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Monsignor Yennock's Epiphany Homily - January 6, 2019

Jan 7, 2019

EPIPHANY 2019 JANUARY 6

WHEN JESUS WAS BORN IN BETHLEHEM WISE MEN FROM THE EAST CAME TO DO HIM HOMAGE. WHO WERE THESE WISE MEN?

THE MAGI AS THEY ARE CALLED WERE A TRIBE OF PRIESTS. WHAT THE LEVITES WERE IN ISRAEL, THE MAGI WERE IN PERSIA. THEY BECAME THE TEACHERS AND INSTRUCTORS OF THE PERSIAN KINGS. WHENEVER A SACRIFICE WAS OFFERED IN PERSIA A MAGI HAD TO BE PRESENT. THEY BECAME MEN OF HOLINESS AND WISDOM.

THESE MAGI WERE MEN WHO WERE SKILLED IN PHILOSOPHY, MEDICINE AND NATURAL SCIENCE. THEY WERE SOOTHSAYERS AND INTERPRETERS OF DREAMS. BUT AT THEIR BEST THE MAGI WERE GOOD AND HOLY MEN, WHO WERE SEARCHING FOR TRUTH, BEAUTY AND GOODNESS. THEY WERE SEARCHING FOR THE TRANSCENDENT.

IF SOME CONSTELLATION, OR SOME BRILLIANT STAR SUDDENLY APPEARED IT COULD LOOK LIKE GOD WAS BREAKING INTO HIS OWN ORDER TO ANNOUNCE SOMETHING VERY SPECIAL.

TO THOSE ANCIENT ASTROLOGERS THE STARS REPRESENT THE ORDER OF THE UNIVERSE. SOME CONSTELLATION IN THE SKY OR SOME BRILLIANT STAR COULD UNDOUBTEDLY HAVE MEANT THE BIRTH OF A GREAT KING.

WE DO NOT KNOW WHAT STAR THE MAGI SAW; BUT IT WAS THEIR PROFESSION TO WATCH THE HEAVENS, AND SOME HEAVENLY BRILLIANCE SPOKE TO THEM OF THE ENTRY OF A KING INTO THE WORLD.

IT IS EXTRAORDINARY THAT JUST ABOUT THE TIME THAT JESUS WAS BORN THERE WAS A UNIVERSAL SENSE OF EXPECTATION. EVEN THE ROMAN HISTORIANS SENSED THIS EXPECTATION THAT A KING OF SOME SORT WAS GOING TO EMERGE IN THE EAST.

LEST WE THINK THAT THE COMING OF THE MAGI IS ONLY A LEGEND IT IS EXACTLY THE KIND OF THING THAT COULD HAVE EASILY HAPPENED IN THAT ANCIENT WORLD.

THE DESIRE FOR CONNECTION WITH GOD IS IN THE HEART OF EVERY HUMAN BEING. THE HISTORY OF MANKIND IS THE STORY OF HIS SEARCH FOR GOD.

“IN THE DAYS OF KING HEROD MAGI FROM THE EAST ARRIVED IN JERUSALEM SAYING: ‘WHERE IS THE NEWBORN KING OF THE JEWS? WE HAVE SEEN HIS STAR AT ITS RISING AND HAVE COME TO DO HIM HOMAGE?’ ”

THE MAGI WHO WERE SPIRITUAL MEN KNEW THAT THEY NEEDED THE GUIDANCE OF A POWER HIGHER THAN THEMSELVES. THAT’S WHY THEY WENT TO JERUSALEM.

WHEN THE MAGI CAME TO JERUSALEM HEROD SUMMONED THE PRIESTLY GUARDIANS OF REVELATION. HE SUMMONED ALSO THE SCRIBES WHO WERE EXPERTS IN SCRIPTURE AND IN THE LAW. THESE SCHOLARS KNEW THE PROPHECIES. THEY KNEW WHERE THE KING OF THE JEWS WAS TO BE BORN.

IT WAS WRITTEN IN DIVINE REVELATION, THROUGH THE PROPHET, THAT THE MESSIAH KING WOULD BE BORN IN BETHLEHEM.

MATTHEW WRITES: “WHEN HEROD THE KING HEARD OF THIS HE WAS DISTURBED, AND SO WAS ALL JERUSALEM WITH HIM.”

HEROD HAD EVERY REASON TO BE DISTURBED.  THIS CHILD WAS A FULL-BLOODED DESCENDENT OF KINGS. THIS CHILD WOULD BE BORN IN THE CITY OF THE KINGS.

HEROD HAD SOME JEWISH BLOOD IN HIS VEINS BUT IT WAS MIXED WITH PAGAN BLOOD. IT WAS NOT THE BLOOD OF JUDAH AND DAVID AND AARON. JESUS WAS A THREAT TO HEROD’S CLAIM TO THE THRONE.

KING HEROD’S CHARACTER WOULD CAUSE ANYONE TO FEAR HIM AND DESPISE HIM.  HE WAS INSANELY SUSPICIOUS. IF HE SUSPECTED ANYONE AS A RIVAL TO HIS POWER, THAT PERSON WAS PROMPTLY ELIMINATED. HE MURDERED HIS WIFE AND HER MOTHER. HE ASSASSINATED HIS ELDEST SON AND TWO OTHER SONS. SUCH WAS THE CHARACTER OF HEROD.

HEROD HAD AN OPPORTUNITY TO TAKE THE FIRST STEP TO CONVERION AND SALVATION. HE LISTENED CAREFULLY TO THE PREACHING OF JOHN THE BAPTIST. BUT LIKE MANY WHO ARE ADDICTED TO POWER, MONEY, DRUGS, ALCOHOL OR SEX HEROD TURNED A DEAF EAR TO THE TEACHING OF JOHN THE PRIEST.

WHAT COULD ORGANIZED RELIGION OFFER A KING?  HEROD WAS ATTRACTED TO JOHN BUT HE WAS TOO WEAK TO TAKE THE FIRST STEP TOWARD CONVERSION. THROUGH ORGANIZED RELIGION, HE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO SAVE HIS SOUL AND MAKE HIS PEACE WITH GOD. BUT INSTEAD HEROD DIED A MISERABLE DEATH.

WE LEARN FROM THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY THAT THERE WILL ALWAYS BE PEOPLE IN THE WORLD LIKE HEROD. THEY FIND IN THE TEACHING OF JESUS OF BETHLEHEM A THREAT TO THEIR WAY OF LIFE. THE MARTYRS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY AND THE PRESENT DAY MARTYRS IN THE MIDDLE EAST, AFRICA AND ASIA ARE VICTIMS OF PEOPLE LIKE HEROD.

I WANT YOU TO NOTICE SOMETHING HERE. PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO WHAT I AM SAYING BECAUSE THIS IS IMPORTANT. WHY DID WISE AND LEARNED MEN COME TO JERUSALEM TO INQUIRE ABOUT THE KING TO BE BORN? THEY WERE ASTROLOGERS, THEY WERE SCIENTISTS. WHY DID THEY NEED TO SEEK INFORMATION FROM ORGANIZED RELGION?

WHAT MADE THE PRIESTS AND SCRIBES OF ISRAEL SO SPECIAL? WHERE DID THEY GET THE INFORMATION THAT THE MAGI WERE TRYING TO FIND OUT?

I AM ASKING THIS QUESTION BECAUSE OUR MODERN CULTURE FINDS A TENSION BETWEEN THE QUEST FOR SPIRITUALITY AND ORGANIZED RELIGION. OUR YOUNG PEOPLE ARE SAYING I AM SPIRITUAL BUT NOT RELIGIOUS. THEY SAY: “I AM LOOKING FOR GOD BUT I DON’T NEED ORGANIZED RELIGION TO TELL ME WHERE TO FIND HIM”. I CAN DO THAT BY MYSELF.

THE QUESTION IS: CAN I REALLY DISCOVER THE PUPOSE OF LIFE, MY DESTINY AND THE MEANS TO REACH THAT DESTINY ALL BY MYSELF? THESE ARE PROFOUND QUESTIONS. PHILOSOPHERS AND THEOLOGIANS HAVE STRUGGLED WITH THEM FOR CENTURIES.

A GALLOP POLL, FOLLOWING THE TRAGEDY OF 9\11 SHOWED THAT MORE THAN 72% OF AMERICANS THOUGHT ORGANIZED RELIGION WAS IMPORTANT. A MORE RECENT POLL FOUND THAT 52% OF AMERICANS THOUHT RELIGION WAS IMPORTANT.

IT IS NOT SURPRISING THEN THAT WITHOUT A NATIONAL OR INTERNATIONAL TRAGEDY TO SHAKE OUR SENSE OF SELF-SUFFICIENCY FEWER AMERCANS SAY RELIGION IS IMPORTANT TO THEM. ACTUALLY, THE GALLOP POLL REVEALS MORE ABOUT OUR DESIRE FOR PERSONAL INDEPENDENCE THAN IT DOES ABOUT OUR INTEREST IN RELIGION.

A RECENT STUDY AMONG YOUNG PEOPLE SHOWS A STRONG DESIRE FOR AUTONOMY AND INDEPENDENCE.

THERE SEEMS TO BE A TENSION BETWEEN THE NEED OF ORGANIZED RELIGION AND THE NEED FOR AUTONOMY. AUTONOMY SAYS: I CAN DO IT ALL BY MYSELF. I WANT TO BE IN CONTROL. WHEN WE COME TO THE CONCLUSION THAT WE CAN DISCOVER THE DEEP QUESTIONS OF LIFE ON OUR OWN, WE COME TO THE CONCLUSION THAT ORGANIZED RELGION HAS NOTHING TO OFFER US.

THE MORE INDEPENDENT WE THINK WE ARE, THE LESS LIKELY WE ARE TO TURN TO A HIGHER POWER. THIS IS THE PROBLEM THAT THE ADDICT FACES. THAT’S WHY THE FIRST STEP IN THE 12 STEP PROGRAMS IS: I BELIEVE IN A HIGHER POWER. I  HAVE NOT HAD MUCH SUCCESS IN DEALING WITH MY ADDICTION ON MY OWN. ALONE, I AM POWERLESS.

IF WE THINK WE HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS (OR CAN GET THEM ON OUR OWN), WE’RE LESS LIKELY TO TURN TO ORGANIZED RELIGION FOR THE ANSWERS TO THE MEANING OF LIFE.

THE INFORMATION AGE HAS ONLY DEEPENED THIS SENSE OF INDEPENDENCE. ALMOST ANYTHING WE WANT TO KNOW, ANYTHING WE WANT TO OWN, OR ANYTHING WANT TO DO IS AVAILABLE ONLINE. WE NOW HAVE ACCESS TO INFORMATION IN MORE WAYS THAN WE’VE EVER HAD BEFORE.

 

THE INFORMATION AGE HAS PROMPTED US TO BE INDEPENDENT IN OUR THINKING ABOUT MORALITY. WE NOW DECIDE WHAT IS RIGHT AND WRONG BY HOW WE FEEL ABOUT IT. HOMEMADE MORALITY.

A RECENT NATIONAL SURVEY FOUND THAT THE MAJORITY OF AMERICAN ADULTS FEEL THAT WHAT IS RIGHT OR WRONG IS A MATTER OF PERSONAL EXPERIENCE AND PERSONAL FEELING. IN OTHER WORDS MOST AMERICANS FEEL THAT THERE IS NO ABSOLUTE RIGHT OR WRONG. YOUR CHOICE DEPENDS ON WHAT YOU FEEL AT THE MOMENT OF DECISION.

THAT’S PRETTY SCARY FOR THE REST OF US TO KNOW THAT WE ARE LIVING IN A SOCIETY WHERE PEOPLE DO NOT BELIEVE IN ABSOLUTE MORAL LAW. WE FEEL LESS SECURE IN A SOCIETY WHERE PEOPLE BELIEVE THEY CAN DO WHATEVER THEY WANT TO DO WITHOUT CONSEQUENCES.

IF OUR DESIRE FOR AUTONOMY AND INDEPENDENCE CONTINUES TO INCREASE FEWER OF US WILL TURN TO ORGANIZED RELIGION FOR ANSWERS AND DIRECTION. EVEN THE 12 STEP PROGRAMS WILL NO LONGER HELP US.

WHY DID THE MAGI WHO WERE SPIRITUAL MEN HAVE TO GO TO RELIGIOUS MEN TO FIND OUT WHERE GOD WOULD MAKE HIS ENTRY INTO THE WORLD? THE QUEST FOR SPIRITUALITY ALONE WAS NOT ENOUGH FOR THEM.  IF THEY WERE TO FULFILL THAT QUEST THEY NEEDED THE TRUTH OF REVELATION THAT COMES FROM THE STOREHOUSE OF ORGANIZED RELIGION.

JUDAISM AND CHRISTIANITY ARE THE ONLY WORLD RELIGIONS THAT ARE BASED ON CREDIBLE REVELATION FROM GOD. JUDAISM AND CHRISTIANITY BELIEVE THAT GOD HAD REVEALED THE COMING OF THE MESSIAH HUNDREDS OF YEARS BEFORE HE ACTUALLY CAME.

THE QUEST FOR SPIRITUALITY IS GOOD. IT IS NATURAL AND NECESSARY.  BUT PRIVATE SPIRITUALITY IS NOT ENOUGH FOR US TO UNDERSTAND THE MYSTERY OF GOD WHOM WE DESIRE AND NEED. IN OUR QUEST FOR SPIRITUALITY WE ARE NOT SATISFIED UNTIL WE ENTER THE MIND OF GOD HIMSELF. THAT COMES ONLY THROUGH REVELATION.

THE ONLY REASON WE KNOW THAT THERE IS A PERSONAL LOVING GOD IS BECAUSE JESUS TOLD US SO. THE ONLY REASON WE KNOW THAT GOD IS MERCIFUL AND FORGIVING IS THE CRUCIFIXION. THE ONLY WAY WE COULD BELIEVE IN ETERNAL LIFE IS BECAUSE JESUS HIMSELF ROSE FROM THE DEAD TO LIVE FOREVER.  

GOD CHOSE THE RELIGION OF JUDAISM TO BE THE GUARDIAN OF GOD’S REVELATION ABOUT THE MESSIAH. GOD CHOSE THE RELIGION OF CHRISTIANITY TO BE THE GUARDIAN OF GOD’S REVELATION OF JESUS THE MESSIAH. 

YOU AND I KNOW, IN OUR HEART OF HEARTS THAT SOMEWHERE THERE IS PERFECT TRUTH, PERFECT GOODNESS AND PERFECT BEAUTY. WE WANT TO BELIEVE.

IN SOUTHERN INDIA THERE IS A MISSIONARY PRIEST WHO HELPS TO RUN A HOME FOR THE POOR AND FOR PEOPLE DYING OF AIDS. HE ALSO STAFFS A CHAPEL WHERE THERE IS EUCHARISTIC ADORATION THROUGHOUT THE DAY.

HE TELLS THE STORY OF A YOUNG HOMELESS MAN IN HIS TWENTIES. THE YOUNG MAN HAD SUFFERED A STROKE IN HIS CHILDHOOD. HE WAS PARALYZED PERMANENTLY ON ONE SIDE OF HIS BODY. THIS MAN CAME TO THE CHAPEL EVERY DAY. HE STOOD IN THE DOORWAY, SOMETIMES FOR HOURS. HE JUST STOOD THERE LOOKING AT THE EUCHARIST. HE WAS NOT A CHRISTIAN. HE WAS A HINDU.

ONE DAY, AFTER MONTHS OF SEEING HIM THERE, THE PRIEST ASKED HIM GENTLY, “WHY DO YOU COME HERE TO STAND AT THE BACK OF THE CHAPEL? WHAT IS IT THAT YOU SEE THERE? THE YOUNG MAN PAUSED FOR A MOMENT, AND THEN HE SAID TO THE PRIEST: THEY TELL ME IT IS GOD, AND I TRY TO BELIEVE IT.

LIKE THE MAGI WE ARE TOLD THAT IT IS GOD IN THE MANGER AND WE TRY TO BELIEVE IT.

 “WHEN THE SONG OF THE ANGELS IS STILLED, WHEN THE STAR IN THE SKY IS GONE, WHEN THE KINGS AND WISE MEN GO HOME, WHEN THE SHEPHERDS ARE BACK WITH THEIR FLOCKS, THE WORK OF CHRISTMAS BEGINS: TO WORSHIP OUR NEWBORN SAVIOR; TO FEED THE HUNGRY; TO RELEASE THE PRISONERS; TO REBUILD THE NATIONS; TO BRING PEACE AMONG BROTHERS AND TO MAKE MUSIC WITH THE HEART.

THERE MUST BE A GOD SOMEWHERE. (Over My Head I Hear Music in the air)