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home : our faith : faith alive January 16, 2018


12/31/2017
FAITH ALIVE: Focusing on the Feast of the Epiphany
This is an image of Italian artist Andrea Mantegna's 15th-century painting
This is an image of Italian artist Andrea Mantegna's 15th-century painting "Adoration of the Magi." Through these Wise Men, God reveals that Jesus isn't just for the Jews, but for gentiles too. CNS photo/courtesy The J. Paul Getty Museum

By Catholic News Service

IN A NUTSHELL

In the faces of the Magi, the presence of the shepherds, in Joseph's eyes, in Mary's arms, "the glory of the Lord" had come to the world (Is 60:1).

Tradition reveals the names of the Wise Men -- or Magi -- as Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.

They bring gifts to Christ: gold, a symbol of kingship; frankincense, a symbol of his priesthood; and myrrh, an embalming oil, a reminder of his death to come.

In the pilgrimage of the Magi to pay homage to the newborn Jesus lies the ultimate expression of these journeys: God come down to earth, and man journeying great distances to see God face to face.

Who's really in control?

By Maureen Pratt | Catholic News Service

Nations against nations. Rulers abusing their power. Fear, uncertainty, even despair taking hold in fragile hearts because of threats to safety abroad and at home.

The world into which Jesus was born was rife with many of the same problems our world faces today. Yet, the readings for the Epiphany of the Lord help us understand that because of Jesus' birth, there is more light than darkness, more hope than despair.

The humble appearance of Jesus' birth -- in a manger, apart from any comfort except the love of his earthly parents -- is not a reflection of weakness or hopelessness in a troubled time. Quite the contrary: Jesus' birth reflects power and dominion that are no less potent today than they were in the stable in Bethlehem.

The shepherds knew of this power. Jesus' birth was heralded by a "heavenly host" of angels (Lk 2:13), which they witnessed while in their fields. No minor event could possibly be worthy of such pronouncement.

They had to leave everything, go, see and worship. That they abandoned their livelihood, leaving their flocks "in haste" (Lk 2:16) so they could go to, see and worship Jesus was an act of complete recognition of Jesus' dominion over their lives.

The Magi also knew, and they traveled a great distance at serious peril to do homage to the Christ Child. Looking up to follow the star, they did not spend much time looking down, giving in to King Herod's pointed inquiries about the child they sought.

Even before the dream that instructed them to go home "by another way" (Mt 2:12), these Wise Men must have sensed Herod's violence-prone jealousy when he dispatched them to Bethlehem. And they bowed to another, more powerful ruler -- the babe in the manger -- never betraying him, but defying Herod's order to tell him where the child lay.

Close by, through all the visitors to the manger, Joseph stood watch and Mary "kept all these things" in her heart (Lk 2:19). Theirs were not passive but very active acknowledgements of the glory God was revealing to them and others, and to the power exercised through their lives.

First, Mary's yes, and then Joseph's obedience to heavenly instruction manifest how far God's dominion extended beyond their understanding and own human will.

Beyond the stable in Bethlehem, others who did not yet know of Christ's birth were living in the world, with worldly cares and worldly kings.

Other shepherds, not blessed with angels' song, were lifetime social outcasts. Other wise men not attuned to God's call either never set out on the road to Bethlehem or perhaps they gave in to manipulation by persons in power with their own agendas and went astray. Outside the stable, kings like Herod could rule with unfettered violence, and no one could stop them.

It was an utterly dark world, fraught with human injustices. But Jesus' coming, full of love, light and the grace of salvation, changed their world.

And he continues to change ours, today. Then, as now, Jesus' message of salvation rings true among all who will listen -- the contemporary shepherds and merchants, servants and tax collectors.

His love lived out in ours overrides selfishness and greed in all ways and in all walks of life. His absolute dominion shines powerfully whenever we look above and beyond boundaries of human invention, to his power, his purpose and his truth.

The examples of the shepherds, the Wise Men, and even Mary and Joseph might seem extreme today. Listening to angels who speak in dreams or in the skies, abandoning ones' work or home country to follow a starlit path, saying yes to something that contradicts all reason to do what God asks -- these are not easily explained to those who have not yet received Jesus' message of salvation (or, sometimes, even those who have).

But Jesus' power and dominion are not of this world. They are of God. And so his reach extends to all, everywhere, in a direction that does not end with forever gold or eternal personal power, but to heaven -- forever, eternal home.

Jesus did not come to rally others to a physical revolution, defying laws and toppling governments. The revolution he led and leads today is to change hearts for the better, to take people from sin to salvation. What comes of this is a constantly shining epiphany, the security and comfort to know who really is in charge and the ensuing deluge of light and wealth of grace that comes with belief in Christ.

King Herod could have shared in the blessings that flow from this realization; Jesus came for him, too. But Herod was too wrapped up in himself and his power to notice what was right in front of him.

In the faces of the Magi, the presence of the shepherds, in Joseph's eyes, in Mary's arms, "the glory of the Lord" had come to the world (Is 60:1). "Shining radiance" (Is 60:3) to dispel darkness.

Love for all come down from heaven and here to stay. Jesus' dominion always and forever.

Pratt is a columnist for Catholic News Service. Her website is www.maureenpratt.com.

My gift to a king

By Shemaiah Gonzalez | Catholic News Service

In our family, we leave the Christmas tree and decorations up until Epiphany, the feast day celebrating the visitation of the Wise Men to the Christ Child. The irony isn't wasted on me, that on the day Christ received gifts from the Magi, I decide to close up shop and end Christmas.

I lug up the Christmas storage boxes from the basement. Carefully, I remove ornaments from Christmases past and a few new ones off the tree and tenderly wrap them into tissue paper, placing them safely in small boxes for next year.

The story of the Magi is mentioned in only one of the Gospels. These men from the East were probably from modern-day Iraq and had followed the star 900 miles to see this King of the Jews. Through these Wise Men, God reveals that Jesus isn't just for the Jews, but for gentiles too. Gentiles like these Wise Men, and me.

I peel off a few Christmas cards that have been taped onto our living room wall and find one with the Magi presenting their gifts to Christ on the front. Although not mentioned in Scripture, tradition reveals their names as Caspar (or Gaspar), Melchior and Balthasar.

I can imagine them more easily with names: Caspar, sometimes portrayed in art as old and gray, perhaps the wisest of them; while Melchior is middle-aged bearded, perhaps the clever, new intellectual on the scene; and Balthasar, a black Moor, young and wealthy.

I think of their gifts for Christ: gold, a symbol of kingship; frankincense, a symbol of his priesthood; and myrrh, an embalming oil, a reminder of his death to come. A baby born to die.

"What gift would I give Jesus?" I wonder.

A week ago, I sat down and made a list of resolutions for New Year's. My resolutions are similar each year -- lose 10 pounds, run a few 5Ks, save money. At their core, these resolutions are an attempt to be more thoughtful about where I spend my time, energy, money.

I sit down on the couch with the Christmas card. It is an intimate scene. The Wise Men are shown so close to the Christ Child, they could touch him, but they don't. They hold out their gifts in awe.

"Lord, what can I give you?" I whisper there on the couch.

Immediately in my heart, I know. I can give him my frustration. I carry it with me often. My frustration with society, with friends, with my own family. Frustration is a symptom of my judgment of others and need to control situations.

"Not that!" I gasp to myself. Then I start to laugh. I even want to hold onto something that constrains me. How freeing would it be to hand this over to him? But still I cling to it, my desire to be in charge.

I close my eyes, creating my own intimate scene. "Would you take this need? As a gift? Will you help me?" I pray. Sweet peace takes over me, as if he wanted me to ask all along.

I open my eyes to the Christmas card once again. Mary tenderly holds Christ up so the Wise Men can see him. The infant Christ's hand is outstretched in a blessing.

That afternoon, when the tree is out at the curb and the storage boxes back in the basement, I stand at our front door with my husband and our two sons. With chalk blessed by our priest, my husband marks "20 + C + M + B + 18," the year and the initials of the Wise Men -- or "Christus Mansionem Benedicat" ("Christ bless this house") -- over our door with a prayer of blessing for our home this coming year.

I know that trace of chalk will remind me of my gift each day as I leave the house and as I return home. So I can give it, again and again.

Gonzalez is a freelance writer. Her website is www.shemaiahgonzalez.com.

The Magi's journey and ours

By Paul Senz | Catholic News Service

The visit of the Magi to the newborn Jesus is commemorated as the feast of the Epiphany. This places the emphasis on what was revealed to them at this, the culmination of their long journey "from the east" (Mt 2:1).

The Magi remain mysterious figures. There are many theories as to just who these pilgrims were. There is a consensus that they travelled a great distance from the east, compelled as they were to come and do homage to the "newborn king of the Jews" (Mt 2:2).

The journey itself is so much more than a trivial fact that precedes their appearance. It puts them in continuity with other pilgrims throughout salvation history who have traveled, sometimes great distances, to reach their holy destinations.

While it may be difficult to discern just who these mysterious Magi were, light can be shed on their place in history by looking at other biblical journeys and pilgrimages.

One of the most significant biblical journeys is surely the exodus of the Israelites after being freed from slavery to Pharaoh. This was a journey with a known destination: the Promised Land, which God "swore to (their) ancestors to give (them), a land flowing with milk and honey" (Ex 13:5). The people knew that Moses was to lead them through the desert to the land that God had provided for them.

For many, the journey must have seemed interminable, wandering for 40 years as they did. But when the destination was reached, they saw just what a blessing the Lord had bestowed upon them.

Another journey of note is that of the Holy Family and their flight into Egypt immediately following the birth of Jesus. The magnificent blessing at the end of this journey was the safety of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Fleeing the sword of Herod and his men, they journeyed to safety, only returning when the threat had passed, "until the death of Herod" (Mt 2:15).

Important journeys need not cover long distances. One of the most important journeys of all time was the journey of Jesus to the hill at Calvary. "And carrying the cross himself, he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha" (Jn 19:17).

He carried the cross, upon which, at the top of the hill, hung the salvation of the world. When considering the endpoint of journeys and pilgrimages, surely there is none so great as this. The Magi met the Savior at the culmination of their journey, and that Savior would undertake his own journey years later.

There have been many journeys throughout Scripture, and all through salvation history. The story of salvation may be described as the journey of God trying to reach man, and at the same time the journey of man trying to reach God.

In the pilgrimage of the Magi to pay homage to the newborn Jesus lies the ultimate expression of these journeys: God come down to earth, and man journeying great distances to see God face to face.

Senz is a freelance writer living in Oregon with his family.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

An inner restlessness guided the Magi on their way to meet Christ, Pope Francis said on the feast of the Epiphany, Jan. 6, 2017. "They could see what the heavens were showing them," he said, and "they were open to something new."

The Magi personify all believers, the pope said, everyone who longs for God.

"Believers who feel this longing are led by faith to seek God, as the Magi did, in the most distant corners of history, for they know that there the Lord awaits them. They go to the peripheries, to the frontiers, to the places not yet evangelized, to encounter their Lord," Pope Francis said.

Like the Magi, we, too, want to worship, the pope said. King Herod was incapable of worshiping the Christ Child because "he did not want to stop worshiping himself" and "would not change his own way of looking at things."

The Magi followed their longing and had the courage to set out, and so were able to worship, the pope said.






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