The Solemnity of the
Epiphany of the Lord
January 6, 2019 Cycle C

by Rev. Jose Maria Cortes, F.S.C.E., Chaplain,
Saint John Paul II National Shrine,  Washington, D.C.

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In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Last week, a confrere of mine who spent some time in the Holy Land and now lives in Vienna, Austria, came to my house. In the Archdiocese of Vienna, he is in charge of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) for Muslims who convert to Christianity. He told us that in the last twenty years, fifteen million Muslims had converted to Christianity and added that, in many cases, Jesus mysteriously intervenes directly. For example, Jesus tells people through dreams to go to a certain place and find a certain person. Many also come to accept the Christian faith through reading the Koran translated into Western languages, which some find easier to understand than the Arabic original. References in the Koran to Jesus and Mary arouse their interest. Music is another means for conversion—my confrere mentioned Bach. God uses the splendor of sacred music to touch their hearts.

In these conversions, we see the epiphany of the Lord happening today! We recall the words of Saint Paul: “The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph 3:6).

The magi were the first Gentiles to whom the divinity of Jesus was revealed: “We have seen his star in the East, and have come with gifts to adore the Lord” (cf. Mt 2:2). In today’s solemnity, we celebrate Jesus as the true light and the fulfillment of all desires: “Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. […] upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears his glory” (Is 60:1–2). Jesus is the joy that knows no ending and the gladness that endures forever. In the words of Bach’s famous cantata:

“Jesus, joy of man’s desiring,

Holy wisdom, love most bright;

Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring

Soar to uncreated light.”

The magi may have seen the uncreated light or the light of Tabor, as appeared during the transfiguration. To see God’s glory is a special grace: “In your light we see light” (Ps 36:10).

In today’s collect, we prayed: “Grant in your mercy that we, who know you already by faith, may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory.” The magi had a glimpse of the infinite beauty of God. With the Incarnation of the Word, the entire universe was filled with God’s glory! We gratefully exclaim to God in the Sanctus: “Heaven and earth are full of your glory!” Unfortunately, we usually do not see this glory because our spiritual senses are atrophied. However, the darkness is readily apparent. As the first reading says: “See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples” (Is 60:2).

In order to be able to see the Light of Lights, we need to follow the magi. We need to look at the stars! We need to do as God told Abraham: “Look up at the sky and count the stars” (Gen 15:5). To look at the stars means to desire great things. We need to yearn for the beautiful, the good and the truthful. We need to desire the infinite.

The magi’s deep yearning made them leave everything and set off on their journey. Our yearning needs purification: we need to pass from desiring what is little to desiring what is great.

Another priest friend of mine met a young couple late one night when he was leaving his church. The couple had not expected to see him and seemed a bit embarrassed.

To reassure them, he said: “Do not worry if you are not doing anything wrong.” He kept on walking. For some reason, he looked at the sky, which was beautiful and full of stars. He stopped, turned to the couple and asked them: “What does what you are doing now have to do with the stars?”

In the case of the magi, “They prostrated themselves and did him [Jesus] homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Mt 2:11). We purify our desires if we do as the magi did. First, they adored Jesus profoundly. Second, they offered him gifts. Offering follows adoration, as commitment follows wonder. The magi offered gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, incense as a symbol of the Deity and myrrh as a symbol of death. In the gifts of the three kings, we can see an allusion to the mystery of the Eucharist. The gift we have to offer God is God himself. As we say in the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy: “Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.” Through our offering, we participate in Jesus’ offering. Christian life is to allow Christ to live in us. As Saint Paul says: “Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me” (Gal 2:20).

Let us pray. May the light seen by the magi touch our hearts. May the celebration of the Epiphany arouse our desire for the great and the infinite. May we recognize Jesus as the one who fulfills the desires of those who seek him. May we all see the beauty of God’s sublime glory one day.  Amen.

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