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Pressing on Toward Bethlehem

Pressing on Toward Bethlehem January 4, 2015

From Pope Francis’s homily at the Epiphany Mass at St. Peter’s in Rome last year:

On the feast of the Epiphany, as we recall Jesus’ manifestation to humanity in the face of a Child, may we sense the Magi at our side, as wise companions on the way. Their example helps us to lift our gaze towards the star and to follow the great desires of our heart. They teach us not to be content with a life of mediocrity, of “playing it safe”, but to let ourselves be attracted always by what is good, true and beautiful… by God, who is all of this, and so much more! And they teach us not to be deceived by appearances, by what the world considers great, wise and powerful. We must not stop at that. It is necessary to guard the faith. Today this is of vital importance: to keep the faith. We must press on further, beyond the darkness, beyond the voices that raise alarm, beyond worldliness, beyond so many forms of modernity that exist today. We must press on towards Bethlehem, where, in the simplicity of a dwelling on the outskirts, beside a mother and father full of love and of faith, there shines forth the Sun from on high, the King of the universe. By the example of the Magi, with our little lights, may we seek the Light and keep the faith. May it be so.

It’s good to pray for one another. Let’s do that more…that our year may be one of encountering Christ, being His people, with the gifts of the Holy Spirit keeping us en route to Heaven.

I’m considering Ephipany a three-day event this year during the Christmas season, as many of us are celebrating it as Masses this Sunday and others on Tuesday. May it be so, as it’s quite the feast, as Saint John Paul II pointed out in his Epiphany homily in 1979:

The Epiphany is the feast of the vitality of the Church. The Church lives her awareness of God’s mission, which is carried out through her. The Second Vatican Council helped us to realize that the “mission” is the proper name of the Church, and in a certain sense defines her. The Church becomes herself when she carries out her mission. The Church is herself, when men—such as the shepherds and the Magi Kings from the East — reach Jesus Christ by means of faith. When in the Christ-Man and through Christ they find God again.

The Epiphany, therefore, is the great feast of faith. Both those who have already arrived at faith, and those who are on the way to arrive at it, take part in this feast. They take part, rendering thanks for the gift of faith, just as the Magi Kings, full of gratitude, knelt before the Child. The Church, which becomes more aware of the vastness of her mission every year, takes part in this feast. To how many men it is still necessary to bring faith! How many men must be won back to the faith, which they have lost, and that is sometimes more difficult than the first conversion to faith! But the Church, aware of that great gift, the gift of the incarnation of God, can never stop, can never tire. She must continually seek access to Bethlehem for every man and for every period. The Epiphany is the feast of God’s challenge.

Never stop. Never tire. There is a deep urgency to that vast mission Christmas has set us out on.

In his book Joy to the World, Scott Hahn writes:

“When they saw the star, the rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10).

We should linger on that single line. For it captures the very moment when God gave “Joy to the World” – not merely to Israel, but to the whole world: the nations, the foreigners, the Gentiles.

All through the Old Testament there had been hints that such a day would come. The psalmist sang:

“All the kings of the earth shall praise thee, O Lord, / for they have heard the words of thy mouth (Psalm 138:4).

And:
May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles
Render him tribute,
May the kings of Sheba and Seba bring him gifts! (Psalm 72:10)

And the prophet Isaiah foretold a time when Israel would prosper, unafraid of the
world and open to the gifts of the nations:

Then you shall see and be radiant,
Your heart shall thrill and rejoice;
Because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you.
The wealth of the nations shall come to you.
……………
Your gates shall be open continually;
Day and night they shall not be shut;
That men may bring to you the wealth of nations.
With their kings led in procession. (Isaiah 60:5, 11)

And as Dominican Archbishop Augustine DiNoia has put it:

“No more let sins and sorrows grow, / Nor thorns infest the ground; / He comes to make His blessings flow / Far as the curse is found, / Far as the curse is found.”

Like many other carols, this rarely sung verse of “Joy to the World” leads us into the profound mystery of the Christmas feast. In the little child whose birth we celebrate, we gaze on the face of our champion in a struggle that could not be won without him. Listen to St. Leo the Great:

For unless [Christ] the new man, by being made in the likeness of sinful humanity , had taken on himself the nature of our first parents, unless he had stooped to be one in substance with his mother while sharing the Father’s substance and, being alone free from sin, united our nature to his, the whole human race would still be held captive under the dominion of Satan. ( Epistle 31, 3; LH vol.1, 321)

For this child, the road that begins in Bethlehem continues on to Golgotha, and beyond to glory.

May there be joy in the world — encounter with Christ and His mercy — as far as the curse is found.

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