Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ
Homily for the Epiphany of the Lord
Isaiha 60:1-6; Ps 72; Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12
St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
You have probably heard people saying something like this: “Most important is to be open to ‘the spiritual’; religions with faith dogmas often limit searching”. Or something like this: “Basically, all religions worship the same God, they just have different paths to the divine”. A widespread view is that one is “open” – solely by definition and without specification held as something positive – when one seeks without finding any particular belief to be true, i.e. nothing concrete or challenging. However, this reasoning is heavily rejected by the historical event recalled by today’s solemnity.
Sure, we can find common features in different religions. And of course, God as creator and sustainer of the universe can be recognized by his “signature” in other human beings, everyday life, nature and science. Many things around us, and mystics in different religions, can be vehicles for spiritual insights. Definitely.
But, in no general or mixed spirituality is the seeker addressed by the living and personal God. The “divinity” of “pure” spirituality remains a distant and abstract force, which we need methods of spiritual “techniques” to find or uncover. The God of this “spiritual seeking” does not make any personal appeal or demand, which indeed is very comfortable to the modern mind. Found by us and on our own terms, the God of general spirituality ultimately becomes invented by us, to facilitate our feelgood and to confirm us in all ourdesires, actions and choices. Life’s meaning however, continues to be dependent upon our achievements, and thus limited by our deficiencies. I am expected to save myself by my unending searching and thus I am ultimately lacking true hope.
Today’s gospel tells us about the Magi, a kind of Persian philosopher priests, and their visit to the Holy family in Bethlehem, drawn by the star. Or more precisely, speaking with today’s astronomy, a super nova combined with a particular conjunction of the planets Jupiter, in Ancient Persian astrology symbolizing the Babylonian ruler god, and Saturn, astrological symbol for the Jewish people; a conjunction contemporary science says actually occurred at the assumed time of Jesus’s birth. The Magi observe it and break up to worship before a presumed Child king, born of another people and religion but actually referring to what was occurring pagan prophecies with mystical links to Jewish Messianic prophecy, one of which we heard today in our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah.
The whole event sends two powerful messages to the whole world, at all times. First this: Everything spiritual and religious, everything wise, everything seeking knowledge, everything with an existential quest needs to be directed to Jesus Christ; i.e. God himself fully revealing himself by becoming one of us – and thus also revealing us and our true being to ourselves. Through the star, the Infant Jesus who also is the creator of the world and thus Lord of all matter and all laws of nature, moves the Magi to set out on a journey. But after having entered the Holy land, they need the knowledge of Jewish Biblical revelation in order to find the exact birth place of the Messiah, God’s chosen liberator king of Israel and therethrough of the whole world.
This leads to the second powerful message of the event: The faith of the people of Israel, in what we call the Old covenant, is not one religion among many. It is thedivine revelation; of the creator of the universe, the Lord of cosmos, who elects this people to prepare his entry into his own creation for the revelation to, and salvation of, allpeoples, as described by St. Paul in our second reading from the Letter to the Ephesians. As we sang in our responsorial psalm: “All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord”. Here is God’s key to unity of mankind, how he transcends all human spit and divisions: not by saying all religions are alike, but by becoming man and thus accessible to all, through Israel’s faith.
The ultimate self-revelation of Israel’s God in a little child as manifestation of that divine love, which both made and sustains the whole universe andpassionately seeks us out as persons, each one of us, is a totally unique idea among all historic and present religions. It is God as no other religious system or idea worships him, alongside which everything else on the “religious and existential market” shrinks. God comes to us, not as an idea, or a book, or a rule, or an avatar – but fully present in a human person. Ourseeking finally does not matter. We are being sought after, by a God who opens his own heart for us; who in human flesh will suffer and die so that death no longer can exercise fearful power over us. Our seeking must surrender. We must allow ourselves to be found.
Of course, the God who seeks and appeals to us also makes demands on us. True love cares, wants the best for the loved one. These demands are materialized in the teaching of the Catholic Church, who Christ himself authorized to speak on his behalf by establishing her teaching office on St. Peter and the apostles, and their successors. But above all, the God who seeks us offers his help by his continuous self-giving through his real presence in the sacraments of his Church. This is the supernatural grace transforming and fulfilling our nature.
Very soon, in the Offertory of the Mass, we will present our gifts of bread and wine for God to transform into the body and blood of Christ. With these gifts we also present ourselves, and when we through Holy Communion receive divine nature carried by physical matter, i.e. Jesus Christ himself, intoour bodies and souls, we have one of two preconditions for our own transformation in and by divine, eternal life. The other precondition is our cooperation, our “yes” to God’s gift of himself; our willingness to give ourselves in turn, without conditions, without counting costs and returns; our willingness to love – him in and through our neighbour. Tonight, this willingness to love and give for him will be expressed by the children presenting their gifts to the Infant Jesus here at the foot of the altar.
We heard in the gospel that the Magi took a differentway home from Bethlehem. When you now ponder the meaning of God’s self-giving revelation, celebrated in Christmas and especially highlighted today; when you contemplate the Offertory procession and the children’s gifts as symbol for us allowing divine, self-giving life to live in and through us, why not asking yourself how yourway home from Bethlehem looks like?