I got my first wristwatch as a Christmas present. I was eleven and felt like an adult. I really felt "mature" when someone would ask for the time; a flick of the wrist and I gave it to them. But I was still a kid and what I really liked about the watch was that it glowed in the dark. When I would put the watch up to a lamp and then turn off the light, the face of the watch glowed for a few minutes. You could tell the time in the dark! How cool was that!
Eventually, whatever light the watch "captured" on its chemically-treated dial, faded. (We used to think the numerals and hands were painted in radium and that was why it glowed in the dark. I doubt the Atomic Energy Commission dispensed radium to children’s watch manufacturers to make glow-in-the-dark watches.) The watch required a direct light source in order for it to work its magic for me. After it faded in the dark the watch needed to be placed close to the light so that it would once again glow when the lights were turned off – for a while.
I am reminded of that watch as I hear the Isaiah reading today, the feast of the Epiphany. In our tradition the new liturgical year begins with Advent. But the celebration of the Epiphany antedates that of Christmas and for some Christian churches Epiphany begins the church year. Along with Christmas and next week’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Epiphany is a feast of God’s manifestation; God provides the light for people in the dark and those upon whom it shines "glow" when they receive it.
Today the magi, usually associated with wisdom, come close to the light, do homage and are illumined by what they see. Their lives are altered, or as Matthew puts it, "they departed for their country by another way." We can’t follow the same old ways once we have seen ourselves and the world by God’s light.
The Isaiah reading sounds as if people have just emerged from darkness. A light has been switched on for them – "Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines on you." It’s wake-up time for those who have lived in the gloom of the shadow of death. A call goes out to those laid low – "Rise up in splendor."
What’s the reason for this call? Where did the light in the dark come from? Certainly not from the people’s ingenuity, or initiative. "It’s dark in here, let’s turn on the lights." No way! The darkness is profound, it is likened to the one that "covered the abyss" (Gen. 1:2) before the creation. Only God can create a light that can enter such darkness. The prophet reminds us that the darkness still lingers, "See, darkness covers the earth and thick clouds cover the peoples." But that’s not the end of it.
God will not let darkness reign supreme. "See...upon you the Lord shines." For believers there is light, for God is coming upon us to pierce the darkness of our sin and ignorance with a light to direct the steps of our long journey together. But with the gift comes responsibility. Others will walk by the light we have received. Like those watches, a light shines on us and we "glow" – then our responsibility is to reflect God’s light for others so they can tell what time it is in their darkness.
Isaiah is anticipating the restoration of Jerusalem – a deed that the Israelites could only accomplish with God’s help. And what a spectacle that will be! The crumbled city will "rise up" out of the darkness and others – the Gentiles – will see by this new light and be drawn to it. All the world will come to see that no one is an outsider to our God; no one people are better than any others. Someone has turned on a light and those who once dwelled in darkness can now see an open door. They approach, enter and are welcomed by others upon whom the light has shone. That was the experience of the Magi: the "outsiders" saw a light that led them to an open door, "...on entering the house they saw the child with Mary, his mother. The prostrated themselves and did him homage."
[This is the season when I read T.S. Eliot’s poetic tale, "Journey of the Magi," which begins, "A cold coming we had of it." One of the Magi, the narrator, asks the question, "...were we led all that way for Birth or Death?" If you want to read it for yourself:https://allpoetry.com/The-Journey-Of-The-Magi]
The year is very new and there still is much darkness on the horizon. We look at the days and months in front of us and wonder about how those suffering the economic collapse because of Covidwill fare; when the wars and strife will end in Ukraine, Ethiopia, Haiti, and so many other places will end. When will peace rule peoples’ hearts? Isaiah and the Magi remind us God will not abandon us, but will shine light on our dark winter days. Will all things get better immediately? Hardly! But the Magi represent those of us following the God-provided light. It shines on the "insiders" and the "outsiders" – a way has been illumined, a path has been shown us and we must continue to live by the light we have seen.
We pray at this Eucharist for clear minds, courageous hearts and the perseverance to stay on the path Jesus has manifested to us: the way of forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. If his is the path we follow, we too will shine in the darkness and be guides to others, to help them find their way home to a land and a people of light bearers.
The Magi did not unload their camels, dismiss their porters and settle down in Bethlehem to continue their homage to the Christ child. Matthew makes it sound as if they did homage to the child, quickly got up off their knees and then moved on. Maybe they went home to tell their families and friends about their journey and how the star guided them through the nights – you can’t see stars when there is plenty of light. Maybe we shouldn’t be terrified by the darkness in our world and our lives because, if God is true to form, a light will appear in the dark and keep us on track as we travel together.
We don’t know what changes discovering Jesus made in the Magi’s lives. They would have to reflect on their experience and adjust their lives to what they saw and learned from their journey. And so do we. No one can tell us exactly what shape our Christian discipleship should take. We do know that we did not take it upon ourselves to get up to go to Christ. Paul frequently reminds us – we were in darkness until God shone the light of Jesus into our hearts. We make the faith journey to him and now we travel "by another way."
These Christmas-time stories may be about angelic visitations, pregnancy and birth. But Matthew is also proposing the fuller gospel to us: the God of salvation is acting on our behalf and we are invited to respond with lives transformed by grace. Already there are hints of both acceptance and rejection of "the newborn king of the Jews." Epiphany is not the end of the story – it is just the beginning for us. What difference will what is manifested to us today make in our lives? Will we accept the one who not only lies in a manger as a newborn, but will also be rejected? Throughout this liturgical year we will hear Jesus’ preaching, observe his works, follow him to his death and then experience his resurrection. It will be a year of many epiphanies for us.
As we leave church and the crib scene today we have confidence that no darkness we face can put out the light that burns within us. Hear Isaiah’s promise, "Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow." Shall we resolve to continually turn toward the light we have seen, bow down to worship and then carry the light again into the world?
The Magi’s quest reminds us that throughout our lives we are continually searching for God. We can never settle back into a comfortable piety and complacency, even though we feel we have "found God." There is more up ahead – pack up and keep searching.
We need to also respect the journey of sincere others; even when their way differ from ours. The truth is too big for any of us to claim to have it all. God can not be grasped totally in my two hands, no matter how big they are. Let’s kneel and do homage today to the eternal and holy One who comes to us in the form of a child, but then grows into adulthood to invite us to follow the One we call, the Light of the World.
(Would you consider being a light in the dark for two women on Raleigh, NC’s death row? You can send them a card or letter. Their names and addresses are listed below. Thank you.)
Click here for a link to this Sunday's
"I would like to mention some of those ‘hidden exiles’ who are treated as foreign bodies in society. Many persons with disabilities ‘feel that they exist without belonging and without participating.’ Much still prevents them from being fully enfranchised. Our concern should be not only to care for them but to ensure their ‘active participation in the civil and ecclesial community. That is a demanding and even tiring process, yet one that will gradually contribute to the formation of consciences capable of acknowledging each individual as a unique and unrepeatable person’." (FT 98).
----Pope Francis in, "Fratelli Tutti"
Justice shall flower in his days
The USCCB has issued a national synthesis of the recent synodal reports from the dioceses and Catholic groups. There is one short section titled "Social Mission of the Church." It reads: "The need for ongoing formation was keenly seen in the area of social mission., ‘not surprisingly, since our social teaching is routinely described as our church’s best-kept secret, there were very few explicit mentions of Catholic social doctrine or even the issues of justice in the region. However, when we consider the component themes of Catholic social teaching and the issues addressed, these concerns did surface regularly throughout the region.’ Synodal consultations acknowledged that ‘the Church needs to help parishioners understand the connection between Catholic social teaching and outreach beyond the borders of the parish.’" In other words, lay people may be concerned about living in a more just world but they do not realize that this is also what the Church teaches and what they are called to do.
Being willing to oversimplify things, here are the social teachings of the Church in less than 50 words. Pause for a moment between each teaching--life is sacred--dignity of the human person--common good—family, community, and participation--rights and responsibilities--the needs of the poor and the vulnerable first--dignity of work--rights of workers—solidarity--pursuit of justice and peace--love for all our brothers and sisters--care for God’s creation. Are these beliefs important to you? Did you know that they are the Church’s social teachings? The USCCB writes, "The Church’s social teaching is a rich treasure of wisdom about building a just society and living lives of holiness amidst the challenges of modern society."
Catholic social teaching will remain our best kept secret when we do not connect the dot from head knowledge of the beliefs to the dot that these are the teachings of our faith to the dot that this is how we actually live our faith with our hearts. Pick any one of the teachings above and ask yourself: 1.What does the teaching mean? 2.Where have I seen this teaching in action or not in action? 3.How have I made this teaching come into action in my sphere of influence? Look for other Catholic social teachings at work in our society or lacking in our society—what can you do?
Let’s continue on this way with joy in our hearts and help justice flower in our day.
Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,
Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
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?"
Where are we looking for Jesus today? Even if we had no other gospel story than this one, we should know where to look: among the newcomers and displaced; among the newborn poor and their families; among those who have no roots and are searching; among those pushed around by an uncaring system of laws and decrees.
So, we ask ourselves:
Many people say that we need the death penalty in order to have "justice for the victims."
But so many family members of murder victims say over and over that the death penalty is not what they want. It mirrors the evil. It extends the trauma. It does not provide closure. It creates new victims… it is revenge, not justice.
Killing is the problem, not the solution.
----Shane Claiborne, Death Penalty Action's Advisory Board Chairman
This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
Women on death row are located at:
North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women
1034 Bragg St
Raleigh, NC 27610
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:http://www.pfadp.org/
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