The Morning Star Will Lead Us to Her Son
Sunday January 4, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Epiphany
Reading I (Isaiah 60:1-6) Reading II (Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6)
Gospel (St. Matthew 2:1-12)
In the second reading today from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul talks about a mystery, a great mystery that has been revealed now through the prophets and through the apostles, that had been hidden from times past. It had not been entirely hidden; if we look at some of the prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah, they certainly told us what was going to happen in the future. Jeremiah is very clear that there would be a new covenant and that the Gentiles would be brought into that covenant, but the part that was hidden from the Jewish people was the understanding of how this could possibly be. What they would naturally assume is that the people of the nations around them, the Gentiles, would become Jews. It would be just like if we as Catholics were to look at things today and say, “We know that Jesus Christ founded the Roman Catholic Church, and we know that all truth subsists within the Roman Catholic Church.” The Jewish people 2,000 years ago could have said the same thing. They were the chosen people of God. He had revealed His truth to them and that is where the divine worship was taking place. It is the place where truth was guarded. And so they would naturally have assumed that if there was going to be a new covenant that just simply meant that the people would become Jewish. Just as if God were to say to us that all of the pagans will become Christian and they will be united with all of those who are already Catholic, we would assume naturally that that would mean they were going to become Catholic. And what a shock it would be to us if God decided to start an entirely new church! Well, that is what He did 2,000 years ago; He took Judaism and He built on top of it. Rather than doing something that was just going to bring new people into an old system, He started something entirely new and required that both would leave their former way of life and take on the new way. For the Jewish people, that meant that everything they had believed in they were not leaving, but rather they were entering into the fullness of everything that had been promised to them in the fulfillment of what that was about. But one can imagine how difficult that must have been for them.
We hear, for instance, in the first reading today, that when the three magi arrived asking where the newborn king of the Jews was, not only was Herod greatly troubled (which we can certainly understand) but all of Jerusalem with him. Now these are the people who should have been looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. There certainly were people who were looking forward to His arrival. We hear about that in the Acts of the Apostles where different people thought that they might have been the Messiah, gathered people around them, and then when they died their people dispersed. It was a time of great waiting and apprehension, as well as of expectation, because the people knew the prophecy of Jeremiah and they knew what the time was. But most people did not believe that. The real tragedy is that it was the chief priests and the elders, the scribes and the Pharisees themselves, who did not believe. They would preach externally a real nice message, but the reality is that they had no faith in the message they were preaching. It would be as if I stood up here and told you what it says in Scripture, what the Church teaches, and I preached the truth to you week after week, and then if I walked away and said, “I don’t believe a word of it. Well, maybe I believe some of it but certainly not all of it.” That is basically what was happening 2,000 years ago.
The chief priests had nice jobs. It was quite lucrative, considering that they were stealing from the people as they came to exchange their Roman money for shekels so they could use it in the temple. They were not operating a just system. They were selling the sheep and the oxen and the pigeons in the temple, and selling them for exorbitant amounts. They had quite a lucrative business going. They knew that if the people had a simple faith that they had to preach the faith to them, but they themselves did not believe it. And so when the Messiah was to come, rather than rejoicing and wanting to see Him, they were troubled and upset. Isn’t it interesting that they sent three pagans to see if they could find the Messiah when they themselves did not lift a finger to see if they could locate Him? He was seven miles away in Bethlehem. It is not like it would have been some kind of overly difficult trip for them to make, but the fact is because they did not believe they did not want anything to do with it. This would have been an inconvenience for them to have to make any kind of effort to find the Lord.
Yet it was these pagans who made extraordinary efforts to cross the desert, to traverse for weeks to be able to come up to Jerusalem and finally to Bethlehem where they rejoiced to see the Messiah. And when they found Him, they bowed down and did Him homage. Recall, as I have told you before, that word that is translated as homage is the Greek word for “worship”. They worshipped Him literally is what it says in the Greek. So here you have all of Jerusalem which was supposed to be awaiting her Messiah, and they were troubled and upset that the Messiah should actually arrive. They could not believe that the prophecies of old would actually be fulfilled. Somehow they must have thought that these things were myths, that the divinely inspired Word of God was somehow not true. It sounded real nice but it had no substance to it in their minds, so they rejected the truth. And when the truth came right to them, they did not even look for it. When the light came into the darkness, they rejected it. When the Messiah came, they did not want Him because it meant that they would have to change their lives. It meant that they would have to, perhaps, be a priest of a different kind. They did not understand what that meant and so they did not accept it.
Well, we need to look for our own selves and ask ourselves: How do we believe? Are we like these three pagan wise men who came to the Lord? Are we willing to do whatever it is going to require to get to Jesus? Do we believe that He is the Messiah? Not just some little theoretical belief: “Oh, yeah, I suppose. Maybe. What else do I have to believe in, after all?” Do you believe that Jesus Christ is God? Do you believe that He is the Messiah Who was promised of old, from the very first moment that our first parents sinned and through all the prophets? The Messiah was promised to the people of Judah, and through them to all of us. Do we believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist? Again, I am not talking about a theoretical belief because we all know that Jesus is present in the Eucharist. I am talking about what difference it makes to us. How much effort do we make to be with Him in the Blessed Sacrament everyday? The three wise men came and they opened their treasures: gold because He was a king, frankincense because He is God, and myrrh because He came to die so that His people could be saved. Are we willing to come and open our hearts to Him and pour out the greatest treasures that He has given to us – our own lives, our prayer, our families, all the gifts that the Lord wants to shower upon us if we will open our hearts to believe and to accept? How much does it really mean to us to say that Jesus Christ is God?
If He is God, why do we so desperately stay away from Him? Why are we like those chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, and all the people of Jerusalem? When we think of praying and when we think of going before the Lord, we shudder with fear because we know that we are going to have to change our lives. We know it means we are going to have to stop being selfish, stop sinning. We might even have to give some things up and we do not want to. So we prefer selfish pleasure to Jesus Christ. We prefer sin to salvation. We put the TV set before God, and so we rush home to turn the TV on (or whatever form of entertainment it might be) but we leave Jesus all alone in the Eucharist. If we really believe that He is God, why do we so desperately not want to be with Him? Why is it so much a challenge to us as Catholics to make the effort to come and pray? Are we not like those chief priests? I can understand why the government does not want anything to do with Jesus – because Satan rules. I can understand why the media does not want anything to do with Jesus – same reason. I do not understand why Catholic people do not want anything to do with Jesus Christ. That makes no sense to me. Unless we come to church because it is convenient, or because it eases our conscience and makes us feel like we have actually done something for God for one hour out of the week, or for whatever other selfish reason there might be, why do we want to spend as little time with God as we can? If we really believed what we profess, you would not be able to get the people into the church.
Each one of us needs to thank God for the gift of faith that He has given us, to be willing to get up and come to Mass at this time of the morning, to be willing to say “yes” to God like these three wise men so that we can be here and worship Him. But these wise men, when they left, had been changed. The little shepherds, when they left, had been changed. How about us? The word epiphany means “a manifestation”. Jesus Christ has been made manifest in the flesh. He is adored by the angels and by those who are humble, by those who recognize Him. He makes Himself still manifest to us through His Church and in His sacraments. But more than any place, He makes Himself manifest to us in the depths of our hearts in prayer.
When we consider what happened 2,000 years ago as these three wise men came before the Lord and rejoiced to see the star and rejoiced to see the Baby and worshipped Him, we need to realize that this mystery has not stopped. The mystery, Saint Paul tells us, the great mystery that had been hidden but was now made manifest, the great epiphany of Our Lord is that there is a new covenant and the Gentiles are now coheirs with the Jews and members of the same body. This mystery continues to live within us as all are brought into one faith. But there is still the same manifestation. The Church teaches us that Mary herself is the Morning Star. She is the one who leads us perfectly to Jesus Christ. The star has not gone away. If we follow the star like the magi, it will lead us directly to the place where Jesus is and upon entering His house we will rejoice because the star not only will stop directly over the house where Jesus is, but when we enter we will find her just as the magi did. They found Jesus with His mother. We have a perfect guide.
So we have God already there in the Blessed Sacrament and truly present within our hearts if we are in the state of grace. It is not a physical desert that we have to traverse and it is not even miles of pavement that we have to drive, like some of you have done already this morning. It is the desert of our hearts that we need to enter. It is into the unknown depths of darkness within our own hearts that we will traverse. It is the most barren and the most difficult desert in the world. It is the most painful place to be sometimes and one wonders when one is there how it is possible even to live in such a desert where there is darkness. There seems to be no life; there is no water; and yet God is there. He will give us everything that we need, and He will manifest Himself to us in a most profound manner if we are willing to make that journey.
We have our guide: the Morning Star, the dawn announcing the sunrise. God has sent His mother and she continues to call us. She calls us to union with her Son. But that means, like the wise men, that we will have to leave behind everything that we have known. We will have to be willing to make a most arduous journey. We will have to trust in God to provide for everything that we are going to need because it is beyond our control to be able to provide for ourselves in such a desert. But the three wise men were willing to make that journey because they understood what it meant. There was a newborn King of the Jews, and while they did not have a full understanding, when they saw Him they understood and they believed and they bowed down and worshipped Him. All of their effort paid off. Not only did it pay off in the sense of what they themselves received, but after making this journey, they opened up their treasures and gave them to Him. But they received a treasure that was far greater, infinitely greater than anything they could give to Him because Our Lady held out her Son to them and they received Him and they worshipped Him.
The same mystery is going to take place in just a few minutes when you come to the communion rail. Our Lord is going to be extended to you, and you will receive Him. The only question is how. In what conditions will our hearts be when we receive Him? Are we willing to bow down and worship Him? Are we willing to open the coffers of our heart to pour out to Him everything that is there? If you think about it, if you had a treasure chest that was full of copper coins and you found a stash of gold coins, would you not be willing to empty out every single copper coin so that you could fill your chest with gold coins? Why hang on to the lesser valuable if you can have those of greater value? Why hang on to all of our worldly stuff when we can have God? Why hang on to our finite treasures when we can have the infinite Treasure? Come to Jesus. Empty out whatever is in your heart and let Him fill it with Himself, with the Treasure of infinite value which cannot fade or be destroyed. Let Our Lord manifest Himself to you on this glorious day when His divinity was manifested to the magi, when we celebrate also traditionally the Baptism of the Lord (which we will celebrate next week) and the Wedding Feast at Cana, because these were the three manifestations early on of Our Lord’s divinity. Open your hearts and let the treasures of heaven be poured in. Let God manifest Himself to you as you look upon Him and believe and bow down before Him and worship Him.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.