TEXT: Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, January 3, 2016
Solemnity of The Epiphany of the Lord
January 3, 2016
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 one word was spoken to man,
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, especially about God.
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.
Some have said that since they were obviously rich
and were greeted with great deference by King Herod,
they themselves must have been kings.
That may very well be true, or not,
but one thing that 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 unique 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 “pristine forests”,
and protecting “delicate eco-systems.”
Even discussions of climate change are undergirded with the ideas that
this change is caused by the environment being unnaturally distorted
from the way it 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.
What a great new insight.
Except it’s exactly what the Catholic Church has been teaching for 2 millennia.
The only surprising piece of news in all this is that for many
this appreciation for the nature of the world around us
ceases when it comes to 2 very important players in all this:
God and man.
It’s amazing to me that seeing the order, the logic and the beauty
of the environment
so many people cannot see that something, or someone, made it this way:
that all this is not simply “the environment” 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.
Take the words of Albert Einstein in the middle of the last century:
“The more I study science the more I believe in God.”
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 “delicate eco-systems”,
but they look at man, study him,
physiologically, psychologically, sociologically and historically,
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 in 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.
We see it in the very basic fact that we’re all happier and we don’t try
to kill each other.
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 was made for,
or 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 it we can’t see that man’s nature leads him to live in a stable family,
of one husband and wife, open to the birth of children.
Why is that some 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 any negative effect on society at large?
As Pope Benedict XVI once stated:
“The tropical forests are deserving, yes, of our protection,
but man merits no less…”
“[We] ought to safeguard not only the earth, water, and air
as gifts of creation….
[We] ought also to protect man against the destruction of himself.
What is necessary is a kind of ecology of man,
understood in the correct sense.”
Benedict went on to say:
“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, the stars, etc.
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:
As we read in the Book of Numbers:
“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 behavior and lifestyles.
This is a lot like Herod in today’s Gospel,
who called in the scribes and Pharisees—the Jewish scholars—
to find out where Scripture prophesied the infant king would be born,
but then ignored the fact that the scripture said
Herod was supposed to worship the child,
and instead used the prophesy to try to kill him.
In much the same way people nowadays
try to take some of the words of Scripture,
and then twist them in order to
put to death what they actually revealed.
This reminds us of something else: as I mentioned before, according to some,
the magi might have actually been kings.
If that is accurate, look at the contrast in the kings we find in today’s Gospel:
the kings from the east discover Jesus
by following nature and the Scriptures, and when they come to him,
amidst the Holy Family:
“They prostrated themselves and did him homage…”
King Herod, on the other hand, plots to kill him.
Today many modern kings—and so called wise-men—have the same choice:
to humbly but rationally follow nature and Scripture to the Creator
and to a true understanding of man and the family,
or to ignore nature and nature’s Creator
and impose self-serving ideologies and policies
that spell the death of man, the family, and human society.
To quote Pope Benedict again:
“It is a question here of faith in the Creator
and of listening to the language of creation,
the devaluation of which leads to the self-destruction of man.”
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 a 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 for us.
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.