Homily: Mass for the Epiphany
Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle
Sunday, January 3, 2016
What comes to mind when we celebrate Epiphany is, of course, the star leading the way through the darkness to the infant Jesus and the three wise men, the Magi, following it. The importance of the celebration of Epiphany is the reminder to us that if there is no one to point out Jesus then he can go unnoticed.
For Jesus Christ to have an effect in our lives, he has to be recognized. For him to the recognized he has to be manifested. This truth is at the heart of the celebration of the Solemnity of Epiphany.
While the traditional date of this feast day functions as the twelfth and final day of the Christmas season, it also reminds us that we do not simply celebrate Christmas to remember the birth of Christ, but to renew our commitment as followers of Jesus, to manifest Christ to those around us in the way we speak and act as we move through each day. What are some of the ways in which we, today, can help to more clearly manifest Christ in our world?
As we look back, there are a number of striking moments. Obviously, the first and most enduring was the visit of Pope Francis to this archdiocese and his many words of encouragement and challenge to all of us.
It was in the context of his visit that the Walk with Francis project was developed, allowing people all over this community to pledge to pray for the Holy Father and his intentions, to commit to serve in some way that would affect the needy and marginalized and, finally, to take some action on behalf of our brothers and sisters who face great challenges in life.
Another aspect of our manifesting the work of Jesus and his Church among us is our loyalty and devotion to our Holy Father, the Successor to Peter. While personalities and styles change from one pope to the next, the significance and importance of the office and role of Peter remains always the same – the touchstone of our faith.
Last year saw us also continuing on our path of implementing the 2014 Archdiocesan Synod with all of its vision and aspirations for the future of our archdiocesan Church. It was in this context that we saw new efforts to support Catholic education, Catholic Charities, parish life and the New Evangelization – the passing on of our faith.
Now, as we celebrate Epiphany and look to how we might manifest Christ, I would like to suggest four very practical areas where we might continue in the New Year, embracing all of the challenges and opportunities that are ours as disciples of Jesus looking to the future and manifesting his presence. The first focal point is the Holy Door in this very Cathedral.
Pope Francis has called us to a Jubilee Year – a Year of Mercy – and invites all of us to renew our own faith conviction that Jesus’ love and mercy continues to be available to each of us. In fact, the Holy Door is a sign of the embrace of God that awaits us as we walk through those doors that symbolize coming, once again, into the full embrace of the Church and her sacramental ministry.
As Pope Francis reminds us, “God never tires of forgiving us…however, we sometimes get tired of asking.” Perhaps the first opportunity to manifest our faith in Jesus as we enter this New Year might very well be the Holy Door and the invitation to confession, to renewing our own commitment to be merciful and compassionate to others. Here we are reminded that we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
A second occasion to show Christ to our community in this New Year might very well take its inspiration from the visit of Pope Francis to the headquarters of Catholic Charities at Saint Patrick’s Church and the Catholic Charities Center next to it on 10th Street, NW.
Here, our Holy Father embraced the homeless and those who come regularly to Catholic Charities for a hot meal, necessary clothing items and an opportunity to find a caring welcome.
Perhaps our focal point in helping make Christ more visible as we go into the New Year might be Catholic Charities and its many programs helping those in need. We might even consider service in one of the many activities of Catholic Charities precisely as a volunteer.
Right before Christmas, I joined many, many volunteers from around the archdiocese at Catholic Charities for the Christmas dinner for the homeless. Young and old were there preparing meals, serving them and simply being a welcoming team for the many, many homeless who came to enjoy a full Christmas dinner with large amounts of care and affection directed towards them.
Another way to let Christ’s light shine in us as we go into the New Year might very well be our recognition of the plight of our brothers and sisters in various parts of the world, Syria, Iraq, the Middle East, Africa, India, where, in some instances, a celebration like we are having today would be, for the participants, a death warrant.
We know that these acts of great violence and persecution, this modern genocide, happen because there are people who do them and then there are all the rest of us who are tempted to remain silent.
Perhaps this Epiphany, our commitment can be that we will all raise our voices so that out of the persistent and consistent recognition of persecution and execution of innocent people might come some response from the international community, our government and the voices of opinion makers, newspaper editors, talk show hosts and the information entertainment industry, that these atrocities are taking place today.
We might also consider raising our voices against the new selective discrimination being directed towards Christians and particularly the Catholic Church, as we speak out in defense of human life, marriage, and our freedom to be who we are in a pluralistic society.
Here we might also raise our voices in welcome to those that are displaced, especially our brothers and sisters driven from the land where Christianity has flourished since the first disciples of Jesus embraced his way.
One final way for all of us to help others see Christ might very well be an assessment of our own participation in the life and works of the Church, particularly at the parish level. Our Archdiocesan Synod called for and recognized the importance of lay women and lay men’s involvement in the life of the parish. This can take so many forms of volunteer work. Maybe as we move into the New Year each of us can simply ask, “Is there some way in which I can be more actively involved in the parish.”
While this list of opportunities is not long, it is certainly challenging and all the more reason why we reflect this Epiphany, once again, and renew our own personal commitment through our acts of kindness, compassion, charity, forgiveness and love, and we can actually be a light piercing through the gloom and darkness of our secular and, at times destructive, culture to show others something that we cherish that is that Christ truly is the answer to the longing of our heart, the needs of our soul.
May this Epiphany, then, be for all of us a time to rejoice in the light and, like the Magis, to follow that light and let it shine through us to invite other people to see and experience the Lord Jesus Christ.