Sunday, January 02, 2011

Sunday word, 02 Jan 2011

Solemnity of Epiphany A (02 January 2011)

Is 60. 1-6; Ps 72; Eph 3. 2-3a, 5-6; Mt 2. 1-12

Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.

Epiphany Custom

Our annual celebration of our Messiah’s incarnation more than glories that God became human for us. We are in awe that our Messiah entered our world as each of us has, born as an infant and raised in a family. No intruder into our humanity was our Messiah but one like us in all things but sin. With solemnity each year we celebrate the God-man we have received by grace. St. Paul reminded us, that the one we have received as our Messiah came not for a few but for all people: the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

The magi so distant from Judea represent all non-Jewish peoples. They were moved to seek the newborn king of the Jews and pay him homage. Their journey welcomes us to seek Jesus present in so many ways and in so many faces. By identifying with them and their journey, I suggest we might resolve how we can seek and find Jesus in the new year.

Locating and finding Jesus was not enough for the wise men. They desired to do him homage. Entering into their story encourages us to name our deep desires. Desire is language of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and his language is not foreign to us at Gesu. A person’s deep desire makes a person who she or he is, the person Jesus creates at each moment. Desire and experience are connected. Was the magus who brought Jesus gold returning a good deed done to him on a day when he was not so affluent? Did his gift of gold not crown him with his true identity? Had the one who brought frankincense discovered that God prayed for him and praised him as exactly who God created, limitations and all? Was the one who brought myrrh no stranger to bitter loss, and might his tortured feelings paradoxically strengthened him and inspired him to encourage others? While we have no profiles of the magi, scripture does not rule out reasonable questions. With which of the magi do you identify? What clue to your own deep desire will you receive this week, this month or later this year?

After we discover what our deep desires tell us about how Jesus creates us each moment and invites us to join him in living his gospel, we invite Jesus to care for us and to enlighten us with a clear sense of how we can be good stewards of ourselves in 2011. Writing the year reminds me of an eastern European epiphany custom to help us do that.

The epiphany custom blesses doorways by marking them in chalk with 20+C+M+B11. C, M, B begin the traditional names of the magi: Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar. The cross after each initial reminds us why Jesus was born: to suffer, die and be raised as the source of life for all who believe in him. The magis’ initials and three crosses are surrounded by the date of the new year, 2, 0 and 1, 1. Even if we did not take care to bless doorways leading in and out of our homes and rooms and offices and workshops, we would do well to pause each day of January and invite Jesus to be present in our inmost selves, those doors to our true identity as created by Jesus and how Jesus and we seek to be in the world.

Our tradition names one’s inmost self the soul. A Quaker theologian learned at a young age that the human soul is the “seed of selfhood” with several functions. First, the “soul wants to keep us rooted in” who each of us truly is, “resisting the tendency of other faculties, like the intellect and ego, to uproot us from who we are.” Second, “The soul wants to tell us the truth about ourselves, our world and the relationship between the two, whether that truth is easy or hard to hear.” None of us cares to hear difficult news. Yet difficult news may pass grace along to us as surely as comfortable news. “The soul [also] wants to keep us connected to the community in which we find life, for [the soul] understands that relationships are necessary if we are to thrive.” Last, “The soul wants to give us life and wants us to pass that gift along, to become life-givers in a world that deals too much with death.”1 To celebrate God became human for us invites us to remember why: so that humans can become more like Jesus, who gave himself for us. Jesus is our model of faith and of living because Jesus offered “God perfect love and worship on behalf of all creation.”2 Invite Jesus to care for your soul each day this year. Invite Jesus to help you resolve to stay rooted in him, to live your truth, to stay connected with others and be a more energetic life-giver.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, praise our triune God for desiring to risk becoming human for you. Ask the magi to present you to Jesus. In your words worship Jesus with reverent awe and ask him to help you name your deep desire for the new year and give you grace to live it. Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. As you pray, thy kingdom come, remember it blossoms within you already. Your desire along with Jesus’ grace will help you live the kingdom and the gospel, which announces it, with more confident joy throughout the year.


  1. quoted in Context, December 2004, Part A, pp. 6-7.
  2. The introduction to the Liturgy of the Hours for 01 January 2011 at
Wiki-images of the Magi's Departure from Herod and of of the Visit of the Magi are in the public domain.

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