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Bishop's Homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

January 8, 2023

[Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Honokaa]

Today, throughout our diocese, we are asking all the parishes to begin a seven-week series of instructions on the Holy Eucharist.  This is part of our participation in the National Eucharistic Revival initiated by the U.S. bishops, so that we can better appreciate the incredible gift of God-with-us, Emmanuel, that we receive in the Eucharist.  It is the continuing real presence of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, so that he can form a body for himself and continue his healing and saving work among us.

One of the greatest temptations of our faith is to think that the Gospels are only about the past, and that they recall events that took place long ago and far away.  In fact, the Word of God is living and active, and what we hear in the Gospels is as much about the present as it is about the past.

In the past, there was a people specially chosen by God to be the instrument through whom he would reveal himself.  God had a special relationship with them, a covenant of love, and he showed his love in amazing ways.  He allowed them to pass over from slavery in Egypt to freedom.  He promised them a land flowing with milk and honey and cleared the land of others who had claim to it by being their greatest military weapon.  He chose this people of Israel, not really because he loved them more than any of the other children he had created, but because he wanted them to be his special messengers, to whom he would reveal the way to eternal happiness.  It was to this chosen people that God sent his only begotten Son, the eternal Word of God, who was born of a virgin and took on our human nature.

Today we hear of foreigners, Gentiles, those who had not grown up hearing the stories of the extraordinary revelations God had made through his people Israel.  Yet they, too, were enlightened by a star to seek out this newborn King of the Jews, to bow down in worship before him, and to offer their gifts.  There was opposition to this newborn King from the very beginning, and these wise men became aware of that opposition and returned to their homes without feeding it.  They left their gifts in Bethlehem, but they received a far greater gift that they would take home with them, an encounter with the one who was both God and human, and I am sure they told of him to all they met.

But that was then.  What is the reality now?  God still chooses a special people, we who are followers of Jesus in the Catholic Church, not because he loves us more than any others, but because he wants us to experience his living presence with us so that we can be messengers of his love to those who do not yet know him.  He sent us Jesus, the perfect union of heaven and earth, of divine and human, to be the way that leads to our eternal home.  Yes, Jesus died, but he rose from the dead and is still alive.  Yes, he ascended into heaven, and so is beyond our sight, but he is the living bread come down from heaven.  The same Holy Spirit who performed the miracle of enabling a virgin to bear a child performs a miracle today by changing bread and wine into the very Body and Blood of Christ.  The Jesus the Magi went to adore in Bethlehem, a name that means “house of bread,” is the very same Jesus who is physically present to us here in the Eucharist.  Yes, we still need to be led to Jesus by stars, but now those stars are our parents or grandparents who shine light upon Jesus by sharing their faith with us; or friends and family who care enough about us to lead us to taste and see the goodness of the Lord.  We are all called to be such stars for others, so that the many who only see the Mass as a religious ritual that one can take or leave, may see it as a physical encounter with the risen Jesus himself, so that they may then go to their homes changed by his presence and this wonderful encounter with him.

In the past, the Magi presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Today we offer our gold, or the bread that we take out of our pockets and purses, so that the work of Jesus can continue in the Church, sharing the faith through preaching and catechesis, feeding the hungry through our outreach and social service programs, and providing beautiful venues for our encounters with Jesus.  We offer frankincense when we raise our voices in prayer and praise to God, enthroning God with that fragrant offering of praise.  We offer myrrh, that “bitter perfume that breathes a life of gathering gloom,” so that even our trials and sufferings for the name of Jesus can be sanctified and sanctify the world.  It is our joyful proclamation that even the crosses in life can be borne with hope and love, because we participate in the life of the Lamb who once was slain but who lives now forever.

The Magi made a journey, guided by a star, and offered precious gifts to the One who would forever be the greatest gift they had ever received.  We, too, must make a journey, setting out from our homes and our comforts, sometimes encountering dangers and challenges along the way, and offering our gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh; but our reward is greater than any gift we could possibly offer.  It is a physical, intimate, and holy communion with God himself, our Savior, Brother and Lord, Jesus Christ!  And it is his light within us that will shine for others that they, too, can make this journey to this house of bread to come and adore him.