The Epiphany

Detail from Fra Angelico’s The Adoration of the Magi

Detail from Fra Angelico’s “The Adoration of the Magi”

Central Idea: Christ’s redemption is for all. Doctrine: Christ has come to save every person who wants to be saved. Practical Application: Personal apostolate is our participation in the saving mission of the Church.

Click here to view the readings for Lectionary 20.

Central Idea: Christ’s redemption is for all

Reading 1 Is 60:1-6

Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!  Your light has come,
the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples;
but upon you the LORD shines,
and over you appears his glory.
Nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your shining radiance.
Raise your eyes and look about;
they all gather and come to you:
your sons come from afar,
and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.

Then you shall be radiant at what you see,
your heart shall throb and overflow,
for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you,
the wealth of nations shall be brought to you.
Caravans of camels shall fill you,
dromedaries from Midian and Ephah;
all from Sheba shall come
bearing gold and frankincense,
and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.

  • For the Jews, Jerusalem stands for their own redemption.
    • God’s salvation for the Jews is portrayed in terms of light.
    • The various peoples of the world—the Gentiles—will respond by thronging to Jerusalem with tribute, including gold and frankincense.
    • The Jews scattered in the diaspora will return.
  • We Christians read this as a prophecy of the Nativity of Christ.
    • Jerusalem stands for the Church triumphant, for the Kingdom of God fulfilled, for heaven.
    • Gentiles—the Magi—bring the Christ Child gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
    • We Gentiles do bring our tribute, our wealth, before Christ: Our intellects, our wills, our love, our family life and friendships, our work, everything.
    • When we are not sleepwalking through life and realize what is really going on, we too are radiant at what we see, and our hearts throb and overflow. Joy ought to accompany us at all times, even during hardships.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13

R. (cf. 11)  Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
O God, with your judgment endow the king,
and with your justice, the king’s son;
He shall govern your people with justice
and your afflicted ones with judgment.
Justice shall flower in his days,
and profound peace, till the moon be no more.
May he rule from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts;
the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute.
All kings shall pay him homage,
all nations shall serve him.
For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out,
and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.
He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;
the lives of the poor he shall save.
  • Christ fulfills the promises of the Jewish prophets because his salvation is for the whole world.
  • Many of the “mighty” have given Christ their homage, beginning with the Magi.
  • The primary “justice” Christ the King brings to the earth is the restoration of original holiness and justice, which Adam and Eve lost for the human race.
    • Restoration of original holiness means we can be in a right relationship again with God: We can be friends of God and his adopted children.
    • Restoration of original justice means we can begin even now to be in a right relationship with ourselves, with others, and with the created world. In other words, the transformation will begin in which we do not experience constant inner conflict, are not always suspicious of others, and are not always afraid of suffering and death.
    • Thank God that we are all “lowly” and “poor.” We are the ones Christ came to redeem.

Reading 2 Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6

Brothers and sisters:
You have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace
that was given to me for your benefit,
namely, that the mystery was made known to me by revelation.
It was not made known to people in other generations
as it has now been revealed
to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:
that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body,
and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
  • “The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” In other words, Christ didn’t just come to save his own people, the Jews, but all human beings.
  • This is the reason why God inspired the pagan Magi to bring their gifts to the Christ Child.

Gospel Mt 2:1-12

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”
When King Herod heard this,
he was greatly troubled,
and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people,
He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea,
for thus it has been written through the prophet:
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”

Then Herod called the magi secretly
and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said,
“Go and search diligently for the child.
When you have found him, bring me word,
that I too may go and do him homage.”
After their audience with the king they set out.
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and 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.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they departed for their country by another way.
  • Herod is the anti-king, the stark opposite of what God promised in Isaiah and of the kind of king Christ presented himself as.
  • The gospel is for the Gentiles, too; that is, the non-Jews, all of us.
  • Jesus has identified himself in some way with every person (GS 22 § 5; cf. § 2; CCC 618). He identified himself with every unborn child and every baby who would die of natural causes or by murder. Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, and infanticide, abortion, and infant sacrifice—all these existed in the ancient world and have continued ever since due to sin.

Doctrine: Christ has come to save every person who wants to be saved

  • The truth that Christ is the savior of the world is clearly present in today’s readings.
  • This is how the Catechism states it:
    • CCC 1260: “’Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery’ (GS 22 § 5. Cf. LG 16; AG 7). Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.”
    • The Magi were Gentiles who were “ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church” but they sought “the truth” and did “the will of God in accordance with [their] understanding of it.” They even obeyed the prompting of the Holy Spirit, without knowing who the Holy Spirit is, by heeding the dream’s warning and not going back to Herod.
  • But this salvation is not “automatic.” One must seek the truth and do the will of God according to his “understanding.”

Practical Application: Personal apostolate is our participation in the saving mission of the Church

  • Christ admonished the Apostles to evangelize: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.’” (Mt. 28:19-20)
  • Today, this call applies first to the pope and the bishops united to him and then to Catholic priests.
  • However, it applies to each one of us, too, to all laypersons.
  • Apostolate is our participation in bringing the Gospel to others. For many of us, apostolate means to reintroduce the Faith in cultures in which it previously existed–in other words, in our own.
  • Before a Catholic can share the Faith, he or she must know it and live it. In fact, unless one knows and lives the Faith, why would one even want to share it? Do we know how good Christ is and how desirable it is to be united to him?
  • To want to share the Faith and to be able to share it requires an interior life. This means having a life of prayer. A life of prayer is a regular encounter between you and God.
    • Prayer means talking to God.
    • Prayer means listening to what God has to say to you. God speaks through his Sacred Scriptures, the doctrines of the Faith, the moral law, the inspirations he sends you in prayer, and the circumstances of your life.
      • For example, if you just had a baby, isn’t God telling you all kinds of things by that very fact?
  • Apostolate is primarily done by example. As St. Francis is reputed to have said, “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” He meant that the witness of living the Faith comes first.
    • Pope Bl. John Paul II encouraged even young people to do this work: “[H]ow are you to be recognized as true disciples of Christ? By the fact that you have ‘love for one another’ (Jn 13:35) after the example of his love: a love that is freely given, infinitely patient and denied to no one.” (1 Cor 13:4–7; Message of the Holy Father to the Youth of the World on the Occasion of the XII World Youth Day, 15 August 1996)
  • One should also be prepared to explain or defend the Faith with words.
    • This requires knowing the faith and knowing the faith requires serious study.
  • Apostolate also takes initiative. Christ did not instruct his Apostles to wait for people to come to Jerusalem to lay their treasures at the Apostles’ feet. Instead, the Apostles were to go out into the world and lay their treasure of the Faith at the feet of those without faith.
  • We can go looking for today’s Magi who have not yet left on their journeys. There are many people around us who we might justly recognize as better than us, but who don’t yet know, or who have forgotten, or who have even rejected the Faith. This is our field of apostolate. And the person might be one’s spouse, child, parent or sibling, friend, or co-worker.

The Homiletic Directory offers the following Catechism points and themes for the Solemnity of the Epiphany:

  • CCC 528, 724: the Epiphany
  • CCC 280, 529, 748, 1165, 2466, 2715: Christ the light of the nations
  • CCC 60, 442, 674, 755, 767, 774-776, 781, 831: the Church, sacrament of human unity
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