Sunday, January 05, 2014

Sunday word, 05 Jan 14

Gospel Beginning to End
Epiphany A (05 January 2014)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Do we celebrate Christmas with an eye only toward Jesus and his birth? Or do we include ourselves in the mystery? Jesus was born for us.1 Christmas also is our birthday. Pope St. Leo reminded: “In adoring the birth of our Savior, we find we are celebrating the commencement of our own life, for the birth of Christ is the source of life for Christian folk, and the birthday of the Head [Jesus] is the birthday of the body [his Church].”2 Christmas, we may say, makes us new. One effect of our Christian newness is being more alert. The First Gospel’s Christmas  story includes alert individuals. Mary and Joseph were alert; they planned to make their future together. Their plans changed when God intervened. The timing seems to me graced:  alert to move in one direction kept them alert during an angel visit and dream visions.

The mystery of Christmas we celebrate today recalls three stargazers who trained their vision on a star at its rising and followed it with a purpose: to do…homage [to] the newborn king of the Jews. Three times in his episode of the magi Matthew used the word we translate as pay homage or worship. He put it on the lips of the three visitors from the east; on the lips of the greatly troubled, devious King Herod—alert to himself and his power; and Matthew used it to portray the magi fulfilling their quest.

He used the word later in his gospel. The final times are important and echo today’s selection. After the angel showed the women the place where Jesus’ body had lain in the tomb, the angel told them, “Go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’”3 Risen Jesus met them on their way and the women worshiped him.4 When he met his eleven disciples in Galilee as he promised, Matthew used the word the last time: When they saw him, they worshiped but they doubted.5

The women and the Eleven stand for us in the First Gospel.6 Matthew hoped all who heard and read his gospel would be more alert and do homage to Jesus with their lives for the sake of the world. Disciples are not perfect. Faithful does not mean perfect. Faithful means being open to and trusting God.

The magi trusted in something beyond them; they also trusted in their reason. A star embodied what was beyond. Star-watching was trusted human activity; it helped people plant crops, navigate then do business. Stars signaled important events. The magi also had to discern to trust King Herod or not. Trusting, searching, reasoning, worshiping: the magi are our models, too. They inspire us to do grow more alert.

As they met risen Jesus the disciples modeled that faith-trust is not easy or automatic. It challenges our reason at times. It also invigorates it with a goal: to meet our living Savior in new ways. Jesus’ way and the way of the reign of God Jesus announced challenge human norms. The reign of God showers compassion on the lowly and the poor of the world. It is a human instinct to exclude them from our minds and hearts. To include them and care for them shares in the mercy our triune God shows us in Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection.7

We show each other mercy, too. The more we appreciate mercy shown us through Jesus’ ever patient love of us, the more willing we are to show mercy. We may ignore Jesus’ mercy. One way is to deny our shortcomings. When we do we often project them on to others. Two results: we behave or speak in unforgiving ways; we resist learning Jesus and his way. Jesus summarized his way by his comment on the prayer he gave us: If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.8

Jesus gave his pray to disciples; they desired to learn how he prayed and live his way. Disciples are learners. Learners are in formation; they are never complete or perfected in this life. Yet they strain toward their goal. Christian disciples seek to learn Jesus better by being alert to his presence in their lives, in others and the countless ways Jesus manifests himself. They are how we pay homage to our Savior in our daily living.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Pause in the presence of our triune God.
  • Ask the magi to present you to Jesus so you may imitate their sincere worship. 
  • Speak to Jesus or his parents or be silent. In whatever way you are moved marvel that Jesus was born for you.
  • Ask him for the grace to be more alert to his presence with you and for you each day.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. It is the gospel in its essence. Each time we say it we learn better Jesus and his way and grow more courageous to live it.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. Matthew 1.21; Luke 2.11.
  2. From Sermon 6 on the Nativity of the Lord, 2.
  3. Matthew 28.7.
  4. Matthew 28.9.
  5. Matthew 28.17.
  6. A brief overview for teens is useful for all. A 2011 Catholic Update focused on Matthew’s Gospel.
  7. Pope Francis devoted a section of his recent exhortation and named it, “The inclusion of the poor in society.” The pope made the point that he meant “more than activities or programmes of promotion and assistance; what the Holy Spirit mobilizes is not an unruly activism, but above all an attentiveness which considers the other ‘in a certain sense as one with ourselves.’ [It] entails appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in their culture, and in their ways of living the faith” [¶199].
  8. Matthew 6.14-15.


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