by Fr. Tommy Lane
Jesus came for everyone. Today we celebrate what we call the Epiphany of Jesus, that is the revelation or manifestation of Jesus for everyone. Jesus was revealed by the Father to the world as its Savior when the light of a star guided the wise men from the East to worship him, when the Father spoke from heaven at Jesus’ baptism declaring Jesus to be his beloved Son, and when Jesus performed his first miracle at Cana. So we sometimes speak of three events in the epiphany or revelation of Jesus to the world as our Savior; the visit of the wise men, the baptism of Jesus, and the miracle of Cana.
Today we celebrate the light of a star leading and revealing Jesus as the Savior of the world to wise men. They were not members of the Chosen Jewish People, so the Epiphany today shows Jesus came for all people. The body language of the wise men before Jesus spoke of their attitude. They prostrated themselves before Jesus. They worshipped him, and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh; gold because Jesus is king, frankincense because Jesus is divine and myrrh prefiguring his Passion. There is another attitude in today’s Gospel (Matt 2:1-12), the attitude of Herod. He does not have an attitude of reverence and respect for Jesus. Herod pretends that he is just as respectful to Jesus as the wise men. He tells them, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” (Matt 2:8) However his thoughts were not thoughts of homage, he merely wanted to trick the wise men into telling him where Jesus was so that he could have him murdered. Herod did not want to lose power and control to somebody else, so he rejected the baby Jesus even though Jesus would be no threat to his kingly power. Herod’s problem was not Jesus but Herod himself, and some peoples’ problem is not Jesus or the Church but rather that they have rejected Jesus and the Church, particularly by their lifestyles. Anytime I decide that I know better than Jesus or the Church then I have set myself up as a modern day Herod. The faith of the Church is bigger than the faith of any one person. When I celebrate Mass I say the words and prayers of the Roman Missal, not my own words, because the prayers of the Roman Missal reflect the faith of the Church which is bigger than my own faith. I do not have the authority to change the words and prayers of the Roman Missal because if I did then I would be subjecting you to only my faith instead of sharing with you the faith of the Church.
Herod said to the wise men, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” He was speaking to the wise men with a forked tongue. He was telling lies. The baby Jesus was surrounded in Bethlehem by those who worshipped him but in Jerusalem there was a crowd of liars. They said one thing but meant the opposite. Truth was lacking. In our own time we see this being played out in many walks of life but it is easier to see it in the world of the media and politics. When Pope Benedict XVI made a pastoral visit to the United Kingdom in 2010, the difference between the reports of the Irish TV broadcasting network, RTE (Radio Telefís Éireann) and those of British TV channels was evident, I am told. There had always been a feeling by some that RTE had an anti-Catholic bias or agenda, but I have been told that when Irish people saw RTE broadcast mainly negatively concerning the Papal visit and the same Irish people who had British TV channels saw the papal visit reported so differently, people who previously did not suspect an anti-Catholic bias then began to wonder about it. Turning to this side of the Atlantic, Archbishop Dolan of New York, now Cardinal Dolan, in the Wall Street Journal in January 2012, wrote on the new health-care law,
…hundreds of religious institutions, and hundreds of thousands of individual citizens, have raised their voices in principled opposition to this requirement that religious institutions and individuals violate their own basic moral teaching in their health plans...Coercing religious ministries and citizens to pay directly for actions that violate their teaching is an unprecedented incursion into freedom of conscience…The Catholic Church defends religious liberty, including freedom of conscience, for everyone. The Amish do not carry health insurance. The government respects their principles. Christian Scientists want to heal by prayer alone, and the new health-care reform law respects that. Quakers and others object to killing even in wartime, and the government respects that principle for conscientious objectors.
Cardinal Dolan went on to write that the federal administration
“has failed to show the same respect for the consciences of Catholics and others who object to treating pregnancy as a disease.”
These are just some examples of many that could give given from both sides of the Atlantic of ways in which it could be argued that the events of the Gospel are played out today also.
The next step after the lies, deception and double-speak was Herod trying to kill the baby Jesus because Herod completely misunderstood what Jesus meant. In the massacre of the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, Herod had all boys in Bethlehem under the age of two killed (Matt 2:16-18). Today in caves beneath the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem the skulls of children can be seen. In the case of Herod it was only one further step from his double-speak to persecution and murder. We might wonder if similar trials may lie ahead of the Church in many parts of the world. Today in some places we hear the preaching of Catholic moral norms being described as hate crimes. Catholic moral norms that were taken for granted as normal until just recently are now being labeled as hate crimes by some. It has taken just a small number of years for this development and we might wonder if we are heading back to a persecution of the Church and martyrdom like the early Church in Rome experienced.
Jesus came for everyone, as today’s feast teaches us. But some have rejected Jesus and his Church. Herod’s problem was not Jesus but Herod himself. He was not truthful, and the truth is compromised in many ways today also. On the other hand the response of the magi to Jesus is a model for our reflection,
…on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matt 2:11)
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013
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