Archbishop Lori’s Homily: Epiphany Sunday

Epiphany Sunday
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen – Livestreamed & T.V. Broadcast
January 3, 2021


When a crisis strikes, let us say an unexpected illness or a financial setback, we may feel as though we are walking in darkness. The sun may shine as brightly as ever, but inwardly we feel gloomy. The gloom is deeper and thicker, however, when it originates not outside of us … but from deep within us, as for example, when we undergo a period of depression, or a moral crisis, or a crisis of faith – times when we wonder about the value of our lives in the eyes of God and others. Sometimes, though, the darkness seems to be writ large, spreading like a contagion, not only from person to person but also across families, institutions, society itself, and yes, the Church. Today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah speaks of a darkness, a pervading darkness covering the earth, thick clouds covering people everywhere. We may indeed see ourselves as a people stumbling about in the gloom.

Yet, the present feast, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, celebrates “the great light” which the prophet Isaiah foretold also in today’s first reading: “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come!” . . . Gloom and darkness may still cover the earth, says Isaiah, “but upon you the LORD shines, over you appears his glory.” This is precisely the mystery we celebrate: the glory of the LORD shining upon us! St. Matthew’s Gospel describes the wondrous star that guided the Magi from the East, the Wise Men, who, in a certain way, represent humanity’s never-ending search for light, for wisdom, for truth, for love, and for meaning. By the guidance of a star that cut through the darkness and gloom, they were led to a humble dwelling in a remote part of the world, where they encountered a Newborn Child who was, in fact, “the light of the world.” To this Child, they presented gifts that symbolized a deep understanding of who he is: gold for a king, frankincense for a priest who would offer sacrifice, and myrrh for one who would lay down his life.

Their encounter with the Child Jesus changed their lives forever. St. Matthew tells us that the Magi returned home “by another route”, not only because they were told to avoid Herod with his evil designs upon the Child, but indeed, because henceforth their own lives would take another route. In their search for a king, the Wise Men found the Kingdom of God. For the rest of their lives, they would follow that Star, walking by its radiance.

Light Brightly Visible 

But, dear friends, upon us the glory of the Lord still shines! In the waning days of 2020, Saturn and Jupiter seemed to merge in the night sky. Some called this phenomenon “a Christmas star”, a sign of hope amid the gloom. While it is true that gazing into a star-lit sky should always fill us with wonder and awe, let us now set our sights even higher, where ‘Christ is seated at God’s right hand’. From the heavenly realm, the light of Christ continues to shine upon the whole earth, and his light shines on us with great intensity as we celebrate this Eucharistic liturgy. “For great in [our] midst is the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 12:6): the Newborn Child who grew in age and wisdom, who preached and cured, who suffered and died, who rose from the dead and was exalted in heavenly glory. This is the light that shines upon us now: the radiance of God’s Word that is proclaimed and the Eucharistic radiance of bread and wine that become the Body and Blood of Christ. This is the star that leads us to God the Father and guides our steps each day. This, the light that dispels the gloom hovering over us and over our world – and lifts the thick clouds that seem, even now, to cover the Church on her pilgrim way.

Standing in the radiance of the One who is “God from God and light from light,” let us recall what Second Vatican Council taught us about the Church and her mission: “Christ is the Light of Nations. Because this is so, this Synod … eagerly desires … to bring the light of Christ [to every person], a light brightly visible on the countenance [the face] of the Church” (Lumen Gentium, 1). Put another way, the light which caught the attention of the Magi, the light of Christ, must now shine brightly in and through the Church, if she is to fulfill Christ’s mandate to proclaim the Good News to the ends of the earth. Notice, the light of Christ must shine in us and through us, we who are members of the Church, the Body of Christ. So too, the light of Christ must shine through the Church’s institutions, her parishes, schools, ministries of charity, even the Church’s way of attending to her business. What a tall order, we might be thinking, especially in these times when many are beset by the pandemic or otherwise find their religious faith flagging, and when the Church herself is “under a cloud” . . . where to start?

Perhaps, we need to start at the very beginning and to hear afresh the first words Jesus spoke to us: “Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). And by “we”, I do not mean only “you”, but myself, my co-workers in ministry, and every member and family of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

If the light of Christ is to shine brightly on the face of the Church, his light must first shine brightly in the depths of our souls, yours and mine.

Christ our Light! 

Political pundits often say that, “people are policy”, meaning that policies are enacted only when the people around a president are truly committed to his policies. Perhaps the LORD is saying the same to us – the light of Christ will shine through us only if we allow his light to shine in us, even in those corners of our souls that are darkened by sin or wounded by evil. The light of Christ will shine in and through the Church only if the Church is populated, so to speak, with missionary disciples, true-blue followers of Christ who have welcomed the light into their own hearts and are committed to radiating that light outwards, sharing it with others. Institutional reform, necessary as it is, will not succeed without personal reform. In the 16th century, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, could not have reformed the Carmelite Order – unless they themselves were deeply and authentically holy. Whether we are laity, religious, or clergy, the same is true for each of us.

That is why I recommend that we follow the star shining in the heart of the Church, namely, the Eucharistic Lord, in whose radiance we share whenever we participate worthily and wholeheartedly in the celebration of Mass, and whenever we spend time adoring the Blessed Sacrament reserved. In a forthcoming pastoral letter, I will challenge myself as well as my fellow clergy to spend an hour a day, praying quietly before the Tabernacle, allowing the Eucharistic Lord to shed the light of his love into the depths of our hearts, bringing alive in us the Scriptures we preach and conforming us to the sacrifice we offer. …While the pandemic has hindered many of you parishioners from coming to Church or from participating in Eucharistic adoration, I think we need to look ahead. We need to focus our sights on that happy day when we can return to Mass in full force – not only those of you who were coming before the pandemic but also those of you who, for whatever reason, had stopped attending Sunday Mass. In the year ahead, we will be preparing to celebrate in 2022 a “Year of the Eucharist”, a graced time for each parish, each family, and each member of the Archdiocese to be renewed in the Eucharistic faith of the Church – For it is in and through the Eucharist that we encounter the One who is “the light of the world”, Christ Jesus our LORD.

On this Epiphany Sunday, may we join together in praying that the light which attracted the Magi from afar may now shine brightly on the Church’s face, so that many who are far from the LORD and the Church will be attracted to him by us and by the witness of our lives. Christ is our light! Thanks be to God!

Archbishop William E. Lori

Archbishop William E. Lori was installed as the 16th Archbishop of Baltimore May 16, 2012.

Prior to his appointment to Baltimore, Archbishop Lori served as Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., from 2001 to 2012 and as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington from 1995 to 2001.

A native of Louisville, Ky., Archbishop Lori holds a bachelor's degree from the Seminary of St. Pius X in Erlanger, Ky., a master's degree from Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg and a doctorate in sacred theology from The Catholic University of America. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington in 1977.

In addition to his responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop Lori serves as Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus and is the former chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.