The Epiphany of the Lord
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.
Members remain standing while the Gospel is read. After the Gospel is read, members kiss the Gospel and are seated. After an appropriate period of reflection, members are invited to share their own lights from the Holy Spirit in relation to this Gospel passage. The secretary synthesizes reflections into a brief summary for the team.
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The Better Part
Consider privately reflecting on the corresponding chapter from The Better Part by Fr. John Bartunek, LC, ThD during the week.
Unit #3 – “The King is Coming” – Matthew 2:1-6
“Christ abode for nine months in the tent of Mary’s womb; he abides until the consummation of the ages in the tent of the Church’s faith; he will abide for ever and ever in the knowledge and love of the faithful soul.” Blessed Isaac of Stella
Christ as Lord
In ancient times Christians celebrated the mystery of Christmas for twelve consecutive days. They let loose their joy in a crescendo culminating on the solemnity of Epiphany, the manifestation (that’s what epiphany means) of the Lord to the Gentiles – the non-Jewish peoples represented by these wise men. The Jews always knew that their Messiah would be a mighty King, but they did not clearly know that his Kingship would extend to every nation, to all people. The moving scene of these wise men coming to do Christ homage focuses our attention on God’s plan for his New Covenant. This Covenant would bring all people into the ranks of his Chosen People, creating a new Israel bounded neither by geography nor by race, but only by the generosity of each individual human heart. With the coming of the wise men, the age of the Catholic – meaning “universal” – Church begins.
But the universality of his reign has some uncomfortable consequences. Christ is the Lord – not merely one among many, but the One. The universe is not a democracy, but a monarchy with only one rightful King, a King who is all-wise and all-good and who will never die. Herod recognized this; he immediately felt his own authority threatened by Christ’s arrival – here was one who had divine authority, whose right to rule was absolute, which meant that Herod would have to take second place (at best). Second place was repugnant to his enormous pride. So even though he recognized Christ’s lordship, he resisted it, he tried to do away with it.
Every human heart has a Herod lurking inside it. We are children of Adam and Eve, heirs of their disobedience, and part of us detests the idea of having to submit to a higher authority. For some, the revulsion is so strong that they convince themselves there is no God, or rather that the universe is a democracy, and so they can be their own gods. They do violence to their conscience just as Herod was soon to do violence to the infants of Bethlehem. They massacre part of their own rational nature, which longs to recognize a creator and do him homage (as the wise men did), just as Herod was to massacre a portion of his own people. Each human heart is a battlefield where Herod and the wise men vie for predominance. Will we kneel before the Lord and worship him, or will we vainly strike out to destroy him?
Christ as Teacher
Most of the time, God doesn’t work in weird, inscrutable ways. He actually wants us to find him, to know him, to discover the full and vibrant life that he created us to live. He spent the whole Old Testament preparing Israel to welcome the Messiah; they even knew the city where the Messiah would be born! And when the moment came, God sent a sign to the Gentiles as well; he gave them a star to guide them to the very dwelling where the Savior could be found. And just to make sure that neither the Gentiles nor the Israelites would have any doubts, he arranged for them to confer together at the very time of the Messiah’s coming. What more could God have done to announce the Savior’s arrival? And yet, only a few believed.
He repeats this methodology with each one of us. He bombards us with signs of his love, of his presence, of his will – through the Scriptures, through the examples of thousands of saints, through volumes of instruction and explanation propagated by his Church, through the symbols and forms of the liturgy, through the living words of popes and pastors” How easy he makes it for us to know him, to find him, to know how he would have us live! And yet, still, how few of us really believe, how often we doubt and disobey, how fervently we demand more and more signs. We are fortunate that this divine Teacher has infinite patience; without it, he would long ago have given up on such slow pupils.
Christ as Friend
St Matthew points out exactly where and when Christ was born, the actual place, the actual period of time: “at Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod.” We can find the place on maps today, and on ancient maps; we can travel there. We can find Herod’s name in today’s reference books, as well as in documents written two thousand years ago.
Christianity is not a mythic religion. The saving deeds of Jesus Christ do not take place in some pre-historical epoch that we mimic by empty reenactments. Our God came into the world and “dwelt among us,” and he continues to do the same. His Church and his sacraments are extensions of his desire to meet each one of us in the here-and-now of our lives, to befriend us as and where we are, and to walk with us along our earthly journey. Is that how we think of him? Is that how we live our faith? He is certainly hoping so, and he will help us – if we let him.
Christ in my Life
You are the one Lord. I believe in you, and I want to follow you. You have every right over me, and I renew my commitment to obey you in all things. What a great gift you have given me! I know you, I am close to you, and I live through your grace. Dear Lord, never let me be separated from you, and help me to bring many others into your friendship”
You have always reached out to all peoples through your Church. Only because of that did the faith make its way to my people, to my nation, and into my life. Thank you for coming to me; thank you for the Church. Guide and protect your Church, Lord, and make me an energetic, faithful, active member within her ranks”
Why do I prefer extraordinary manifestations of your presence in my life and ignore so regularly the normal ways you speak to me – Church teaching, the everyday circumstances of my life, the Scriptures, the sacraments? You have given me so much, and you just keep on giving. Open my eyes, Lord, so that I can see you in all of your gifts, and thank you in them, and respond to your love with love”
Questions for Discussion
1. What struck you most about this passage? What did you notice that you hadn’t noticed before?
2. Why do you think that the “all Jerusalem” was so greatly affected by the wise men’s arrival?
3. Can you see any parallels between the wise men coming to Jerusalem and a Christian going to Sunday Mass?
4. The chief priests and scribes knew where the Messiah was to be born, and yet none of them accompanied the wise men to look for him in Bethlehem. Why not? If