Editor’s note: The Epiphany of the Lord was celebrated Jan. 3. The prepared text of the homily Bishop Douglas J. Lucia preached at Masses that day appears below.
When the Magi saw the star in the East they were inquisitive and began the search for the One they believed the star represented. On this first Lord’s Day of the New Year, the light of that same star has drawn you and me here to “Bethlehem” — “this House of Bread” — but what are we searching for and why?
I am sure that almost unanimously, we would say a cure for the coronavirus because we want to return to some normalcy in our lives. But what is normalcy and does it mean that you and I were on the right route in our lives in relation to God? An epiphany is an invitation — an invitation to see things in a new way and today, in particular, through God’s eyes! That is what we see happening in the lives of the Magi in this Sunday’s Gospel (Mt 2:1-12). They went from “inquiring minds want to know” to listening to God’s voice in their lives and setting out on his route!
Our Gospel reading also provides you and me with the contrast of how destructive our behavior can be when one thinks of only himself or herself and ignores God’s presence or tries to make God in one’s own image. As difficult as these words might be to swallow, brothers and sisters, they are our wake-up call as 2021 dawns and as the human family continues to deal with a pandemic and other social ills that plague us. You and I only need to turn on our TVs or other news sources to see present-day Herods in action; for instance, in Nashville, on Christmas morning of all days, or attempting to spoil needed doses of COVID-19 vaccine!
I know we are aware that this is not the only time in history that such moments have threatened Christian believers and all people of goodwill. However, my brothers and sisters, the remedy for such moments has not been to shy away from living out one’s faith and going with the flow, but rather making an ever more conscious effort and finding more ways to live out one’s faith in our everyday world.
Maybe the best way I can illustrate this idea is the use of a popular Christmas song whose origin is linked to a time of persecution in the Church. It is contended that “The 12 Days of Christmas” was a memory aid to teach the catechism to youngsters. The “true love” mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The “me” who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian faith. Each of the “days” represents some aspect of the Christian faith that was important for children and adults alike to know and to keep alive in their lives.
• The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, whose birthday we celebrate on December 25, the first day of Christmas. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, recalling the expression of Christ’s sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered you under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but you would not have it so” (Lk 13:34).
• The two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments which together bear witness to God’s self-revelation in history and the creation of a people to tell the Story of God to the world.
• The three French hens stand for the virtues of faith, hope, and love, which dispose the human person to live in relationship with the Holy Trinity.
• The four calling birds are the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which proclaim the Good News of God’s reconciliation of the world to Himself in Jesus Christ.
• The five golden rings represent the first five books of the Old Testament, which describe man’s fall into sin and the great love of God in sending a Savior.
• The six geese a-laying stand for the six days of creation that confesses God as Creator and Sustainer of the world.
• Seven swans a-swimming represent the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit: Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.
• The eight maids a-milking are the eight beatitudes of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
• Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience [Forbearance], Goodness [Kindness], Mildness, Fidelity, Modesty, Chastity.
• The ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments.
• The eleven pipers piping stand for the eleven faithful Apostles.
• The twelve drummers drumming symbolize the twelve points of belief in The Apostles’ Creed.
Now, sisters and brothers, when we call to mind or hear what we might have thought is a cute Christmas song that could be fun to sing and even act out, we will be reminded in one more way of the grace of God working to transform our everyday lives. It challenges us also to consider how we hand both the teachings of the Word of God and of Christ’s Church to others, especially our young people.
Faith and belief instructing life. Faith making a difference in the way we live our days. If you and I were to take seriously God’s message contained in the Christmas event — like the Magi took seriously the message given to them — would not our lives and that of the world around us be different?
Today’s feast of the Epiphany invites us to ask ourselves to what extent do we allow the God Man to light our ways; and in turn, how do you and I bring that same light into the darkness of our world? “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…” Sisters and brothers, how will you and I continue to carry this tune for others for the next 362 days and radiate the light of Christ into the world? Does it involve us setting out on another route in our spiritual lives?