January 6, 2008
Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
“We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
So said the magi from the east to King Herod as they neared the end of their journey. Of course, the child was not in the royal court of Herod, but was in Bethlehem, as the chief priests and scribes indicated was prophesied. When they got to Bethlehem, they gave homage and they gave gifts. What does this story mean?
The clue comes, of course, from the name of this feast day. Epiphany. It is a great word. It means “manifestation or illuminating realization.” It’s symbol is the star. The light that guided them to their destination – the manifestation of God in the baby Jesus.
All these senses of epiphany come together in this story from the gospel of Matthew. God himself was revealed to the world through the birth of Jesus. An epiphany of God. The understanding of God’s intention was also present. An epiphany of God’s intention. It all came together.
God sent his only son as savior of the world. Not just for the Jews, the children of the promises to Abraham, but to all the nations. The magi symbolize all the nations of the world, coming to adore Jesus. This is truly a catholic vision of God’s plan.
Of course, we all knew this more or less. Does it have anything to do with us today?
Well, interestingly enough, the bishops have declared the week of January 6 to be National Migration Week. All Catholics are called upon to think about the issues around immigration in this country. And it does have a connection with this feast day.
Consider the experience of the Magi. They journeyed from their homeland as pilgrims seeking the Christ. They faced danger, political intrigue, and plots from the Herodian court. And they were
Consider the experience of the Holy Family. After the visit of the Magi they were forced to flee Herod’s murderous intentions, became refugees and immigrants, and lived in the land of Egypt for a time. Their experience is the experience of all refugees and migrants.
For that reason alone every Catholic in the United States of America should be sympathetic to the plight of immigrants and refugees.
You know, one of the things I am most proud of in our parish is the broad based support for the Hispanic immigrants in our parish and in our county. This parish has given courageous support through prayer, through advocacy, and through welcoming the strangers in our midst. I am proud to be a part of this ministry in this parish. Those we have welcomed are no longer strangers, but friends who are among us.
One of the things I am most proud of in our country is that we are all a country of immigrants. Americans are people from every race, nationality, culture, and language. We get placed into the national “melting pot” and each new addition adds new seasoning to who we are. Our national identity is being continuously formed. In this sense it is a little bit like heaven. We come from everywhere.
Of course, the best earthly example of heaven is the Roman Catholic Church. Why? Because it is the only institution that literally consists of people from every country, nation, language, and race. It is the Kingdom of God on earth – pointing to the eternal reality of the Kingdom of Heaven.
One of the interesting conundrums we face is when political interests conflict with religious interests. In this case sometimes our American identity conflicts with our Catholic identity.
Let me give two examples.
Catholic Social Teaching principal #1. the life and dignity of the human person. We believe and teach that human life has dignity and worth from conception until natural death. Thus legalized abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, eugenics, and the death penalty contradict the teaching of the Church on the life and dignity of the human person. The Church’s teaching is pretty clear on these issues.
Catholic Social Teaching principal #6. Solidarity. We believe and teach that we are one human family, irregardless of language, race, or culture. We are our brother’s keeper in this shrinking world. We are all connected. The core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of peace and justice. Thus, racism, sexism, poverty, and war are all serious issues. The Church makes some pretty clear statements about these issues.
So let me return to the theme of this week. Immigration. The Life and dignity of the human person and the theme of solidarity converge on this issue fairly clearly. The bishops of this nation, in accord with the teachings of the Holy Father, have spoken clearly about immigration reform for the sake of the immigrants who are among us.
And yet, we Catholics in the parishes and the pews are very divided about this issue. Consider. There are 65 million people in the United States who call them Catholic. If we understood the social teaching of the Catholic Church and were united with our bishops on these issues, do you think we would make a difference? You bet we would. Our problem is that we identify too much with Republicans or with Democrats and not nearly enough with the Kingdom of God.
The Roman Catholic Church is a sleeping giant in this nation. I would love to see it wake up and find its moral voice. Our current laws allow human life to be ripped from the womb. We need an epiphany. Our current laws actually encourage a permanent underclass because of our terrible immigration laws. Families are divided. I witness these things first hand. We need an epiphany.
The fact of the matter is this. Our Lord Jesus Christ was nearly murdered as an infant. Thus he shows solidarity with infants and children. Our Lord Jesus Christ was a refugee and immigrant. Thus he shows solidarity with refugees and immigrants. Our Lord Jesus Christ was executed by the state. Thus he shows solidarity and compassion for lawbreakers and evildoers who are executed.
He comes to save us all and to gather us into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Let us do him homage.