Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Practice Homily for Epiphany

T.S. Eliot in his poem titled "The Journey of the Magi" paints a picture of the struggle these wise men from the East must have endured in order to find the Christ-child. Listen closely to how vivid and down-to-earth his portrait is:

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wineskins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

Wait… "satisfactory"?... That's it? Didn't the prophet Isaiah say that upon finding the Messiah, "Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow." Indeed, St. Matthew tells us, the magi "were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house [when] they saw the child with Mary his mother." It's true, the magi probably were overjoyed but I like how realistic and human T.S. Eliot's portrait of the Magi's journey is. In the Church, we are still in the Christmas Season. We are meant to place ourselves in their shoes as we make our own journey toward Christ, toward meaning, toward purpose in our lives. But, often, especially when it comes to finding Christ at Christmas, we are so wearied by the journey that we are just glad for it to be over. Did that poem depict in some way how you felt?

If so, I encourage you not to let the journey ruin the goal. The fact that there is a journey at all – a way, a lighted path to Jesus – should give us hope and joy. We all have deep-seated hungers in our souls, that inner voice that cries out, particularly during trying times, "There must be more to life than this? What does it all mean?" These longings aren't in us simply to frustrate us. God has given us the Way to satisfy all of our deepest longings: His Only Son, Jesus Christ. Thank God the Magi, who represent all of mankind, traveled the way before us and have shown us how to make it.

It is just as the prophet Isaiah foretold, "Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar." Often we too, by a special grace from God, yearn to be close to Jesus but it can sometimes seem like we are only coming "from afar." Let us learn from the magi and be brave. Let us put the same certainty in our knowledge of heavenly things that they did. Let us make the long journey with confidence that we will indeed find Jesus, and let us cast aside our love for approval or for material things that get in the way. Let's make today the day in which we take another step, or invite those who aren't on the journey to take the first one. If you are already close to Christ, this hope can take you to an even deeper relationship with him.

Along our way to Christ we should be docile and willing to ask others for help. In seeking Jesus myself and in trying to be a good shepherd, I have found it helpful to seek the guidance of my spiritual-director at least once a month and to receive his forgiveness and council in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I also find much guidance in the advice of friends, in the example of our Archbishop, and in the writings of our Holy Father. But perhaps the greatest guide of all is our Blessed Mother. "The three Kings had their star. We have Mary, [who we honor under two of her ancient titles today:] Stella Maris, Stella Orientis, Star of the Sea, Star of the East." We have honored her several times in the last few days: in her Immaculate Conception, as Our Lady of Guadalupe, at the Birth of her Son, as the Mother of the Holy Family, and as the Mother of God. In setting such a concentrated focus on Mary, the Church couldn't be any more clear in its insistence that we follow her on the way to her Son. If we truly love Christ, let us never be afraid of giving Mary too much honor, for she will absolutely, always direct us to Him.

Mary, the sinless one, the first and chief of the redeemed, is nearest to her son. There was not and is not any barrier between herself and him, and with her deep faith and trust she can enfold her intercession in his 'who is ever living to make intercession for us' (Heb 7:25).

When we find him we discover that all of our anxiety over the journey is replaced with simplicity and clarity. St. Matthew tells us that when the Magi "saw the child with Mary his mother [t]hey prostrated themselves and did him homage." They simply adored him. All of the confusion of their long journey, following the star despite difficulties, seeking and following advice, gave way to simple adoration of our God Made Man. At today's Mass, we will find Christ in a special and unique way. Come, let us adore Him before and after Communion and in our hearts prostrate ourselves before the Lord – right beside the magi, beside our Blessed Mother – close rather than "from afar."

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