The Epiphany - The Homily


Shmuley Boteach has been called “the most famous Rabbi in America” by The Washington Post. He is an American Orthodox rabbi, author of 30 books, TV host and public speaker. His newest best-seller is called, “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” He writes about being Jewish:

Jews conceive of religion as challenging rather than calming, soul-searing rather than soothing.

Judaism demands that we fight our illicit passions, end hunger by giving up our hard-earned cash, refrain from gossip, no matter how good it feels. To be a Jew is to pray three times a day even when it bores you to death, to starve in cities where there is no kosher food, to go into the army to defend your tiny homeland even while American kids your age are partying in Cancun.

And for all that, what is your reward? To be hated by the other nations of the earth just for wanting to live.

So why do we do it?

For the simple opportunity to walk with God - like Abraham. To stand up to and be brave in the face of tyranny - like Moses. To (worship) and sing to God with harp and lyre - like David. These are privileges. They are not to be squandered simply because we don’t always feel all giddy inside.

Yes, we forlorn Jews have been saddled by a very exacting faith. It is a religion that demands the effacement of our egos and making God the center of our Universe, even if we are not always rewarded with a feeling of His benevolent presence and sometimes even feel positively abandoned by Him. It is a religion that guarantees no rewards other than the satisfaction of doing right because it is right.

Judaism’s rewards are far more subtle and don’t usually appeal to our inner narcissist. It says that the only true reward in life is being a conduit for the divine will.

Ok, that might all sound rather academic. Let me quote what Rabbi Boteach said about being married for 25 years:

A century is a large amount of time and any significant slice thereof is itself significant. A child of divorce whose parents’ marriage ended after 13 years can be forgiven at his own sense of astonishment that his marriage has, with God’s infinite blessing, reached the quarter century mark.

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Those who know us would congratulate me, but they would give all the credit to my wife Debbie. There are those women, stable and sturdy, capable of sharing their lives with wounded men and restoring them. There exists in this broken and hollow world - creatures of light who can give chase to the darkness in a shattered heart. They are human seraphs, the wings of whose healing glow can gently touch a man’s pain and make it vanish.

No doubt you have heard the statement that the “Jews are the chosen people of God.” Most Jewish texts do not state that “God chose the Jews” by itself. Crucial to the Jewish notion of “chosen-ness” is that it is usually linked with a mission or purpose and that it creates obligations exclusive to Jews, while non-Jews receive from God other covenants and thus other responsibilities.

On the Feast of the Epiphany, we read from the First Reading, Isaiah/60:1-6 that “Although darkness covered the earth, light and glory came to Jerusalem.” On a micro-level, are you aware of God’s light and glory in your life?

Arriving in Jerusalem, the magi ask the critical question: “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?” Why did kings from 3 foreign nations go to Jerusalem? It was the “Holy City.” Surely “The Light” would be there. But when they realized it wasn’t, they left - seeking out the place where “The Light” resided. On a macro-level, what do you think draws people to the Church today? What do you think draws people to St. Monica today? Is “The Light” here or are they going elsewhere to find it? Or is it possible - that is the wrong question? Is it possible that, like the rabbi’s wife Debbie, that we should not wait for people to come to St. Monica hoping that “The Light” resides here. Maybe we need to be asking where we must go - to bring “The Light” to others in the darkness “out there.”

Jesuit priest, Father Dennis Hamm, S.J. writes that,

Today’s reading echoes the songs of Second Isaiah, who envisioned Servant Israel with a mission as a “light to the nations.” Matthew’s account of the Magi worshiping the child Jesus reflects the early Catholic Church’s conviction that Christ’s coming began to fulfill that vision of Isaiah. When the authors of Vatican II chose the phrase Lumen Gentium to name the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, they meant to remind us that the vision of the People of God as a “light for the nations” still beckons.

But how do we do this practically speaking? The Magi used several tools to find Christ.

  • Astrology,
  • History,
  • Chronology,
  • Geography,
  • Theology,
  • Diplomacy,

Pope Francis says that,

Every person has two great ‘books’ which provide the signs to guide this pilgrimage on earth. These “books,” are “the book of our created humanity - and the book of Sacred Scripture.”

The star appearing in the sky to the Magi kindled - in their minds - and in their hearts - a light that moved them to seek the great Light of Christ.

Today we’re in Chapter 3 in the 366 chapter book called 2016. The Catholic Church, and St. Monica as a part of it, is also part of the “New Jerusalem.” That means that God made a deal with us, and that deal makes demands on us. Like God’s chosen people, we need to search for “The Light” and find our own mission as well.

In searching, we naturally tend to rely on logic when setting a direction for our lives, for example, when choosing a spouse, a profession, a neighborhood, or a school. Perfectly fine, perfectly reasonable, perfectly correct. The Magi did This. But from the Magi we learn that

life-directing choices must also be guided by unexpected in-breakings of wisdom that come from sudden light, the expected wise counsel of others, from inspiration, insight and dreams. (From Living Liturgy: Spirituality, Celebration, and Catechesis for Sundays and Solemnities Year C - 2013. Joyce Ann Zimmerman, CPPS; Kathleen Harmon, SND de N; Christopher W. Conlon, SM)

Alaska. Denali NP. Alaska Range. Rainbow above Muldrow Glacier.

In 2016:

  • How will you know where to find “The Light?”
  • How will you know when you have found it?
  • What do you do once you find yourself in Bethlehem face-to-face with a Christ that you did not expect?


Audio version of the homily is here:


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