Friday after Epiphany

Friday after Epiphany
1 John 5:5-13  +  Luke 5:12-16
January 8, 2021

And this is the testimony:  God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

The Beloved Disciple, St. John the Evangelist, uses many words to describe God throughout the course of his Gospel account and three epistles.  Among these words are “life”, “light”, and “love”.  In today’s First Reading St. John considers divine life and how an ordinary human person may share in this life.

One of the more overlooked principles of the Christian spiritual life is that the Christian is not called merely to imitate Jesus.  Jesus is not a mere example for the Christian to follow.  The Christian disciple must live and act “in” Christ, as one member of Christ’s Mystical Body.

It’s within this Body as one of its members that he Christian shares in the life of Christ.  This life is not only the divine life that God the Son shared with the Father from before time began.  This life also includes all the human experiences of God the Son, especially His Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.  These experiences are the experiences of the Christian disciple.

This life of Christ is the source of strength and inspiration for daily Christian life.  This is one reason that the sacraments are key to Christian growth.  For when the sacraments are devoutly received, their graces deepen one’s share in the life of Christ.  This in turn allow the disciple’s human life more easily to follow the pattern of Christ’s earthly life, if the disciple submits his daily thoughts, words, and actions to Christ’s life.

The Baptism of the Lord [B]

The Baptism of the Lord [B]
Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7 [or Isaiah 55:1-11]  +  Acts 10:34-38 [or 1 John 5:1-9]  +  Mark 1:7-11
January 10, 2021

“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God the Father spoke these words about you?  “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.”  In fact, this final feast of the Christmas Season helps us realize that that’s exactly what God the Father says to you every day, beginning on the day of your baptism.

It’s not a newsflash that “childhood” is one the major themes of the Church’s season of Christmas.  One of the most famous Christmas hymns asks:  “What Child is this / Who laid to rest / on Mary’s lap / is sleeping?”  What child is this?  Who is this child?  How can a helpless infant possibly be the same God who fashioned the stars, the galaxies, the black holes and everything else in the physical universe?  How can a little child possibly be the eternal God?  Christmas is full of such paradoxes, or as the Church tends to call them, sacred mysteries.

But the mystery of this Christ Child is not the only mystery about childhood that the Church ponders during the Christmas Season.  This season also focuses our attention on you and me being called to adoption as God’s very own children.  For example, in St. John’s first epistle the Beloved Disciple writes about this divine adoption, proclaiming:  “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.  And so we are. … Beloved, we are God’s children now” [1 John 3:1-2].

That’s a truly awesome mystery that John’s proclaiming, but it’s also a profound paradox.  It’s hard enough to imagine how a tiny baby could be the All-Powerful Lord of Hosts.  But it’s even harder to imagine how a sinner such as you or I could become, not just a saint, but a very child of God the Father!  But “so we are”, St. John proclaims:  “we are God’s children now”.

God’s adoption of us isn’t just some act of pity on God’s part, like the way that you might give shelter and food to a stray animal for a few days, before figuring out whom to pass it on to.  When you pass on, at the hour of your death, you pass on to God Himself:  if, that is, you’re faithful during your earthly days to the promises of your baptism.

Christian baptism is the key to being God’s children now, and—we pray—forever in Heaven.  But our own baptism is rooted in the sacred mystery of the Baptism of the Lord, the sacred mystery that the Church is celebrating on this final feast of Christmastide.

The initial question that arises when pondering the Baptism of the Lord is “Why?”  Why was Jesus even baptized in the first place?  Baptism is for the washing away of sins, and Jesus of course never had any sins on His soul.  So why did Jesus submit Himself to St. John the Baptist and receive John’s baptism?

One significant reason is to mark a beginning.  In fact, the new beginning marked by Jesus’ Baptism is so significant that the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes a link between Jesus’ baptism and the beginning of Creation as described in the Book of Genesis.  The Catechism states that “[t]he Spirit who had hovered over the waters of the first creation descended then on [Jesus at the River Jordan] as a prelude of the new creation, and the Father revealed Jesus as His ‘beloved Son’” [CCC 1224, citing Mt 3:16-17].  In other words, the work that Jesus began on the day of His Baptism was the work of a “new creation”, also called the work of redemption and sanctification.

Likewise, when you were baptized, there was also a new beginning in your life.  In fact, what began on the day of your baptism is so important that every year, you should celebrate the day of your baptism with as much, if not more, gusto than that with which you celebrate your birthday.

What the day of your own baptism marks, then, is the day when God adopted you and gifted you in many ways.  He did this to set you on that path of an ever-increasing share in God’s life, leading ultimately into His very Presence in Heaven.

Thursday after Epiphany

Thursday after Epiphany
1 John 4:19—5:4  +  Luke 4:14-22
January 7, 2021

… whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

God loves every person, for it’s God’s very nature to love.  Certainly, God at times withholds certain graces from His beloved children so that they might be purified, or grow in longing for Him.  Likewise, God bestows certain graces called “charisms” upon certain of His children but not upon others.  Nonetheless, God never at any moment fails to love each human person.  This love sustains each person in being and calls each fallen person to greater holiness.

Since God loves unconditionally, and since man is called to live in the likeness of God, each human being is called to love unconditionally.  Naturally, it’s more difficult to love one’s neighbor than to love God, for God is more lovable.  Yet God does not love a person because that person is lovable.  God loves a person in order to make that person lovable.  St. John points to this truth in today’s First Reading:  “Beloved, we love God because He first loved us.”

If and when you do not love another human person, then, you are not acting in the likeness of God.  This truth does not mean that love never makes any demands of another.  Indeed, God’s love demands that one become like God in how one loves, in all the forms that love takes, including the forgiveness of sins.  In the Crucifixion of Jesus we see most profoundly that God does not love us in spite of our sins.  He loves us right through our sins.

Wednesday after Epiphany

Wednesday after Epiphany
1 John 4:11-18  +  Mark 6:45-52
January 6, 2021

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.

Christmastide is a school of love, and the Beloved Disciple is its headmaster.  While it might be argued that Eastertide is also such a school, there’s an important difference between these two seasons.  During Eastertide the Church proclaims passages from St. John’s account of the Gospel.  During Christmastide, however, the Church proclaims passages from his epistles, and these focus sharply upon the nature of love.

Yesterday’s First Reading proclaimed the nature of God’s love as revealed through the sacrifice of God the Father and God the Son on Calvary.  Today’s First Reading extends that focus to love for one’s neighbor.

The Ten Commandments are of two types.  The first three command us to love God.  The latter seven command us to love our neighbor.  For Christians, what unites these two types is the revelation of God’s love in the Crucifixion.  From the Cross Jesus reveals how to love God and neighbor.  It’s on the basis of that revelation that St. John explains:  “if God so loved us, we also must love one another.”

However, there’s a danger here.  We might take St. John’s words to mean that we’re called merely to imitate God’s love as shown to us on Calvary.  But it’s impossible for a fallen human person to love as God love through one’s own natural power.  A fallen human person can only imitate God’s love if God loves through the fallen human person.  This is what St. John speaks to when he proclaims that “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.”  Only when one abides in God’s love can one love as God loves.

Tuesday after Epiphany

Tuesday after Epiphany
1 John 3:11-21  +  John 1:43-51
January 5, 2021

In this is love:  not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.

“Love” is cheap in modern society.  It means little and bears little fruit because it is rooted in the self.  St. John in today’s First Reading reveals that the truth about love is contrary to what modern society preaches.  True love is rooted outside the self.

Modern society claims that the lack of self-esteem is a chief cause of social problems.  Boasting self-esteem therefore becomes a major aim.  Yet an individual’s self-esteem inevitably degenerates into selfishness if it’s not rooted in the love that God has for that individual.

God is love.  God is love, pure and simple.  God is love through and through.  In other words, God is the gold standard of love.  Authentic love of oneself has to be measured against the love Who is God.

Love begins and ends with God.  From His very nature as love, God loves each human being.  Through this love, God the Father calls each human being to be transformed into the likeness of His love.

God the Father’s love is primary, before any human love and, indeed, before any human existence.  In the order of salvation history, the Father’s love for each human being has unfolded as St. John describes in the First Reading:  “In this is love:  not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.”  In these words, the love that lies at the heart of Christmastide shines clear.  This love of God the Father and God the Son for fallen man is the love to which God calls each human person to aspire.

Monday after Epiphany

Monday after Epiphany
1 John 3:7-10  +  John 1:35-42
January 4, 2021

I will give you all the nations for an inheritance.

Some years, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord—which is the final day of Christmastide—is celebrated on a Monday, which makes for a shorter season of Christmas.  Most years, however, the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated six days later on a Sunday, which gives us many more weekdays of Christmastide.  These weekdays—today being one such—help us appreciate better how and why the Epiphany is the culmination of Christmastide.

These weekdays focus our attention upon the significance of the Epiphany.  The refrain of today’s Responsorial is an example:  “I will give you all the nations for an inheritance.”  Proclaimed by the Church, these words from Psalm 2 can be understood from a Trinitarian perspective.  That is, the words of this psalm foreshadow the Church’s doctrine about the Most Holy Trinity.

This refrain can be understood as God the Father speaking to God the Son about the fruit of the Son’s earthly mission.  The Son accomplishes His divine mission through His Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.  The fruits of what the Son accomplished are the saint of God Church, beginning on the day of Pentecost.  These saints are His “inheritance”.  These saints are the members of Christ’s own Mystical Body, and this Church is meant by God to be universal:  that is, to consist of “all the nations”.  The Epiphany is the beginning of Jesus’ mission:  revealing Himself to the nations so that they might place their faith in what He accomplishes for them.

Sts. Basil the Great & Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops & Doctors of the Church

Sts. Basil the Great & Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops & Doctors of the Church
1 John 2:22-28  +  John 1:19-28
January 2, 2021

All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.

Just as Eastertide culminates in the feast of Pentecost, so Christmastide culminates in the feast of the Epiphany.  The purpose of a liturgical season is not to celebrate a single feast—in the case of Christmastide, the Nativity—over and over again.  The season’s purpose is gradually to shift one’s focus from one feast to another feast.  A liturgical season is a panorama of feasts.

You can hear such a shift in today’s scriptures.  For example, the refrain of today’s Responsorial is:  “All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.”  This refrain could just as fittingly be proclaimed on Pentecost Sunday as on the feast of the Epiphany.  In turn, that fact points out that the culminating feasts of Christmastide and Eastertide—that is, the Epiphany and Pentecost—have an important point in common:  “the nations”.  Everything that God seeks to accomplish throughout salvation history is for “the nations”, not merely for a single nation or people.  This is the mission of the Church that Jesus founded.  The Church’s mission is “catholic”:  which is to say, “universal”.

However, there’s an additional contrast to be noted when reflecting upon this Responsorial refrain.  Not only must “the nations” be contrasted against any single nation or people of the earth.  Within the current Western culture, it’s important to reflect upon how “the nations” stand in contrast to the individual.  God Himself wills that no individual enter into covenant—that is, relationship—with Him unless it be through His people.  His people are all “the ends of the earth”, where His Church continues the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Mary, the Mother of God

Mary, the Mother of God
Numbers 6:22-27  +  Galatians 4:4-7  +  Luke 2:16-21
January 1, 2021

“When eight days were completed for His circumcision, He was named Jesus, the Name given Him by the angel ….”

On the eighth day of Christmas—the Octave Day of the Lord’s Nativity—we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary as Theotokos:  “God bearer”, or more commonly translated into English as “Mother of God”.  Out of the five mysteries of Christmastide—the Nativity of the Lord, the Holy Family of the Lord, the Theotokos [Bearer of the Lord], the Epiphany of the Lord, and the Baptism of the Lord—today’s mystery focuses more squarely on the person of Mary herself.  Of course, this focus cannot possibly exclude her Son.  The very title “Theotokos” recognizes Mary in relation to the One whom she boreThis act of bearing is the key that unlocks the mystery of today’s feast.

However, today’s Gospel passage doesn’t relate a scene from Mary’s pregnancy:  that is, from the time during which she bore the unborn Christ.  The Church might have chosen the Gospel passage of the Annunciation for today’s feast, or the Visitation, or a passage relating to Mary’s seeking a place to give birth.  Instead, today’s Gospel passage describes the scene on the eighth day of the Lord’s life “in the world”, as distinct from that part of His life that was hidden in the womb.

Today’s Gospel passage relates these “eight days” to Jesus’ circumcision.  As you know, in the calendar of the Extraordinary Form of Holy Mass, today’s feast is called the Circumcision of the Lord.  The Gospel passage for today in the Extraordinary Form consists of a single sentence:  that is, the final sentence of today’s passage in the Ordinary Form.  The Ordinary Form today, then, expands on the feast as celebrated in the Extraordinary Form.  You might say that the camera is pulling back for a wider angle shot in the Ordinary Form, so that the event of the Circumcision of the Lord would shed light not only upon the mystery of the Word made Flesh, but also upon Mary as Theotokos.

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St. Thomas Aquinas, in the Third Part of his Summary of Theology, discusses the Circumcision of Jesus in Question 37.  Consider how it is that faith is the means of access to the grace that flows from the Passion.  In Thomas’ Summary of Theology, when he asks “Whether circumcision was a preparation for, and a figure of Baptism?”,[1] his affirmative response is based upon the fact that “Baptism is called the Sacrament of Faith”, and he illustrates this fact with two examples:  that “in Baptism man makes a profession of faith, and by Baptism is aggregated to the congregation of the faithful.”[2]

Then St. Thomas compares the Old Testament rite of circumcision to Christian Baptism, and he makes this comparison by highlighting faith’s role in the rite of circumcision.  He first asserts that the faith of Christians “is the same as that of the Fathers of old, [that is, the Old Testament patriarchs,] according to the Apostle (2 Cor 4:13):  ‘Having the same spirit of faith … we … believe.’”[3]  Then Thomas describes the spiritual act and the spiritual effect of circumcision.  The act of circumcision was a profession of faith, and the effect of the act was that “men of old were aggregated to the body of the faithful.”[4]

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Given these doctrines that Thomas has articulated about the Old Testament sacrament[5] of circumcision, what then can we say in particular about the circumcision of the divine Person of Jesus, and the Theotokos?

Freely, the divine Person Jesus was obedient to His Father’s Will and entered this world whose inhabitants are yoked by sin and death, to which yoke the Law testified.  Of her own free will, the human person Mary, free from all sin, was obedient to the Father’s Will and accepted the vocation to be the Bearer of the God-man, who had been born of her and “born under the Law, to ransom those under the Law.”  Mary’s vocation was for the sake of this ransom.

However, this ransoming that was fulfilled on Calvary, served a further purpose:  namely, that the very sinners who had been yoked to sin and death might enter into the fullness of life as children of the God-Man’s own Father.  The Beloved Disciple testifies to this truth in the prologue to his Gospel account:  “to all who received [the Word], who believed in His Name, He gave power to become children of God”.[6]  Mary herself, of course, is the initial and purest example of this reception of the Word in her obedience to her unique vocation to serve God and mankind as the Theotokos.

On the eight day of His manifestation within this world—that is, one week after the epiphany of His Birth from the ever-Virgin Theotokos—the Word made Flesh was circumcised according to the Law.  This act of obedience to the Law, as an Old Testament sacrament that foreshadowed Christian Baptism, derived its efficacy from the prevenient grace that flowed from the Passion of the Word made Flesh on Calvary, and by means of faithFaith is the final word of today’s celebration of the Christmas mystery of the Circumcision of the Lord, and Mary speaks this word in her role of Theotokos:  God-Bearer.

Faith, as a divine virtue whose object is God, cannot be practiced by a divine Person such as Jesus Christ.  However, every human person is called by God by means of faith to receive God the Father’s Word, to believe in that Son’s Name, and to receive God’s power so as “to become children of God”.

Faith, within the spiritual womb of Mary’s soul, is the means by which she gave her “Fiat” to the Father.  Through this “Fiat” within the womb of her soul, she bore the Word who became Flesh through her.  So each human sinner is called through the divine virtue of faith each day of his life within the Church Militant to bear the Word in his soul, to become a child of God, and to begin anew his own vocation within the Mystical Body of Christ.[7]

[1] Summa Theologiae III, 70, 1, Title.

[2] Ibid., III, 70, 1, Respondeo.

[3] Ibid.

[4] In the edition of the Summa cited in footnote 6, the English translation speaks of a “protestation of faith” [“protestatio fidei”].  However, “profession” is not only an adequate synonym for “protestation” here, but also relates more closely to the current language used to describe the liturgical act of a “profession of faith”.

[5] St. Thomas in Question 70, Article 2, Reply Obj. 2 uses the word “sacrament” to speak of the ritual of circumcision:  “Circumcisio autem erat sacramentum….” (“But circumcision was a sacrament….”).

[6] John 1:12 [RSV-CE].

[7] This homily has not treated the second half of the verse cited at the homily’s beginning, but its spiritual theme—that is, the Holy Name of Jesus—is celebrated in the Sacred Liturgy on January 3 in the Ordinary Form and on the Sunday after today’s feast in the Extraordinary Form.

The Epiphany of the Lord

The Epiphany of the Lord
Isaiah 60:1-6  +  Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6  +  Matthew 2:1-12
January 3, 2021

“We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”

As the Church celebrates the feast of the Epiphany, we see three wise men arriving before the manger.  They are men willing to sacrifice of themselves in order to find a newborn King.  This is a sign of their wisdom:  their willingness to sacrifice.  Their sacrifice reflects not only their own wisdom.  Their sacrifice also reflects the One they were seeking.

Each of the wise men was willing to leave his kingdom, where he was king—where everyone bowed down before him—in order to find a king even greater than himself.  Each of the wise men was willing to give up his riches in order to find an even greater treasure.

Few persons don’t want to be rich.  However, there are many people who believe they’re rich, but who have become satisfied with riches that—in the end—aren’t going to do them real good.  This usually happens because people don’t recognize that inside the human soul, each of us has—if you’ll consider this metaphor—two different wells to draw meaning from:  to drink from as we try to find happiness, meaning, and peace.

Anyone who is made content—who is “filled up”—by things that you can see, and hold, and drive, and watch, is filling up the most shallow part of themselves:  that first well, the shallow well.  Now every human being has this shallow well within him.  It’s not that there are shallow people over here, and deep people over there.  Every single human being, including Jesus, has a shallow well inside, in addition to the well that is so deep that it has no bottom.

The purpose of the shallow well is to let us use and enjoy things of this world for worldly needs and purposes.  This is a legitimate part of being human.  It was a part of the life of Jesus.  There is a real, true and good purpose for this shallow well.  After all, God’s the one who put it inside us.  But when a person tries to live his entire life out of that shallow well, he gets into trouble.  He goes thirsty.

Sometimes, even in his thirst, he doesn’t even notice that second well, that deeper well.  But that deeper well is the well that gives meaning to life, and that helps us understand that our lives are not about ourselves, and that our lives are not about this world.

If you peer into the deep well, the first thing you notice is its depth, and that can be frightening.  Most of us, after all, have a healthy fear of heights.  No one wants to fall.  But falling into this well—which spiritually we have to do in order to draw from it—is a form of humility.

This humility is what we see in the three wise kings, who were willing to leave the splendor and riches of their kingdoms and enter a grotto where animals lived, in order to prostrate themselves before a child born of a peasant girl.

Picture this:  these three wise kings fall to the ground in adoration before the newborn Jesus in a stable, where the hay of the animals was likely mixed with the waste of animals.  Would you be humble enough to kneel in that hay?  These three wise kings show us what it means to give up what we think is important in our little kingdoms in order to live from that deeper well.

Look at these three wise kings.  Look at their sacrifices.  There are at least two sacrifices that each king makes.

The first sacrifice is their journey.  They leave behind the lands where they rule, where they are in control, in order to bow down before the Ruler of Heaven and Earth:  in order to follow Him.

The second sacrifice is what they take from their treasuries, and place before the new-born King.  But these gifts are given as a response to a greater Gift.  From Jesus, from the Gift of God the Father, the wise man knows that the whole world, and every land, and every person in every land, will receive an infinite blessing.  The gifts of the wise men are only responses to God’s great goodness.