theory of the human person in the name of freedom, these revisionist theologians sought to fashion a new form of Christian faith and life which Ratzinger openly resisted and corrected as a priest, a theologian, a bishop, and ultimately as pope. Ratzinger’s love for the truth prompted the revisionists to conjure a specter of him as a ruthless inquisitor. They made him a target of fierce mockery in the hope that their ad hominem attacks would blunt the effectiveness of his witness to Christ and induce many to dismiss his clear teaching of the Gospel as antiquated and rigid. Yet, it was the very writings of these revisionists that led so many of the faithful to misery.

In our current culture, cynicism and nihilism have launched the tyranny of relativism upon all that is true, and good, and beautiful. This tyranny makes it difficult even for us the baptized to know that there is a truth beyond our own narratives and that we can know such truth in any meaningful way. We live in an age where too frequently the prophetic voice of the Church is being reduced to incoherent noise or a chaotic ruckus. We live in an age of irony and egotism in which too many of us, when challenged by the Gospel and the words of Jesus Christ, behave like Herod who sees Christ as a threat to our freedom and happiness, rather than following the Magi in humbly seeking the truth with integrity. So, we must ask: can we know anything at all about God? And if we can, how so? And if so, what difference does that make to the way I live my life?

Pope Benedict XVI witnessed and helped us to know this truth. He once offered a keen insight into the significance of this solemnity several years ago: “Herod listened to the interpretations of the prophet Micah’s words, made by his experts in Sacred Scripture, but his only thought was of the throne. So, God Himself had to be clouded over and people had to be reduced to mere pawns to move on the great chessboard of power. Herod is a figure we dislike, whom we instinctively judge negatively because of his brutality. Yet, we should ask ourselves: is there perhaps something of Herod also in us? Might we too sometimes see God as a sort of rival? Might we too be blind to His signs and deaf to His words because we think He is setting limits on our life and does not allow us to dispose of our existence as we please?”

The example of the Magi should prompt us to surrender the throne of our hearts to its rightful Sovereign, Jesus Christ — just as Pope Benedict XVI did. Herod listened to his experts in religion and prophecy about the coming king, but neither Herod nor his religious experts accepted what God was expressing in the prophecy out of His love for His people, nor did they respond to what they heard. Herod had cunning but not right reason. Herod’s experts and consultants had religious theory but no fear of the Lord. Neither Herod nor his religious experts accepted the gift of faith, and none of them go to the manger to worship the Son of God. Only the Magi had desire for the truth and the humility to receive the gift of faith, for they were searching for something beyond the scope of even their great and talented intellects, and in meeting the humble and Divine Infant, they accepted the radical truth of humanity’s humility before God.

The Magi remind us that our search for God in Whom only our hearts might find rest involves right reason and proven science, but ultimately it is only God’s authentic gift of faith that offers us the fullness of the truth who is Jesus Christ. The Magi remind us that the most liberating aspects of the truth are not by way of our discovery but by way of God’s gift of revelation and faith through which He saves us from our sins. We learn from the Magi that encountering Christ through the gift of faith requires our conversion from our sins, so that the stewardship of God’s grace of the mystery that was made known by Revelation might make us live as co-heirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus expressed through the Gospel.

The Magi offer us a reason for hope in our contemporary world, In the words of Benedict XVI, “In some way, deep down, (the Magi) were waiting for something; they were waiting for God. Their watchfulness was a kind of readiness — a readiness to listen and to set out. They were waiting for a light which would show them the way. That is what is important for God. He loves everyone because everyone is His creature. But some persons have closed their hearts; there is no door by which His love can enter. They think that they do not need God, nor do they want Him. Other persons, who, from a moral standpoint, are perhaps no less wretched and sinful, at least experience a certain remorse. They are waiting for God. They realize that they need His goodness, even if they have no clear idea of what this means. Into their expectant hearts God’s light can enter, and with it, His peace. God seeks persons who can be vessels and heralds of His peace. Let us pray that He will not find our hearts closed. Let us strive to be active heralds of His peace — in the world of today.”

In a few moments we will offer the gifts of bread and wine to Almighty God — the gifts He desires to receive, gifts that surpass the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh — so that the Christ Child might give us the gift of His own Body and Blood sacrificed for our salvation from the power of darkness. Let us pray that we might be converted and accept the gift of the light of His Revelation that shows us that He has come in the flesh to save all of us, men and women of every race and people, and that when we are sent from Mass to proclaim the Good News by our lives, we may like the Magi leave by a different route and be converted from evil.

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