Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Epiphany of the Lord: God Welcomes All & Science Leads to God

Today is the Epiphany of the Lord.  The word Epiphany comes from the Greek word "epiphainen" which means to reveal or shine upon.  This day celebrates the main revelations of the person of Christ as God and man. The main times we see this is when the Magi visit Christ (Matthew 2:1-12) -which we celebrate today,- at the Baptism of Christ (Mark 1:9-11) when the Holy Spirit descends on Christ and God the Father reveals Christ as His only begotten Son; the next moment is at the Wedding of Cana (John 2:1-11) where Jesus performs His first miracle due to the intercession of His Mother Mary.  In this, her last recorded words are shown, "Do whatever He tells you."  Great advice from mom right? 

We also know of this day as the day the Magi or Three Kings came to pay homage to the child Jesus. The story of the Magi, Wise men or Three Kings is one that has always gotten my attention even as an atheist.  This story of three men coming from far away guided only by a star to adore a child is one that captures the imagination. The "Three Kings" or Magi (Wise men) traveled a long distance to find the child-God.  God used His own cosmic version of a GPS to guide them with a bright star, so to speak. This star could have been a comet, Jupiter, Venus or Saturn, or a conjunction of them; some believe it may have been a Stella Nova - when stars illuminate brightly for a brief moment and then return to their normal brightness.  Jesus is the light that illumines the Magi and us today (John 8:12). This stellar phenomenon should remind us of this.   At midnight Mass, we read about the light shining on those in darkness (see: http://www.sacerdotus.com/2017/12/christmas-eve-child-is-born-unto-us.html).  At around December 22, ancient peoples noticed that the days got darker and began to get longer afterwards.  They linked this to their beliefs surrounding their understanding of the divine. It seems to me that God was preparing man for Christ by guiding primitive religions to collect their beliefs around this time which would become the time of the birth of Christ.  In the Catholic Church, we call this Divine Pedagogy.  Christ is the light the brightens up the darkness. The story of the Magi gives us clues.  These men were outsiders to the Jewish faith, yet they were drawn to the Jewish Messiah.  We will get into this in a little bit.

One can literally visualize the night.  It is such an event that many cultures treat it like another Christmas day.  Latino cultures often hand out gifts to children while reenacting the visit of the Wise Men.  This is a great way to evangelize at an early age.  However, the story is much more deeper than three men who are stopping by to visit a baby as if it were a divine baby shower.  They are bringing with them gifts that have specific meanings. I wrote more on this on my 3 Kings Day (Epiphany) post.  Each came to bring gifts to the child-God Jesus Christ; the gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.   The gifts often are viewed as symbols of Christ's Royalty, Divinity, and Death.  Others view them as Faith, Hope and Charity. This is mentioned in today's first reading.  We read of "... the caravans of camels and dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense.." As a student of science, this story brings to mind the fact that these men were men of science and they searched for God in the stars.  Science and Faith are not opposed to each other as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI stated when he spoke of St. Albert, "St. Albert reminds us that there is friendship between science and faith, and that scientists can, through their vocation to study nature, follow an authentic and absorbing path of sanctity." Today, we have the Hubble telescope and all these satellites in space that take amazing high definition images of the universe.  These images never fail to "wow" scientists and amateur astronomers alike.
Carina Nebula

The Wise Men represent the "outsiders;" the Gentiles, Pagans and others who were not part of the Chosen People - Israel.  They represent all the different races coming to meet the Christ child.  God calls out to them as well and they come to Him (John 10:16).  God wants all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4).

Unfortunately, many times some Catholics promote Triumphalism instead of Catholicism. Triumphalism in the Catholic sense is the attitude that the Catholic religion is superior to other faiths and/or better.  While the Catholic Church does contain the fullness of truth and is necessary for salvation, this does not mean that we are the best or should put others down who are not of our faith.

The story of the Magi shows that God is not prejudice.  While He did choose a particular people, He is Father of all.  He brings others to the faith by their own means many times.  Other faiths are not perfect, but they have the right idea that God does exist and loves us.  The Catechism puts it well:

843 The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as "a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life."332

In 2014, Pope Francis touched on this, specifically the Pope's homily.  As usual, Pope Francis broke from his written text briefly to invite those Catholics who are indifferent, left the Church as well as atheists to the faith.  He said:

"I would like to tell all those who feel far from God and the church — and I say this respectfully to those who are afraid or indifferent: The Lord calls you and wants you to be part of his people and does so with great respect and love! The Lord doesn't proselytize, he gives love and this love looks for you, waits for you — for you who don't believe or have drifted away. This is the love of God."

The Pope is right.  The Lord does not proselytize.  He ate and drank with sinners and those who were the pariah of society during His day (Matthew 9:11).  Unfortunately, this behavior is often mistaken as Jesus being too open to all that He doesn't care about their behavior.  This of course is not true for He, while accepting and respecting all, called them to repent (John 8:11).  God calls out to those who are not in the faith.  He has His way of bringing them back.  This is why I love Pope Francis' "meet them where they're at" philosophy.  I have always believed this.

We must be patient with those who left the Church or were never part of it.  We must not judge them or treat them as if they are defects in the world.  Pope Francis has showed already how by simply respecting others brings them to consider God and Catholicism.  Many homosexuals, atheists, protestants and others are opening up more to the Catholic Church even to the point of attending Mass because of this.

We must meet them where they are at on the path to God. Once we meet them there, we can direct them to the right road, so to speak.  You can't given directions from miles away, you have to be close to the lost party.  We must go to them.  It is no wonder why the image on Pope Francis' pectoral cross is that of the Good Shepherd that leaves the 99 behind to get the one that wandered off (Matthew 18:12-14).

Regardless of how others pray, have liturgy; or their attitudes on God and faith, we must trust that God will use these to bring them back to Him just like He used nature, astrology and science to bring the Wise Men to the Christ child.  Science is not anti-God.  Many atheists believe it to be the "killer of God;" however this is not so.  The more we learn about the cosmos and our own planet, the more we realize that the only logical explanation for their existence is an intelligent Creator. This part of the story of the Wise Men is what I like to reflect on being that my area of studies are the sciences.

In the story we see how science leads the Wise Men to God.  This is exactly what happened to me when I was an atheist (See "From Atheist to Catholic..").  I wasn't wooed into Catholicism by preachers, Bibles, Catechisms, theological books, EWTN, Popes etc.  It was science, specifically the science of physics that opened my mind to the Logos.  The popular suggestion "there was a big bang, then processes developed and we came from there.. accept it" did not satisfy my young scientific mind.  I need logical answers, not quick assumptions.  Saying that we're here due to processes and that's how it is does not cut it for me, so to speak.  Like the Wise Men, I needed to get closer to "whom the Star pointed to."  In my case, to whom particles and forces that make up the universe pointed to.

The story of the Wise Men shows that God is always in control of Salvation.  We are not the one who save others.  It is God who brings people to Himself.  As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI puts so well in his Jesus of Nazareth - The Infancy Narratives:

"The key point is this:  the wise men from the east are a new beginning.  They represent the journeying of humanity toward Christ.  They initiate a procession that continues throughout history.  Not only do they represent the people who have found the way to Christ: they represent the inner aspiration of the human spirit, the dynamism of religions and human reason toward Him." (pg. 97)      
In the first reading, we read of Jerusalem being told to rise up in splendor, her light has come.  The glory of the Lord shines on her. Darkness covers the earth and thick clouds the people, but God shines through. This light is of course Jesus Christ the Lord (John 8:12)!  Our world is in so much darkness.  Evil is never good. Violence is never good. These affect our psychology. Human beings were not made for violence. We are the only creatures on earth without physical defenses.  Other animals have claws, venom, quills, etc to defend themselves. We do not.

This is why we need Christ the light who illumines minds and hearts keeping us away from evil and violence. The light of the world is Christ and we need to seek Him.  We need to seek Him just like the Three Kings or Magi who came from Midian, Ephah and Sheba with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh did.  However, our gift to Jesus must be the perfection of faith, hope and love in our lives.  This is what Jesus wants from us. 

All nations will adore the Lord, as we read in today's responsorial Psalm.  God is king over all the earth.  All rulers will pay homage to Him just like the Magi did.  We are the Magi of today coming before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament offering our lives.  I have always loved the Magi. They were instrumental in my conversion because they were men of science who used the stars to find Christ.  In science, we can find God as well! God's creation points to God just like the star pointed to Christ (Job 12:7-10, Psalm 19:1-4, Romans 1:20). The late astronaut and first American in space John Glenn said after seeing the earth from space, "To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible."

Relics of the Wise Men
The magi found the Lord via the science of the stars, astronomy.  We know of their names as Balthazar, Gaspar and Melchior from the document Excerpta et Collectanea which is attributed to St. Bede who died in 735.  Their relics are in the cathedral in Cologne, Germany.

You can read another reflection I wrote here for January 6: http://www.sacerdotus.com/2017/01/3-kings-day-los-reyes-magos.htm. In it, I elaborate more on how the Magi represents all the outsiders. The second reading reminds us as well by telling us that Gentiles are also coheirs and part of the body of Christ.

Christ was born for all people of all races, genders, orientation, faiths; in every time and place. He is the Savior of all!  The Gospel tells us that great story.  Jesus was born in Bethlehem and the magi came from the east asking King Herod where the newborn king of the Jews was. Herod did not like this because he saw himself as the king of the Jews. He asked the magi to bring him the child so he too can adore Him. They found the child via the star and saw Mary with Him.  The magi prostrated themselves and paid homage to the child and gave Him the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh as prophesied in the first reading of today. Before departing, they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod.  They listened and returned home via a different route.

The Epiphany is an awesome celebration in our faith. Many cultures celebrate it as another Christmas. Kids put hay under their beds for the camels and wake up to find the hay missing and gifts in their place. Other cultures have feasts and other celebrations commemorating the visit of the magi. To me, the magi represents all peoples outside of Israel and academia coming to worship the Lord. This is my personal reflection. The stars and all of nature pays homage to God and leads us to admire Him via His creation.

May we continue to look for the Christ child and stay focused on the Star which is God's grace.
 


Please remember to help me with this ministry which is focused on reaching out to those in the dark.  Please be generous as the Magi were and consider donating or becoming a regular donor. Any amount is useful. God can do anything with any amount.  You can donate via Paypal or www.gofundme.com/sacerdotus.  God will reward you!  I have already received emails from donors who received many blessings just months after donating.  As soon as I get permission from them, I will share those emails.  I am not a business man nor investor so I rely on God's providence and how He inspires visitors and readers to donate.  Financial means is not the only way to help. You can pray and also volunteer your talents.  God bless you and Mary keep! 






Readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/010718.cfm



Here are more reflections from holy writers:

There is something more that must be understood about the gold, incense and myrrh. Solomon testifies that gold symbolizes wisdom when he says, "A pleasing treasure lies in the mouth of the wise." The psalmist bears witness to that incense which prayer offers to God when he says, "Let my prayer ascend as incense in your sight." The myrrh indicates the mortification of our bodies, of which the holy church speaks of its workmen who strive even unto death on behalf of God, "My hands dripped with myrrh."
And so do we too offer gold to the newborn king if we shine in his sight with the brightness of the wisdom from on high. We too offer him incense if we enkindle on the altar of our hearts the thoughts of our human minds by our holy pursuit of prayer, so as to give forth a sweet smell to God by our heavenly desire. And we offer him myrrh if we mortify the vices of our bodies by our self-denial.
Myrrh brings it about, as I have said, that dead bodies do not decompose. For a dead body to decompose is the same as for the human body of ours to become a slave to the decay of dissoluteness, as is said by the prophet: "The pack animals have decomposed in their own dung." This indicates fleshly minded persons who end their lives in the stench of dissoluteness. Therefore we are offering myrrh to God when we employ the spice of self-restraint to keep this earthly body of ours from decomposing through decadence.

— St. Gregory the Great
(540 - 604)


Source: "Forty Gospel Homilies, 10.6," quoted in Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 1–13, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 28-29.

"Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word." Appropriately did Herod say, "Bring me word," for the one who hastens to come to Christ always brings a word of renunciation to the devil. When the priest says to the future Christian, "Do you renounce the devil?" the latter will answer, "I do renounce him." Properly therefore are the magi instructed to bring word to Herod, who realized he was taking the place of the devil. Satan knew how to corrupt a person.
"That I may come and worship him." He wants to lie but he cannot. He who feigned adoration will come that he might bow to abuse, kneel to inflict punishment, recline to do harm.… But when the clouds of treachery have passed, in the fair weather of emerging Christian faith, the magi behold again the star they had seen, preceding and leading them on. Finally they arrive at the most holy place of the Lord's birth.
— St. Peter Chrysologus
(380 - 450)



Source: "Sermons 158.8-9," quoted in Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 1–13, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 25.



Since Herod was king, he was naturally afraid both for himself and for his children. But why was Jerusalem troubled? Surely the prophets had foretold him as the Savior, Benefactor and Deliverer who would come from above. But Jerusalem remained troubled by the same idolatrous affections that had previously caused them to turn from God precisely when God was pouring out his greatest benefits on them. While God was offering them new freedom, they were once again mindful only of the fleshpots of bondage in Egypt…
Although troubled, they nevertheless did not try to understand what was happening. They did not follow the wise men or even take any particular notice. To this extent were they both contentious and careless. This happened just when those in Jerusalem under Herod had reason to pride themselves that a king was being born among them. This had even attracted the attention of the wise from Persia. They were on the point of having everything going their way, as though their affairs were advancing toward improvement. But most did not even take notice. Amid an empire that had become so magnificent, they showed little improvement.
Jerusalem had only recently been delivered from subjugation. It might have been more reasonable for them to think, If the Persians tremble before this king now merely at his birth, wouldn't they tremble much more when he grows up? They would fear and obey him, and our situation might then be more glorious than that of the barbarians. Even if they knew nothing of mysteries or revelations but formed their judgments only on the basis of present self-interest, they surely might have thought along these lines. But nothing like this really occurred to them, so great was their dullness in prophecy and envy in human affairs.
Such dullness and envy must be rooted out of our minds. One must be more impassioned than fire to stand up against such an array. This is why Christ said, "I am come to send fire on earth, and how I wish it were already kindled." And the Spirit on this account appeared in fire.
— St. John Chrysostom
(347 - 407)


Source: "The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 6.4," quoted in Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 1–13, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 22–23.

1 comment:

  1. Happy Feast Day
    The Epiphany of Our Lord
    January 7
    The Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ is one of the oldest Christian feasts, though, throughout the centuries, it has celebrated a variety of things. Epiphany comes from a Greek verb meaning "to reveal," and all of the various events celebrated by the Feast of the #Epiphany are revelations of Christ to man; the #Nativity and #Baptism of Jesus, the 1st #miracle at Cana’s wedding feast, and the visitation of the #WiseMen.
    #Portraitsofsaints #KingsDay #3kingsday
    #Catholic
    lTi Amo Cristo è la Madonnina

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