Solemnity of the Epiphany
St. Stephen, Bradshaw
(Blessing of New Addition to the School)
Jan. 5, 2020
It is a pleasure to return to St. Stephen Parish to celebrate this beautiful Feast of the Epiphany With you, I am happy to greet and welcome your new pastor, Fr. George Gannon; to thank Father Paul for his devoted service to St. Stephen Parish; and to thank also Deacon Frank Laws and the hardworking parish staff here at St. Stephens. It’s also a joy congratulate your School Principal, Mary Patrick, together with her staff and faculty on the new middle-school addition and on their wonderful work of educating and forming our young people. With us today is Mr. Jim Sellinger, Chancellor of Catholic Education and the Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Dr. Donna Hargens. It’s good to see so many of you students from St. Stephen School and your parents, and so many members of this wonderful parish family. Today also let us remember Father Larry Kolson, your former pastor. As you know, he faces serious health challenges and I know how greatly he appreciates your continued prayers and friendship.
Now, I don’t know if Catholic elementary school students still sing this song which was around way back, when I was a student, but its words go like this: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…” It’s really a prayer set to music in which we promise Jesus that the light of his love will continue to shine in and through us, no matter what. We promise not to hide his light under a bushel basket, and not to let Satan blow it out, and to keep on shining with God’s love right up to the time when Jesus comes again in glory … The refrain is, “let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”
In a way, that is what the feast of the Epiphany is all about. It’s about letting our light – the light of our faith in Jesus shine before others. Or as Jesus himself said, “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds, and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16). But our light, the light of our faith and good deeds, is only a reflection of the light of Christ, symbolized by the star, that hovered over the stable where Christ was born, the very star that attracted the attention of the Magi from the East. Let us, then, pay attention to that light and to the response of the Magi to that light, with the goal of becoming brighter reflections of Christ’s light and love in our daily lives.
The Star Above the Stable
In today’s Gospel, we saw how the Magi saw a star rising in the heavens; they understood it to be a sign that the long-awaited King of the Jews had been born. So they set out from their own country to find this newborn King. After a troubling meeting with King Herod, the Magi allowed the star to lead them to the place where Jesus had been born. We are told that the Magi “were overjoyed at seeing the star”; they entered in, beheld Mary and the Child, and did him homage.
Even today some scholars wonder if this star might have been Halley’s comet, or a unique alignment of planets, or a stellar explosion in the night sky, a Nova. But all such speculation is ultimately beside the point. In truth, the Magi were drawn by the Holy Spirit to seek the newborn Christ, “the true light that enlightens everyone,” as the prologue to John’s Gospel puts it. Yes, the One who is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God” had assumed our humanity and entered our history to bring about the world’s salvation. In their quest for wisdom, the Magi were drawn to this light. They could not have known all that would unfold in Jesus’ life but they sensed that his birth was a world-changing event. Their attraction to the brightness of the star symbolizes the attractiveness of Jesus and the Gospel to people everywhere, to people of every nation, language, race, and culture – and of every epoch of history.
The Response of the Magi to the Star
How, then, did the Magi respond to the star? Well, one thing is for sure: They did not remain at home in comfortable circumstances, merely speculating about the meaning of that star. No, they undertook a journey that was neither easy nor free of danger. Pope Francis would say of the Magi – that they “left their comfort zone” so as to seek and ultimately find the Lord. They exchanged the lesser lights of wealth and comfort for the true light, ‘for the glory of God shining on the face of the newborn Christ.’
It turns out that the Magi were wise not merely because of their scholarship but, above all, because they had cultivated a docile spirit, a docile spirit that was open to the supernatural light that comes from God. This is what led them not only to seek the Christ but also to do him homage, bringing him gifts that symbolized the mission God the Father entrusted to his Son: gold to acknowledge his universal kingship; frankincense to hail his divinity; myrrh to acknowledge his humanity – in which he would suffer and die to save us. And isn’t it ironic that what the political and religious leaders of Israel missed, the Wise Men from East found… and in a very unlikely place… in a stable, a place that epitomized our poverty both spiritual and material.
Our Response to the Star
What, then, should be our response to the Star? To the One whose birth we have celebrated? The One who is the light of the world? Let me suggest three possible responses that you and I can make:
First, let us worship Christ as did the Magi, not with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but with by believing with all our hearts in the Lord’s Real Presence in the Eucharist, and by coming to Mass Sunday after Sunday, even when it’s inconvenient, there to open our hearts in praise, adoration, and thanksgiving. These are gifts which Lord deems more precious than any earthly treasure.
Second, let us rededicate ourselves to the work of spreading the Gospel. We saw how the Magi were attracted by the light of truth and love that radiated from the Christ-Child, the Redeemer of the world. That light has not stopped shining in our world. It still shines and can shine through us – if only we open our hearts to the Lord, if only we are willing to leave our comfort zone so as to encourage those who no longer practice the faith to return. This includes family members, fellow parishioners, friends, and acquaintances. I know that even mentioning the subject can sometimes provoke ire or rejection – the same reaction the Magi encountered when they met with King Herod. Indeed, it has never been easy or risk-free to evangelize, to spread the Gospel. Even so, many people, deep down, are searching for the light and truth of the Gospel. May it shine through our words and deeds so that we might attract them to Christ!
A final way we can respond to the light of Christ shining in our world is to redouble our efforts to form our young people in the faith. That is why I am so happy to bless the new middle school here at St. Stephen’s. Our Catholic schools do a wonderful job in providing our young people with an excellent 21st century education and we have the test scores to prove it. But they also play an even more important role in forming our young people in their Catholic faith and in those virtues that will make them people of integrity and goodness in the world today. So I congratulate you on the growth and vitality of the school even as I also applaud the religious formation programs of the parish. Most of all, it is the role of parents, as their children’s first teachers, to form their young people in the faith at home by word and example. Then, the light of Christ will shine in and through a whole new generation of Catholics, lighting up a world that is often darkened by sin, both personal and social.
Dear friends, when we, like the Magi, see the light of Christ shining in our midst, then our light will shine even more brightly – and each us and each of our parishes will indeed become ‘a light brightly visible’ – a light shining with the truth and love of Christ, shining with the attractiveness and joy of the God. And may God bless us and keep us always in his love!