Homilies

Feast of the Epiphany
Isaiah 60:1-6; Eph. 3:2-3,5-6; Gospel Matthew 2:1-12
Epiphany – Deeper Peace, Greater Love and Hope in 2018 Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 7th January 2018

The beauty of the liturgical seasons during the year engages us spiritually, in such a manner that the pattern and Providence of God’s Plan of Salvation is able to enter, embrace and enrich our daily living with God’s special graces, to live our faith personally and communally.  As today is the first Sunday of the year, it may be appropriate for us understand the context of our liturgical celebrations. 

Today, is the 12th and the last day of the Christmas season.  Liturgically, today’s celebration is called the Feast of the Epiphany.  The wisdom of the Church celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany, followed by the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus tomorrow; and then, this leads us into the liturgical season of “Ordinary time” for six weeks, until we begin the season of Lent on the 14th of February. 

In other words, liturgically, we are celebrating the Birth of Jesus, followed by the Baptism of Jesus, then the ordinary and Pastoral Ministry of Jesus, until this lead to the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Jesus at Easter on 1st of April. 

And so, as for today’s celebration of the Feast of Epiphany, let us first note that the English Oxford dictionary describes “epiphany” to mean the Feast of the manifestation of Christ to the Magi, (the three wise men), according to biblical accounts.  In Greek, epiphaneia means, “manifestation” or “reveal.” 

The “magi” were foreign dignitaries who travelled to Palestine from the east to pay homage to the infant Jesus.  They were often identified with members of the priestly caste from Persia who specialised in dream analysis and astrology.  Their occupation explains their interest in the unusual astral phenomena (the star of Bethlehem), and their origin makes them the first Gentiles (non-Jews) to recognise and give reverence to the Kingship of Christ. 

On the basis of the Old Testament (cf. Ps 72:10; Isa 49:7; 60:3,6) the tradition arose that the Magi were three kings, even though Matthew’s Gospel does not state their number.  The idea that there were three of them is inferred from the three gifts, and the idea that they were three kings arises from Old Testament prophetic texts (Ps 72:10-11); Isa 60:3,6).  Christian legend names them Balthasar, Gaspar and Melchoir.  Later interpreters attach a symbolic meaning to the three gifts: gold, because Jesus was King; frankincense, because He was God; and myrrh, because He was a mortal man. 

And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, as we celebrate the God’s manifestation of Himself as the divine King who is born into our world, through Mary as His Mother, for the Salvation of all peoples, we are then called to reflect on how God continues to manifest Himself to us in the experiences and challenges of our daily living. 

Two weeks ago, at one of our weekday Masses, someone brought her mother up to me for blessing after the Mass and said, “Father, could you please bless my mother, she has 4th stage cancer . . .”  Before I could say anything, this elderly woman, let us call her aunty Lucy, looked at me and gave me a huge smile and said, “Father, I am ready to return to God any time . . .”  I was very touched by aunty Lucy’s deep faith.  God is so real to aunty Lucy.  Jesus must have been and continues to be very close and personal to Lucy.  Lucy must have lived her life loving God and putting Him at the centre of her life through all her joys and challenges she faced.  And so for Lucy, as she now faces he illness in her old age, she naturally continues to relate and love the Jesus, who has been her Lord and Saviour throughout her life. 

My sisters and brothers, would you and I not wish that we too would be at such deep peace with God, when our time comes for us to face the reality of our death and like aunty Lucy?  Would we also not wish that God who has been aunty Lucy’s epiphany throughout her life, is also our epiphany in our lives?  In other words, would we not wish to have Jesus as the “epiphany” of His Father’s Will in our lives where He continues to empower and enrich our lives daily is to be in personal union with Him, whose Spirit will enlighten our minds and energise us though His Love for us, as aunty Lucy did. 

If we reflect on the event and the scene of the Birth of Jesus, in today’s Gospel, certain truths of our lives emerge: first, there is the great irony that King Herod who is politically powerful and wealthy, is perturbed by the prophecy of an infant who is to be born as, “the infant king of the Jews.”  King Herod was so insecure and fearful that he begins to plot to kill the Infant Jesus.  He begins this by lying to the wise men that he too would wish to pay homage to this “infant king of the Jews”, if they were to return to him and tell him where the infant is born.  We all know that this plot of King Herod failed, as God intervened and warned the wise men in a dream not to return to Herod.  And so the wise men returned to their own countries by a different route.  And, when Herod realised that the wise men would not be returning to him, he became so furious that he decreed that all male infants below the age of two, and living around Bethlehem be killed. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, this historical event reminds us that the securities and peace in our hearts cannot be built and dependant on how much power we possess and how much material wealth we own.  As such, the fundamental Truth that we are all called to affirm and renew is that, the greatest security and deepest peace in our hearts and homes can only be found, if we allow Jesus to be the “epiphanies” of His Father’s Will in our lives, and our obedience to His Will. 

In other words, unless God is at the centre of our daily living, where our lives are lived authentically out of love for Him, we will never find the deep peace and security that you and I long to have daily, and more so when we are being tested by pains and tribulations of our lives, whatever they may be, and especially when we have to face the reality of our illness and death, as aunty Lucy has witnessed to us.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as mentioned earlier, as from tomorrow, after the celebration of the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, we would be entering into six weeks of the ordinary times of our liturgical season before beginning the five weeks of Lent for the preparation of Holy Week.  During these “ordinary times” of the liturgical season, Jesus continues to be the “epiphany” of His Father’s Will for us in our daily living.  However, “Do we have the eyes of faith and the heart that longs to accept Jesus’ Love for us?” 

And so, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that Jesus, as our Lord and Saviour wants to “manifest” His Father’s Will to us in and through the joys, pains and challenges of our lives.  A very important question we constantly need to ask ourselves as we begin this year, 2018 is, “Are our eyes open widely enough to see Jesus’ Presence daily and are our hearts receptive enough to love Him more fully?  Let us learn from aunty Lucy’s witness that the greatest security and deepest peace in our lives can only be found in our hearts and homes, if and only if, all we live for is built on Jesus as the Lord and Saviour of our lives. 

And this also means that learning from today’s Gospel, we are never to allow our minds and hearts to drift into the falsehood of thinking like king Herod where he had hoped that the political power and material wealth of his earthly kingdom could give him the security, peace and happiness he longed to have.  It is a historical fact that King Herod was so insecure as King that in his suspicion that others are wanting to over throw him, he even killed his wife and three of his sons.  Therefore, we can see why in his great torment and sickness of his insecurities he had no qualms in murdering all infants below the age of two, and living around Bethlehem, just so that the infant Jesus would not usurp his throne. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, finally, let us remember that in our insecurities, and all of us have them; regardless of how deeply rooted they may be in our hearts, let us ask God for the strength and wisdom to live in the security of His Presence, Providence and Love so that, like aunty Lucy, we will be able to live in the peace of knowing and loving Jesus in our daily lives, and sharing His Peace and Love with everyone that God puts in our lives; till we all meet Him in our heavenly reward.

(cf. Catholic Bible Dictionary, Gen.Ed.Scott Hahn; Pub. Doubleday, New York; 2009; p.565.)

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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