The Epiphany of the Lord
January 2, 2022
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
The word “epiphany” means “manifestation” or “the showing.”
And so today’s Feast of the Epiphany celebrates that day when
the Lord Jesus was manifested, or shown,
not just to His family or His people Israel,
but to the whole world, symbolized by the arrival of the magi from the East.
Of course what was “shown” or “revealed” was not just a tiny baby,
but the Creator of the Universe, God Himself, made flesh in this tiny baby.
But while the birth of Jesus is the fullness of the revelation of God,
it’s not the first time God has revealed Himself to the world.
For 1700 years before that God had been speaking to Jewish prophets,
and going back even further we see how God spoke to Noah,
and of course to Adam and Eve.
But even before all that, before a word was spoken,
God revealed Himself in an even more basic way:
through the wonder of His creation.
As far back as we can tell man has been looking to creation
to understand what it has to tell us.
In fact, the magi in today’s Gospel probably spent quite a bit of time
dedicated to that very effort.
There’s been a lot of speculating about who these men were.
But it seems certain is that they were essentially scholars,
learned in many subjects,
—the word “magi” refers to this, as does the term “wise men.”
In particular, they were clearly knowledgeable of astronomy,
—so they were able to not only spot the unusual “star”
that had arisen in the sky toward their west,
but to identify it as a completely unusual phenomenon.
That same fascination with nature and understanding its order continues today.
We spend billions of dollars every year for wise men—scientists—
to study the stars and the earth, and the whole creation around us.
At the same time we see a growing non-scientific appreciation of nature,
of its simple and yet majestic beauty and wonder.
And in all this interest a common theme seems to emerge:
an appreciation for the order of things in nature:
that there is a way things ought to be in nature.
We see this in the formulas and laws of scientists,
but also in the way non-scientists speak about the environment.
For example, we hear people talk about preserving “delicate eco-systems,”
and discussions of climate change are undergirded with the idea that
this change is caused by things being unnaturally distorted
from the way they should naturally function.
And as they recognize that there is an order in nature,
some also recognize that even the slightest disturbance in that order,
is a potential problem, either short term or long term,
And so many have come to see
the order written in nature as being inherently good,
and conversely that anything “unnatural” is somehow potentially bad.
But this appreciation for the nature of the world around us
ceases when it comes to two very important players in all this:
God and man.
It’s amazing to me that seeing the order, the logic and the beauty in nature
so many people cannot see that something, or someone, made it this way:
that all this is not simply “nature” but “creation,”
which is laid out with an immeasurable genius by a Creator.
Even so, billions of people throughout the world and history
have made this connection.
And not just the uneducated or unscientific,
but also scientists, like Father Georges Lemaitre,
the devout Catholic priest and brilliant physicist who died in 1966,
the “father” of the so called “Big Bang” theory.
But even if you can’t see God in His creation,
why is it that so many can’t at least see man as part of “nature”?
Why is it that so many don’t recognize
that man is also created to be a certain way?
Now, certainly everyone recognizes that man’s body works a certain way
—that’s what medical science is all about.
But more and more that information is used to manipulate the body
rather than to simply help the body do what it’s naturally supposed to do.
The more outrageous examples of this are things like sex-change operations,
or efforts to manipulate genes to make a sort of super race.
But a more common example would be the use of the contraceptive pill
—which is designed to prevent a woman’s body from doing
what a normal healthy female body naturally does.
But even more important, it’s clear that man is created to live a certain way,
in interpersonal social relationships.
Why is it that so many can recognize the need to protect “nature,”
but they look at man, carefully study him,
and can’t see that he is designed to function in a certain normal healthy way,
and that any deviation from that causes a disruption the
“delicate eco-system” of human society.
Why, for example, can’t they see that man is created to love?
History and medical science prove
that human society is healthiest and happiest
when man lives in love with his neighbor.
And why can’t we see that some things people call “love” are
are not love at all, but rather are unhealthy because they’re not natural
—it’s not the way we are designed.
Nowhere is the social nature of man so clearly seen as the life of
marriage, family and sexuality.
Again, why can’t we look at the body and see it is naturally ordered to,
certain kinds of acts of sexual expression,
and that acts outside of or contrary to this natural order
are clearly unnatural, and even physically unhealthy?
Why can’t we look at the way family life has been lived for all of recorded time
and see a certain natural form of family life
and that anything else is less than desirable for human beings
and sometimes disastrous?
Why is that when we are so concerned how 1 degree of temperature change
might create global catastrophe,
but don’t think huge fundamental changes in the structure of families
will have an effect on society at large?
As Pope Benedict XVI once stated:
“When the Church speaks of the nature of the human being
as man and woman and asks that this order of creation be respected,
it is not the result of an outdated metaphysic.
It is a question here of faith in the Creator
and of listening to the language of creation….”
Now let’s return to our magi from the east.
The thing is, they didn’t just study creation,
they also studied what other peoples had to say about the Creator.
In particular they were well versed in the Jewish Scriptures,
including the prophesy of Balaam
that one day God would send a great king to Israel
and that a star would be associated with His birth:
“A star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel….
and Jacob shall overcome his foes.”
And so the magi asked Herod: ““Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”
Today, we can read many things in nature about the truth about man.
But as much as we learn, it’s hard, really impossible,
to know everything about man by observing nature alone.
But one thing nature does clearly tell us is
that man longs to communicate with his Creator:
belief in and prayer to the Creator is a common theme
throughout human history.
And this is what the magi did 2000 years ago, with sacred Scripture.
Unfortunately, today there are those among us who fancy themselves
“wiser men” than the rest of us
and try to manipulate and twist the clear words of Scripture
to convince others to support unnatural lifestyles.
This is a lot like Herod in today’s Gospel, who used his scholars and Scripture
to find out where the infant king would be born,
but then used wisdom and scripture against the child.
In much the same way people nowadays
try to take some of the words of Scripture, ignoring the inconvenient ones,
and then twisting them in order to put to death what they actually revealed.
Some say, but Father, look at all the messed up families and marriages,
is that your idea of nature?
No, it’s not.
The problem in these families is not nature, it’s going contrary to nature,
especially man’s nature to love:
to love God, spouse and children, our neighbor.
Most unhappy families are unhappy because of lack of true love
—not love that is self-centered
or warped beyond all truly human recognition,
but love that is truly human, unselfish and self-giving.
Which is, in the end, at the heart of the meaning of the Epiphany.
God loves us and has given us the wonderful gift of
coming to us to tell us about Himself, and us, as the Baby Jesus.
In that Baby we see the pure love that man is naturally created for:
out of unselfish love for man,
God the Son strips Himself of His heavenly glory
to be born in a dirty manger and die on a Cross.
Truly wise men learn from this and imitate this love:
like the magi who recognized the gift He gave them,
humbly bowed before Him
and gave all they had to Him in return.
In a few moments our Lord will come to us in the Eucharist,
just as surely as He came to those Magi in a stable 2000 years ago.
Like the magi, let us prostrate ourselves before Him
and give Him everything we have, especially our love.
And let us beg Him to give us and our world the grace
to rediscover the simple truths
that nature reveals to us about ourselves and about God our Creator.
And that the truth He revealed in Bethlehem and in His Scripture and His Church,
may lead us not only to understand God and man more completely,
but also to live and love as He created us to.