The Epiphany of the Lord

I believe the signs and the liturgies of this wonderful time are still echoing in our hearts and minds: the words of St. Leo the Great proclaimed in the solemn vigil of Christmas, inviting us to remember our dignity as children of God; the mystery of the Holy Family of Nazareth, image and model for every human family, experienced in suffering and obedience to the will of God; the fear of Herod (image of the world), who, terrorized to see power manifested in weakness and poverty by a poor baby, was in turn capable only of killing in order to defend his power; the solemnity of Mary, daughter of her Son, Mary, Mother of God; all these have led us to this day, the Solemn Epiphany of the Lord. I believe St. Leo the Great explains the mystery contained in this feast beautifully:  “These three men follow the leading of the light above, and with steadfast gaze obeying the indications of the guiding splendor, are led to the recognition of the Truth by the brilliance of Grace, for they supposed that a king’s birth was notified in a human sense and that it must be sought in a royal city. Yet He who had taken a slave’s form, and had come not to judge, but to be judged, chose Bethlehem for His nativity, Jerusalem for His passion. But Herod, hearing that a prince of the Jews was born, suspected a successor, and was in great terror: and to compass the death of the Author of Salvation, pledged himself to a false homage. How happy had he been, if he had imitated the wise men’s faith, and turned to a pious use what he designed for deceit. What blind wickedness of foolish jealousy, to think you can overthrow the Divine plan by your frenzy. The Lord of the world, who offers an eternal Kingdom, seeks not a temporal one. Why do you attempt to change the unchangeable order of things ordained, and to forestall others in their crime? The death of Christ belongs not to your time. The Gospel must be first set on foot, the Kingdom of God first preached, healings first given to the sick, wondrous acts first performed. Why do you wish yourself to have the blame of what will belong to another’s work, and why without being able to affect your wicked design, do you bring on yourself alone the charge of wishing the evil? You gain nothing and carry out nothing by this intrigue. He that was born voluntarily shall die of His own free will. The Wise men, therefore, fulfill their desire and come to the child, the Lord Jesus Christ, the same star going before them. They adore the Word in flesh, the Wisdom in infancy, the Power in weakness, the Lord of majesty in the reality of man: and by their gifts make open acknowledgment of what they believe in their hearts, that they may show forth the mystery of their faith and understanding. The incense they offer to God, the myrrh to Man, the gold to the King, consciously paying honor to the Divine and human Nature in union: because while each substance had its own properties, there was no difference in the power of either.” [Sermon 31]  Dear brothers and sisters, there are many lights shining in this world, but only one has the power to lead us to the truth because it is the light that corresponds perfectly to the desire for truth, goodness, and beauty lying in the heart of each one of us – the fact is that this light pointed to a baby in a manger. This indeed is the mystery of our salvation. May this mystery be manifested to each of you as well. Happy Epiphany!


Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s Gospel speaks of hating one’s own father, mother and even one’s own life. Jesus relates this to the fact that our life is like building a tower. One must count his own resources or run the risk of not completing the building. What does it mean to hate?

 I believe none of us would expect God to tell us to hate. The use of this verb is so controversial that some texts now translate it as “love less”. Nonetheless, the Greek verb “miseo” literally means to hate. So, what is Christ ask­ing us to do? Probably before defining the word hate, we should spend more time in understanding what love is, as it is such a mystified word today. We relegate love to the sphere of sentiments and understand it only partially. There are different degrees of love, or better, different types of love. The highest type of love is the love that has been shown by Christ in the cross, which is the love for the enemy. God is a jealous God and he wants to become the primary object of our love. So, the first step in understanding this text is to ask ourselves whom are we loving today?

We naturally love our parents, spouses, chil­dren and siblings. There is a natural love that arises from the easy familiarity of kinship. Jesus does not condemn this but wishes to purify it. Our human love for our parents is burdened by our desire for their es­teem, affection, even their goods. This can keep us from speaking the truth to them or making choices with our life that reject worldly logic and planning. The fear of losing their affection can pin our soul to the ground like a bird in a net. Their love can make us reject the path that leads to life. And so, we must ‘hate’ them, that is, hate our earthly way of relating to them and our slavery to their affections that puts itself in a primai·y place above our love for God and willingness to follow Him. Christ wants to purify our love for them and ourselves in a way that leaves both free to do the will of God and love him above all things. The possi­bility of losing pai·ental love is pa1i of the cost of building the tower, as is the self-denial implied in fol­lowing Christ. Establishing Christ’s reign in our hearts comes at a very real price: do we have the resources to continue along the path of discipleship when it re­quires real renunciation?

And if I am to hate my kin, how is it then that Christ asks me to love my enemies? Again, by refer­ring my relationship with them to Christ. They need to be loved by Christ and freed from slavery to sin. Christ is present in my enemy, asking me to love Him as he has loved me. Here again, is the cost of building the tower. Am I ready to hate my own life? Am I willing to renounce my human way of thinking and relating to others? Renounce defending myself, my time, my plans? God’s love is a jealous love and He wants to be the primary object of our love. His love takes primacy over our human relationships, even those with our own parents and our own life. He wants to purify our loves so that we may love him above all things and experience true freedom.