Tuesday, January 08, 2013

B16 on the Magi - and what can we learn?

One of the things I am grateful for is that we live in a time zone 6 hours (sometimes 5) behind Rome.  Pope Benedict's homily for the Feast of the Epiphany gave me the chance, early Sunday morning, to read what the Pope had said just hours earlier.  I liked it so much, I stole paragraphs of it and made it the bulk of my homily.  Shhh, don't tell him.

Here are the parts I liked and used:

"These men who set out towards the unknown were, in any event, men with a restless heart. Men driven by a restless quest for God and the salvation of the world. They were filled with expectation, not satisfied with their secure income and their respectable place in society. They were looking for something greater. They were no doubt learned men, quite knowledgeable about the heavens and probably possessed of a fine philosophical formation. But they desired more than simply knowledge about things. They wanted above all else to know what is essential. They wanted to know how we succeed in being human. And therefore they wanted to know if God exists, and where and how he exists. Whether he is concerned about us and how we can encounter him. Nor did they want just to know. They wanted to understand the truth about ourselves and about God and the world. Their outward pilgrimage was an expression of their inward journey, the inner pilgrimage of their hearts. They were men who sought God and were ultimately on the way towards him. They were seekers after God."

"Looking for something greater".  Aren't we all?  We spend our life looking for a better lifestyle, a better hamburger, a better bowl of rice pudding, etc.  What about God?  Do we put effort into a better relationship with Jesus Christ?  Or are we just content with the "status quo", whatever that is for each of us: priest, deacon, religious, married, single, etc.?  Have we stopped looking for God's presence, and we haven't even noticed?  Let's move on.

"Let us return to the Wise Men from the East. These were also, and above all, men of courage, the courage and humility born of faith. Courage was needed to grasp the meaning of the star as a sign to set out, to go forth – towards the unknown, the uncertain, on paths filled with hidden dangers. We can imagine that their decision was met with derision: the scorn of those realists who could only mock the reveries of such men. Anyone who took off on the basis of such uncertain promises, risking everything, could only appear ridiculous. But for these men, inwardly seized by God, the way which he pointed out was more important than what other people thought. For them, seeking the truth meant more than the taunts of the world, so apparently clever."

Christmas time is probably the only time of the year when we think of the Magi.  We see them in most Nativity scenes, and in the occasional Christmas play or pageant.  But think about them.  Tradition tells us there were three of them, though we only guess at that because of three gifts are presented to Christ.  Maybe some began the journey, but backed out when it seemed to go on too long.  Imagine the courage it took to begin a journey like that?  Here the Pope says something I never thought of: the Magi were  mocked by others for what they wanted to do.  Today, parents have no problem committing to make sure they get their children to every baseball, football, basketball, soccer, cheering, martial arts, gymnastics, tumbling, or music lesson event, game, practice, competition, or recital, no matter how far away it is or what time of day.  But the family who gives up one of those events because Mass or religious education is more important to them had better be ready to be mocked.  Such is the world we live in.

"Here I am reminded of an episode at the very beginning of Christianity which Saint Luke recounts in the Acts of the Apostles. After the speech of Gamaliel, who advised against violence in dealing with the earliest community of believers in Jesus, the Sanhedrin summoned the Apostles and had them flogged. It then forbade them from preaching in the name of Jesus and set them free. Saint Luke continues: “As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the name of Jesus. And every day… they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah” (Acts 5:40ff.). The successors of the Apostles must also expect to be repeatedly beaten, by contemporary methods, if they continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that can be heard and understood. Then they can rejoice that they have been considered worthy of suffering for him. Like the Apostles, we naturally want to convince people and in this sense to obtain their approval. Naturally, we are not provocative; on the contrary we invite all to enter into the joy of that truth which shows us the way. The approval of the prevailing wisdom, however, is not the criterion to which we submit. Our criterion is the Lord himself. If we defend his cause, we will constantly gain others to the way of the Gospel. But, inevitably, we will also be beaten by those who live lives opposed to the Gospel, and then we can be grateful for having been judged worthy to share in the passion of Christ."

Remember, at this Mass the Pope is ordaining Bishops, so parts of his homily are directed to these men.      I love that line, "The successors of the Apostles must also expect to be repeatedly beaten, by contemporary methods, if they continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ..."    He knows what's going on.  Heck, he's experienced it.  Maybe not physical beating (though we're not too far away from that), but beatings on TV, radio, newspapers, not to mention on blogs, Facebook, etc.  If we're doing it right, we're gonna be criticized.

"The Wise Men followed the star, and thus came to Jesus, to the great Light which enlightens everyone coming into this world (cf. Jn 1:9). As pilgrims of faith, the Wise Men themselves became stars shining in the firmament of history and they show us the way. The saints are God’s true constellations, which light up the nights of this world, serving as our guides. Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Philippians, told his faithful that they must shine like stars in the world (cf. 2:15)."

They made history by following a star, and through that, the Pope says, they became "stars" themselves.  Then he used a phrase he has used before: "the Saints are God's true constellations".  What a challenge for us, to become sources of light and guidance for others.  So many of our Catholic families do everything to teach their children that religious beliefs are not really that important (these are the same people that then shake their head and wonder why things like the Newtown shootings take place).  Like the Magi, our lives are a journey towards Christ.  One day, we'll get there, and see Him face to face.  What gifts will we give Him?  What can we give Him now?

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