It’s hard to believe that we are already in 2016. This is our first Sunday in the New Year and we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. Now, we begin the New Year every year celebrating the feast day of Mary, the Mother of God. But, the first Sunday is epiphany. I think this is a beautiful way to start the year. Epiphany is a word that means manifestation. Manifestation means: to appear or to be made known. What we are celebrating today is the fact that Jesus has appeared on earth, he was made known. He was made known not only to the chosen people of Israel, but also to the whole world. The Magi in the gospel represent all of us, who come to Christ from all over the globe.
Today is a neat day to think about the universality of the Church. Right now the Mass is being celebrated all over the world. Right now, Christ is being worshipped in every language, by people of every nationality and background. The Mass is universal because our faith is universal. Jesus Christ came for all of us.
Really, our parish is not too different. We come from many different backgrounds and nationalities. Some of us were born in this country, some came from far distant lands. Some of you were born and raised here in this parish, some of us, like me, are relatively new to St. Jude. Yet, this is a parish for everyone. This is a universal parish, open to any and all. That’s because this is a Catholic parish. That’s what it means to be Catholic, to be universal.
But, while the Church and our parish are indeed open to everyone, what is it that unites us? Look again to the story of the Magi. I think they show us 4 interesting things that will help us to grow in our faith and be more closely united to one another as a parish.
First, they were called by the light of the star. We are called by the light of faith. This light leads us closer to Christ, just as it did for the Magi. Drawing near to Christ is certainly something that we all have in common. One of the great things about belonging to the Church means that we know that we have something in common with everyone else in the Church: we are all trying to grow closer to Christ. That’s feature number 1, growing closer to Christ.
Number 2, when the Magi arrive in Bethlehem, they see Christ and they worship. This is another feature of the Catholic Church that unites us. We all worship together. I once had the privilege of travelling to Rome. My group went early to St. Peter’s basilica for Mass. As we walked along there were many other pilgrimage groups having Mass there as well. I must have heard 5 different languages. I had no idea what they were saying, but I could tell exactly what was going on at each station because they were celebrating the Mass. The mass is not just an expression of our diversity as a body, it’s actually what unites us. We are all Catholics because we come here to Mass, we are a part of this parish because we come here to Mass. This is what makes us to be who we are as a people, we come here to Christ and worship.
Number 3, the magi gave Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They gave Christ the very best of what they had. This is another thing we do as well. Every time we come here to Mass we give God the very best of what we are. First and foremost, we make a gift of our hearts, our lives. This is the kind of sacrifice that we can all make when we are gathered here around the altar. But, then we also make our gifts of time, talent, and treasure. Giving back to Lord is a recognition of all that God has done for us. Every month when I give to St. Jude via my electronic withdrawal I’m not giving money to the parish because the parish needs the money, I’m giving to God because I want to give him thanks. So that’s number 3, we give back to God because of all he’s done for us.
Number 4, once they encounter Christ, worship, and give gifts, the Magi return by another road. I like to think about this as the ongoing journey of conversion. After we meet Christ and worship him here, I hope we don’t just go back to the same kind of living. I hope we don’t just go home as the same kind of person. Ongoing conversion is an important part of what makes us who we are as Christians. We all know that we are not perfect. But, we are all called to that perfection. Hopefully, we are each striving each day to be better people, always closer to Christ.
This is why I think Epiphany is a great feast for the first Sunday of the New Year. I know many of us like to make some New Year’s resolutions. But, I think there is no better resolution we could make than to grow in our faith as disciples of Jesus. As we start 2016 we can take the Magi as our examples. They show us the pathways of faith: grow closer to Christ, worship him, give to God, and go home a changed person. This sounds like a great way to spend 2016.