Feast of the Holy Family, Year C

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8-MINUTE HOMILY

Manifestation of God’s Secret Plan

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The Greek word Epiphany (επιφάνεια), means appearance or manifestation. First, the angels revealed Jesus to the shepherds. In the Western Church, the Feast of the Epiphany celebrates Jesus’ first manifestation to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi, while in the Eastern Church, the Feast commemorates the baptism of Christ, at which the Father and the Holy Spirit gave combined testimony to Jesus’ identity as Son of God. Later, in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus revealed Himself in words as the promised Messiah, and at Cana Jesus revealed His Divinity by transforming water into wine. These multiple revelations are all suggested by the Feast of the Epiphany.

Homily Starter Anecdote

The conventional wisdom is that every homily should begin with a story to capture the congregation’s attention and to introduce the theme. 
OPTION A: Because you never know what’s going to happen next!

Because you never know what’s going to happen next!”

A survey was made among school children asking the question why they enjoyed reading Harry Potter novels and watching Harry Potter movies. The most common answer was, “Because you never know what’s going to happen next!” The same element of suspense and discovery marked the journey of the Magi, who never knew what road the Spirit was going to take them down next.

The same elements of suspense and discovery were there when Marco Polo journeyed to India and China, when Christopher Columbus travelled to America, and when Admiral Byrd went to the South Pole. Such adventurers have always aroused our admiration and curiosity.

The magi-astrologers described in today’s Gospel had to be a little crazy leaving the security of their homeland to venture forth into a strange country presided over by a mad king like Herod, in search of a Divine Child. But their great Faith, curiosity, and adventurous spirit enabled them to discover the secret of the whole universe – the secret of God’s incredible love for His people – because the Child they found was no ordinary child, but the very Son of God become man. Today’s readings invite us to have the curiosity of the school students and the Faith and adventurous spirit of the magi so that we may experience the “epiphany” of our God in everyone and every event, everywhere. (adapted from Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds).

OPTION B: A Woman Among the Magi?

A Woman Among the Magi?

Renowned Gospel of Matthew professor, Dominican friar and priest, Rev. Benedict Thomas Viviano has a new Biblical theory that may change nativity scenes across the globe: there was one Wise Woman (or more) among the Wise Men. Viviano’s original theory was published in 2011 in Studies of Matthew by Leuven University Press. It’s “perfectly plausible,” he argues, that Matthew would have understood the magi as some sort of Eastern sages. “On the other hand,” Viviano suggests, “the masculine plural magoi does not close the question of gender. … The main reason to think of the presence of one or more women among the magi is the background story of the queen of Sheba, with her quest for Israelite royal wisdom, her reverent awe, and her three gifts fit for a king.” Viviano’s second reason to suspect the presence of the feminine, he says, is the Israelite tradition of personifying wisdom as a woman (Proverbs 8:22-30; 9:1-6; Sirach, 24). Viviano’s third argument for his female-among-the-magi cause is that Matthew’s Gospel later characterizes Jesus as embodying wisdom, which Jewish literature considers female and even terms Lady Wisdom. The passages Viviano refers to are Matthew, Chapter 11:19 and 25-30. — What difference would it have made if there had been a woman among the magi? A women’s magazine said: “They would have come before the birth of Jesus, brought provisions for the child and his mother, and would have served as midwives!”

OPTION C: A PENCIL IN GOD'S HAND

A Pencil in God’s Hands

Mother Teresa described herself as “a pencil in God’s hands. “As long as God keeps pouring in the ink, I will continue to let God write with me and through me.” Through this physically diminutive, spiritual giant, God has indeed writ large. Through her, God has continued to reveal in our midst the mystery or secret plan of salvation of which the author of Ephesians writes in today’s second reading.

St.  Teresa of Calcutta understood that there were no second-class citizens in the people of God. Nor is anyone an afterthought in God’s saving plan. The small nun who ministered to the world’s poor also left the world a legacy and a challenge.

At the beginning of this new year, contemporary believers might take time to consider if her legacy will live on in them and how that challenge can be met. Am I willing to accept and cherish absolutely everyone I meet as a co-heir, as a member of the same body and as a sharer of God’s promises? If so, then God’s secret plan continues to be revealed in me; if not, then I have darkened and obscured the manifestation of love and light that we celebrate today.

Click on chevron banners for additional insights into this week’s scripture in order to relate it to the lives of your parishioners.

Scripture Readings Summarized

First Reading

Today’s Old Testament reading, Isaiah 60:1-6, is chosen partly because it mentions non-Jews bringing gifts in homage to the God of Israel. Here the Prophet Isaiah, consoling the people in exile, speaks of the restoration of New Jerusalem from which the glory of Yahweh becomes visible even to the pagan nations. “Jerusalem,” the prophet Isaiah cries out, “your light has come in the midst of darkness and thick clouds covering the earth; the glory of the Lord shines upon you.”

WANT TO SAY MORE?

Additional insights on the Gospel from Fr. Tony

For the people of Israel, then in exile in a foreign land, Isaiah was promising redemption, renewal, and restoration –- a new life, to be lived in their own land. And the promise goes beyond the Jewish people to include all peoples. For the prophecy continues, “Nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”Thus, in this passage, the prophecy which the Lord God gives His people celebrates the Divine Light that will emanate from Jerusalem, and it pictures all the nations acknowledging and enjoying that Light and walking by It. As a sign of gratitude for the priceless lessons of Faith offered by Jerusalem, the nations will bring wealth by land and sea, especially gold for the Temple and frankincense for the sacrifice. Everyone will be drawn to Jerusalem because the radiance of God’s favor rests on her. This prophecy of Isaiah is realized in Jesus Christ, God’s Anointed One (Christ; Messiah), Savior of the world, and in His Church, the New Jerusalem made up of Jews and Gentiles.

Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 72) declares “The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts; the Kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute. All kings shall pay Him homage, all nations shall serve Him” (vv 12-13) In Christ, God is calling together the one human race to acknowledge and serve Him in holiness. Thus, this reading with its response expresses Hope for a time when “the people of God” will embrace all nations. As a privileged recipient of a Divine “epiphany,”


Second Reading

Saint Paul, in today’s second reading, reveals God’s “secret plan,” that the Gentiles also have a part with the Jews in Divine blessings. Affirming the mystery of God’s plan of salvation in Christ, Paul explains that the plan of God includes both Jews and Gentiles.

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Additional insights on the Gospel from Fr. Tony

Jesus implements this Divine plan by extending membership in the Church, making it available to all peoples. Thus, the Jews and the Gentiles have become, “coheirs, members of the same Body and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” Hence, there are no second-class members in the Church among Christian believers. Paul declares that he has been commissioned by Christ to make this mystery known to the world.


Gospel

Today’s Gospel teaches us how Christ enriches those who bring Him their hearts. These pagan Magi were acceptable to God because they feared God and did what was right. Since the Magi came with humble joy in their hearts to visit the Christ Child, God allowed them to see wondrous things. At the same time, today’s Gospel hints at different reactions to the news of Jesus’ birth, foreshadowing Jesus’ passion and death, as well as the risen Jesus’ mandate to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19).

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Additional insights on the Gospel from Fr. Tony

The first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel together with Luke, Chapters 1 and 2, come under the heading “infancy narratives.” They have been described by Raymond E. Brown (The Birth of the Messiah, Image Books, New York: 1979), as a “Gospel in miniature,” in which the evangelist has set forth the basic tenets of the Good News, namely, (1) the universal scope of salvation; (2) an affirmation of Jesus’ Divine origins and Messianic mission; (3) the implications of God’s plan and of Jesus’ mission for the Church, i.e. a missiology of world-wide proportions.

The Magi: The Magi  were not Kings, but a caste of Persian priests who served Kings by using their skills in interpreting dreams and the movements of the stars. The sixth century Italian tradition that the Magi finding Jesus were three Magi, Casper, Balthazar, and Melchior, is based on the fact that three gifts are mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew nowhere says that there were three wise men from the East. Tradition holds each of them came from a different culture: Melchior was Asian, Balthazar was Persian and Caspar was Ethiopian – thus representing the three races known to the ancient world. “They are supposed to have been kings, but this stems from a very literal translation of a psalm verse: ‘The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts’ (Ps 72:10). Ancient depictions of them never involved symbols of royalty, but simply the Phrygian cap and garments of noble Persians” (Dr. M Watson). The Magi may actually have been Persian priests or Babylonian astronomers or Nabataean spice-traders. Eventually, however, they were pictured as representatives of different peoples and races. The Orthodox Church holds that the Magi consisted of twelve Kings, corresponding in number to the twelve tribes of Israel. (The term magoi in Greek refers to a wide variety of people, including fortune-tellers, priestly augurs, magicians, and astrologers). Because of their connection with the star in this story, it is safe to conclude that Matthew identified them mostly with the last group. Possibly they came from Babylonia, or Persia, where the word magus originated. There were almost certainly Gentiles, for if they had been Jews, they would have known better than to ask King Herod about a national ruler who would challenge his dynasty! It is not clear from the story why they wanted to pay homage to a Jewish king, or what they learned about him from their observations of “his star” (Matthew 2:2) (Dr. M Watson). Christian life, the life of God’s people, is most often represented in the Bible and in literature, as a journey – a journey that begins with our confession of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior in Baptism and ends when we at last meet Him, God’s Incarnate Only-begotten Son, in the Trinity, face to Face, in God’s heavenly kingdom. The magi represent the first fruits of the pagan nations who welcome the Good News of Salvation through the Incarnation (CCC #528). Note that in Matthew’s Gospel, it is Mary who makes the Word known first to Gentiles (the magi) (CCC #724).


The star: Commentary on the Torah by Jewish rabbis suggests that a star appeared in the sky at the births of Abraham, Isaac, and Moses. Similarly, in the Book of Numbers, the prophet Balaam speaks of “a star that shall come out of Jacob.” Stars were believed to be signs from God, announcing important events. Thus, the brightness of the Light to which Magi were drawn was made visible in the star they followed. (In the last 40 years, a number of scientists and astronomers have pointed to particular clusterings of planets or stars around the time of Jesus’ birth, which would have created an unusual or dramatic heavenly “portent,” suggesting that perhaps Matthew’s account is more historical than some exegetes might choose to believe). The star which shone over the area and served as a beacon for the astrologers can be explained scientifically. Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), a German astrologer and mathematician, calculated that the planetary conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn which occurred ca 7-6 B.C.E. could have produced such an illumination in the sky over Bethlehem. However, the star featured in Matthew’s narrative figures more importantly because of its theological significance. No doubt, Matthew, with his mission to demonstrate that Jesus was the Promised One and the fulfillment of all Jewish hopes and prophecies, intended his readers to recall the story of Balaam in the book of Numbers (chapters 22-24). Therein, Balaam, a pagan seer from the East was co-opted by Balak, king of Moab to curse the Israelites. Prevented by Yahweh from uttering the curse, Balaam blessed Israel and prophesied, “a star shall rise from Jacob and a scepter shall arise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17). Matthew portrayed the astral herald that proclaimed the appearance of Jesus and beckoned the Gentiles to salvation as the fulfillment of Balaam’s prophesy.(Sanchez Files).


The gifts: Gold, frankincense and myrrh may be thought of as prophesying Jesus’ future. Gold was a gift for Kings; frankincense (an ancient air purifier and perfume), was offered to God in Temple worship (Ex 30:37); and myrrh (an oriental remedy for intestinal worms in infants), was used by the High Priest as an anointing oil (Ex 30:23), and to prepare bodies for burial. These gifts were not only expensive but portable. Perhaps Joseph sold the gifts to finance the Holy Family’s trip to Egypt. The gifts might have been God’s way of providing for the journey that lay ahead.


The triple reactions: The Epiphany can be looked on as a symbol for our pilgrimage through life to Christ. The feast invites us to see ourselves in the Magi – a people on a journey to Christ. Today’s Gospel also tells us the story of the encounter of the Magi with the evil King Herod. This encounter demonstrates three reactions to Jesus’ birth, a) Hatred: a group of people headed by Herod planned to destroy Jesus; b) Indifference: another group, composed of priests and scribes, ignored Jesus; c) Adoration: the members of a third group — shepherds and the magi — adored Jesus and offered themselves to Him.

A) The destructive group: King Herod considered Jesus a potential threat to his kingship. Herod the Great was a cruel, selfish king who murdered his mother-in-law, wife, two brothers-in-law and three children on suspicion that they had plotted against him. In today’s Gospel, Herod asks the chief priests and scribes where the Messiah is to be born. Their answer tells him, and us, much more, combining two strands of Old Testament promise – one revealing the Messiah to be from the line of David (see 2 Samuel 2:5), the other predicting “a ruler of Israel” who will “shepherd his flock” and whose “greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth” (see Micah 5:1-3) (Dr. Hann). Later, the scribes and Pharisees would plot to kill Jesus because Jesus had criticized them and tried to reform some of their practices. Today, many oppose Christ and the Church because of their selfish motives, evil ways, and unjust lives. Children still have Herods to fear. In the United States alone, one and a half million innocents, unborn children are aborted annually.

B) The group that ignored Christ: The scribes, the Pharisees, and the Jewish priests knew that there were nearly 500 prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the promised Messiah. They were able to tell Herod the exact time and place of Jesus’ birth. They were in the habit of concluding their reading from the prophets on the Sabbath day by saying, “We shall now pray for the speedy arrival of the Messiah.” Unfortunately, they were more interested in their own selfish gains than in discovering the truth. Hence, they refused to go and see the child Jesus — even though Bethlehem was quite close to Jerusalem. Today, many Christians remind us of this group. They practice their religion from selfish motives, like gaining political power, prestige, and recognition by society. They ignore Jesus’ teachings in their private lives.

C) The group that adored Jesus and offered Him gifts: This group was composed of the shepherds and the Magi. The shepherds offered the only gifts they had: love, tears of joy, and probably woolen clothes and milk from their sheep. The Magi, probably Persian astrologers, were following the star that Balaam had predicted would rise, along with the ruler’s staff, over the house of Jacob (see Numbers 24:17). The Magi offered gold, in recognition of Jesus as the King of the Jews; frankincense, in acknowledgment that He was God, and myrrh as a symbol of His human nature. “Like the Magi, every person has two great ‘books’ which provide the signs to guide this pilgrimage: the book of creation and the book of sacred Scripture. What is important is that we be attentive, alert, and listen to God Who speaks to us,Who always speaks to us.” (Pope Francis)


Life messages

Choose AS MANY AS TIME ALLOWS

Let us make sure that we belong to the third group

a) Let us worship Jesus at Mass, every day if we can, with the gold of our love, the myrrh of our humility and the frankincense of our adoration. Let us offer God our very selves, promising Him that we will use His blessings to do good for our fellow men. b) Let us plot a better path for our lives. Just as the Magi chose another route to return to their homes, let us choose a better way of life, abstaining from proud and impure thoughts, words and actions, evil habits, and selfish behavior. c) Let us become the star, leading others to Jesus, as the star led the Magi to Him. We can remove or lessen the darkness of the evil around us by being, if not like stars, at least like candles, radiating Jesus’ love by selfless service, unconditional forgiveness, and compassionate care.

Like the Magi, let us offer Jesus our gifts on this feast of Epiphany and every day

(a) Gift of our life by offering it on the altar during the Holy Mass and by offering it to God every morning as soon as we get up, asking Him for the strengthening anointing of the Holy Spirit to do good and avoid evil during the course of the day. b) Gift of relationship with God by talking to Him in personal and family prayers and listening to Him by reading the Holy Bible every day. c) Gift of friendship with God by experiencing His presence in everyone we encounter, by offering Him our humble service, and by getting reconciled to God every night, asking His pardon and forgiveness for our sins and failures during the day.

Let us conclude with a 19th century English carol, Christina Rosetti’s A Christmas Carol, which begins, “In the bleak midwinter.” The carolsums up, in its last stanza, the nature of “giving to the Christ Child.”

What can I give him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, Icould give a Lamb.

If I were a wise man, Icould do my part.

What I can I give Him?Give Him my heart!”

End of homily

Jokes of the Week

At the end of Mass, some priests like to offer a joke to their parishioners. Please be sensitive though to particular circumstances or concerns. Some Jokes may not be suitable for particular times, placeS, OR CONGREGATIONS. 

CHOOSE ONE

1) “I want the big cow!”: It was an excited little girl who told me this story. The first two wise men got down from their camels and offered their precious gifts to the Baby. He declined them. When the Baby Jesus declined the gift of the third of the also, the exasperated wise man asked, “Then what do you want?” The Child Jesus answered quickly and with a warm smile, “Your big cow!”

2) An 8-year-old asked, “How come the kings brought perfume to Jesus? What kind of gift is that for a baby?” His 9-year-old sister answered, “Haven’t you ever smelled a barn? With dirty animals around, Mary needed something to freshen the air.”

3) A husband asked his wife, “Why would God give the wise men a star to guide them?” She replied, “Because God knows men are too proud to ask directions.”

4) Three Wise Women: While they were talking about the story of the three wise men, a woman asked her parish priest, this question, “Do you know why God gave the star to the wise men?” When he professed his ignorance, she told him: “God knows men are too proud to ask directions. If there had been three wise women instead of three wise men, they would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and given some practical gifts!”

4)Epiphany of a Sunday school boy: A little boy returned from Sunday school with a new perspective on the Christmas story. He had learned all about the Wise Men from the East who brought gifts to the Baby Jesus. He was so excited that he could hardly wait to tell his parents. As soon as he arrived home, he immediately began, “I learned all about the very First Christmas in Sunday school today! There wasn’t a Santa Claus way back then, so these three skinny guys on camels had to deliver all the toys!” He further continued, “And Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with his nose so bright also wasn’t there yet, so they had to have this big spotlight in the sky to find their way around!”

5) Epiphany of a pilot: A helicopter was flying around above Seattle one day when an electrical malfunction disabled all the aircraft’s electronic navigation and communications equipment. Due to the clouds and haze, the pilot could not determine the helicopter’s position and course to steer to the airport. The pilot saw a tall building, flew toward it, circled, drew a handwritten sign, and held it in the helicopter’s window. The pilot’s sign said “Where am I?” in large letters. People in the tall building quickly responded to the aircraft, drew a large sign, and held it in a building window. Their sign said, “You are in a helicopter.” The pilot smiled, waved, looked at his map, determined the course to steer to Sea-Tac airport, and landed safely. After they were on the ground, the co-pilot asked the pilot how the “You are in a helicopter” sign helped determine their position. The pilot responded, “I knew that had to be the Microsoft building because, like their help-lines, they gave me a technically correct but completely useless answer.”

Fr. Tony started his homily ministry (Scriptural Homilies) in 2003 while he was the chaplain at Sacred Heart residence, applying his scientific methodology to the homily ministry. By word of mouth, it spread to hundreds of priests and Deacons, finally reaching Vatican Radio website (http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church.html). Fr. Tony’s homilies reach nearly 3000 priests and Deacons by direct email every week.
VISION VIDEO (1:08) Based on Henry van Dyke’s classic, The Story of the Other Wise Man, this fictional story set in Biblical times is told in gently comic terms. A Magi named Artaban (Martin Sheen) sees a sign in the heavens that he hopes will lead him and his faithful servant to the Messiah.

Artaban the fourth Wise Man

In 1895, Henry van Dyke wrote the story, “The Other Wise Man,” telling of a fourth wise mancalled Artaban. Our hero is not mentioned in the Gospel because he missed the caravan. He got to Bethlehem too late to see the Baby Jesus.

But Artaban did make it in time, using one of his gifts for the newborn King to save one of the Holy Innocents by bribing a soldier. For 33 years Artaban searched for Jesus. He did not find Jesus, but in the meantime, the Fourth wise man used the precious gifts he had brought for the King to feed the hungry and help the poor.

Then one day in Jerusalem Artaban saw the “King of the Jews” being crucified. He started to offer his last gift for the King, a great pearl, to the soldiers as ransom for Him. But then he saw a girl being sold into slavery to pay family debts. Artaban gave his pearl to buy freedom for the girl. Suddenly the earth quaked as Jesus died on the cross and a stone struck Artaban. Dying, he heard a Voice saying: “When you helped the least of my children, you helped me. Meet me in Heaven!”

Artaban, the fourth Wise Man, had been making God present in his community for years by helping others. God asks each of us on the feast of Epiphany to be a fourth Wise Man by becoming God’s epiphanies, making His love present in the world around us by our acts of love and kindness.


Epiphany of Adventurers

OLD FLIERS GROUP (8:08) Dick Rutan described nine days in a bathtub sized cockpit with Jeana Yeager as “the worst date ever”. Would you have done what they did?

When pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager made their historic flight in 1986 with their spindly Voyager aircraft, the whole world followed it with excitement. For nine days a sky-watch was kept, tracking their first non-stop global flight without refueling.

Achievers and risk-takers like Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager have always fascinated us. Marco Polo journeying to India and China, Christopher Columbus coming to America, Admiral Byrd going to the South Pole, our Astronauts flying to the moon —  such adventurers have always aroused our admiration and our skepticism. It was no different at the time of the Magi in today’s Gospel story.

To the cynical observer, the Magi must have seemed foolish to go following a star. These astrologers had to be a little crazy leaving the security of their homeland to venture forth into a strange country ruled by a madman like Herod. Nevertheless, to the person with the eyes of Faith, the Magi had discovered an immense secret. They found not only the secret of the star, but the secret of the whole universe –the secret of God’s incredible love for his people. For the child they found was no ordinary child but the very Son of God become man (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds). 


Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame

INSIDE EDITION (2:21) Billy Graham was the man dubbed ‘America’s Pastor’ and has counselled nearly every American president since Harry Truman. He was particularly close to Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Hillary Clinton says he helped her to forgive her husband after the Monica Lewinsky scandal. “He was just very personally there for me,” Hillary Clinton said in the 2007 book, ‘The Preacher and the Presidents, Billy Graham in the White House.’

In October 1989, a new star was added to the 1900 stars on the famed sidewalk on Hollywood Boulevard. The new star was placed near the stars of Julie Andrews and Wayne Newton. The new star, as curious as it seems, was the late evangelist Billy Graham, (died February 21, 2018), who preached the Gospel to more than 100 million people around the world. Forty years ago, he refused to have his name on a star, but he reconsidered it in 1989. He said, “I hope it will identify me with the Gospel that I preach.” At the unveiling he added, “We should put our eyes on the Star, which is the Lord.”


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