Tuesday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It is always interesting to me how clearly the unclean spirits know who Jesus is.  For them, Christ our God inspires fear and rebellion.  But even these unclean spirits, hearing his voice, begrudgingly obey.  Jesus teaches with authority, as the people standing by admit of him.  This is a teaching that cannot be ignored. Each person may hear it and respond differently, but they do respond.  Many hear his voice and follow.  Others turn away.

In these early days of Ordinary Time, we essentially have the continuation of the Epiphany event.  We continue to see Christ manifest in our midst, and continue to decide what to make of him.  Today we see him as one who teaches with authority and who has authority over even the unclean spirits within us.  Today he speaks to our sinfulness, to our brokenness, to our addictions, to our fallenness, to our procrastinations, to whatever debilitates us and saddens us and says “Quiet! Come out!”

This Epiphany of Christ as dispossessor of demons is an epiphany that does more than just heal us.  It is an epiphany that calls us out of darkness, one that insists we come out of our hiding and step into the light, so that the light of God’s love can shine in us and through us.

The Epiphany of the Lord

Today’s readings

See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples.

Barbara hated Christmas this year.  Every time she went into a department store, she had to get out as quickly as she could; taking with her a depression that fatigued her and permeated throughout the day.  The bright lights and the festive decorations were all reminders to her of the joy she should feel this time of year, but could not bring herself to actually experience.  Whenever she had a quiet moment to think, she would recall her father, who passed away last August.  Dad had been Christmas for the family.  His joy at this time of the year built up to frenzy on Christmas Eve, and rubbed off on everyone around him.  This was the first Christmas without him, and Barbara could not begin to have that Christmas spirit without Dad.  Last night, she talked to her son Bill from Syria, and was reassured that he was safe and that things were going well.  He had received her care package, and that made her feel a little better, but nothing could truly fill the emptiness.  She didn’t enjoy the family celebration with the kids and the gifts and all the rest.  Even in a festive gathering like that, she always found herself feeling so alone.

See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples.

Herod was a jealous and insecure man. His authority rested on the good will of the Roman government, and he was always on the lookout for those who would usurp his throne.  The truth was, his throne wasn’t all that big a deal to begin with. Jerusalem wasn’t that important in the grand Roman scheme of things, but well, it was his.  Three visitors from afar were bad enough to get him feeling uneasy, but when they came asking for the newborn king of the Jews, Herod was furious with jealousy.  He was indeed “greatly troubled” and all Jerusalem – at least all the nobility, the ones who mattered – were troubled with him.  He put into motion several schemes to defend his position.  He interrogated the visitors, he put the scribes and chief priests on the case, he even eventually had all the boys less than two years old murdered.  He turned out to be a rather pathetic and miserable king.

Both of these stories are indicative of anything but the Christmas spirit.  But, brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what’s out there.  I am sure several of you here today resonated with Barbara’s story.  And if you didn’t, you probably know someone who would.  The joy of Christmas is lost on those who have suffered the death of loved ones, or are afflicted with depression, or put up with abuse, or don’t have enough money, or have just received a bad diagnosis of illness, or any one of a thousand forms of thick dark clouds that affect us.  It’s easy for people to identify with Isaiah’s observation of darkness and despair.  And if that’s where you find yourself these Christmas days, then the joy of everyone around you only adds to the misery and sadness that you feel.

I remember a time years ago, shortly after my grandmother had died.  We were always very close, and I used to call her every week when I was in college.  She supported me and prayed for me, and in truth is a big part of why I’m a priest today.  Shortly before Christmas the year she died, I went into one of the little shops in Glen Ellyn where I lived – I don’t even remember what I was looking for.  The store was all decorated with warm holiday home decorations and just screamed Christmas from every part of the store.  After being in there for only a minute or two, I was overcome by a sense of sadness and depression that surprised me.  It just came out of nowhere.  I had to leave right away, and when I got home I think I cried for ten minutes.  I wasn’t ready for Christmas, and didn’t want it forced on me.

To those of us who have had to deal with this kind of feeling, or perhaps are still dealing with it, Isaiah’s words today provide the best comfort we can hope for:

but upon you the LORD shines,
and over you appears his glory.

Out of the darkness that sometimes permeates our lives and our world, God’s light appears.  Maybe this doesn’t seem like much comfort to those who are suffering in darkness, but here is what we need to hear: God created light out of nothing at all.  The universe was awash in darkness and chaos, but out of that, God brought order and light and everything that exists.  Every light that we see: stars, moon, sun, love, grace, forgiveness, and all the rest; all of these have been created by God and are ways that the Lord shines upon us.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany.  An epiphany is a divine revelation into the world of humanity.  It’s God doing a God-thing.  An epiphany is when God breaks through all the mundaneness of our human condition and destroys the limitations of our fallen world and makes his presence known among us.  On this feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, we celebrate our Lord revealing his light to those of us who spend a lot of time observing the darkness.

Wherever you may find yourself on the darkness spectrum right now, the Epiphany of the Lord can be your redemption.  Indeed, the Epiphany celebrates that the light that God brings in his Epiphany is a radical transformation.  It’s not the paltry comfort of a pat on the back and a “there-there.”  It’s not the relatively small comfort of the resolution of all your problems.  It’s instead the great opulence of brightly-shining gold and the rich fragrance of the most precious incense.  Isaiah says it will be like this:

Then you shall be radiant at what you see,
your heart shall throb and overflow,
for the riches of the sea will be emptied out before you,
the wealth of the nations shall be brought to you.

In the darkness of the created world two millennia ago, magi from the east observed a star rising in the eastern sky.  That bright star guided them to the place where they found the newborn king of the Jews. The brightness of that star was nothing compared to the brightness that came into the world with that tiny Child.  In Him, God revealed himself as a loving, compassionate God who does not just observe his creation from afar, but rather breaks into our world, takes on our human condition, and redeems us from the inside out.  The Epiphany takes hold of the world in the glory of the Incarnation, and that Incarnation reaches its fulfillment in the Paschal Mystery.  Christ comes to take on our human form, wipe away our sins, and bring us back to the glory of God for which we were created.  The Epiphany is a radical transformation of our world and our lives – for the better.

May this new year find us watching for our rising star, and finding light for our darkness in Jesus Christ, the light of the world.  May we all find God’s Epiphany in every place we look.

Saturday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In today’s Gospel, we have the continued Epiphany of Jesus manifested as one who identifies with sinners.  That is not, of course, to say that he was a sinner; quite the contrary, because we know that Jesus was like us in all things but sin.  But today we see that he is certainly concerned with calling sinners to the Kingdom, and concerned enough that he will be known to be in their company.  He eats with them, talks with them, walks with them.

This of course, riles the Pharisees.  And, to be fair, for good reason; Jewish law taught that sinners were to be shunned; they were cast out of the community.  But Jesus has come to say that he hates the sin but loves the sinner; that nothing in us is beyond the power of God to redeem.  Nothing that we have done can put us so far away from God that we are beyond God’s reach.  And God does reach out to us, in tangible ways, in sacramental ways, in the person of Jesus and through the ministry of the Church.

Sin is a terrible thing.  It’s often cyclical.  Because not only does the judgment of the Pharisees – and others – make sinners feel unworthy; but also does the guilt that comes from inside the sinner.   The more one sins, the less worthy one often feels of God’s love, and so the more does that person turn away from God, and then they sin more, feel less worthy, turn away again, and so on, and so on, and so on.

But Jesus won’t have any of that – he has come to put an end to that cycle once and for all.  Jesus is the One who walks into the midst of sinners, sits down with them and has a meal.  He is the divine physician healing our souls, and those who do not sin do not need his ministry.  But we sinners do, so thanks be to God for the manifestation of Jesus as one who came to dine with sinners.

Tuesday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It is always interesting to me how clearly the unclean spirits know who Jesus is. For them, Christ our God inspires fear and rebellion. But even these unclean spirits, hearing his voice, begrudgingly obey. Jesus teaches with authority, as the people standing by admit of him. This is a teaching that cannot be ignored. Each person may hear it and respond differently, but they do respond. Many hear his voice and follow. Others turn away.

In these early days of Ordinary Time, we essentially have the continuation of the Epiphany event. We continue to see Christ manifest in our midst, and continue to decide what to make of him. Today we see him as one who teaches with authority and who has authority over even the unclean spirits within us. Today he speaks to our sinfulness, to our brokenness, to our addictions, to our fallenness, to our procrastinations, to whatever debilitates us and saddens us and says “Quiet! Come out!”

This Epiphany of Christ as dispossessor of demons is an epiphany that does more than just heal us. It is an epiphany that calls us out of darkness, one that insists we come out of our hiding and step into the light, so that the light of God’s love can shine in us and through us.

The Epiphany of the Lord 

Today’s readings

I’m going to make things pretty simple today. If someone asks you what my homily was about, you’ll be able to sum it up in just four words: “Walk toward the light.”

And that’s good advice, I think, for us who walk around in what can be a very dark world. Today’s first reading speaks of that darkness: “See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples…” We’re not talking about some kind of simple darkness that is cured by simply turning on a lamp. This darkness is pervasive, not just physical darkness, but a darkness that has psychological effects, and even affects communities and nations. When Isaiah speaks of the thick clouds covering the peoples, that’s what he means: “peoples” means nations. 

And we don’t need to look too much farther than the newspaper or evening news to see that darkness. The year ahead of us might seem rather foreboding. We don’t live far from the city of Chicago, which just experienced the most violent year in its history, which is really saying something. We also just finished a rather contentious and divisive election season. The wars raging in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Africa, all over the world really, those are dark places for combatants and non-combatants alike. Christians in other lands find their lives in danger every day. There’s plenty of darkness to go around, and it may not seem like there’s enough light in all the universe to make it better, to illuminate that darkness, to help us to break free of it all. 

There may be darkness in our own lives too. Maybe we have patterns of sin of which we cannot seem to break free, maybe there are family difficulties that cloud our day-to-day living, maybe there are old hurts among family or friends that prevent us from moving forward in grace. Even our own personal and spiritual lives can be such dark places at times. 

Today’s Liturgy acknowledges all the darkness and invites us: “Walk toward the light.” 

Because the light that we have to scatter all that darkness comes from God himself. Isaiah says again: “but upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears his glory.” A darkness as pervasive as the one that covers all peoples takes a very bright light to scatter it. Does this mean that all that darkness will go away immediately? Of course not. But it does mean that God has provided a way, lit up a path, for people of faith to take baby steps if necessary to walk toward that light. We see that light in the Church, through the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, in our celebration of the Eucharist, when we reach out to others in service, in our interaction with each other as people of faith. Those thick clouds may make it pretty hard to see at times, but ultimately they are no match for the bright light of the glory of the Lord. 

Isaiah goes on to point out that all that light isn’t intended just for us. When we have approached the light, we need to share that light with others. “Nations shall walk by your light,” Isaiah says, “and kings by your shining radiance.” Having received the light of the glory of the Lord, we are meant to spread it over our corner of the world. We are meant to radiate that light as a beacon in a dark place, so that all peoples – all those peoples that were covered by those thick clouds of darkness – can see their way to the Lord too. We spread that light by changing our lives. We spread it by being people of integrity. We spread it by doing everything we can to reinvigorate our spiritual and devotional lives. We spread the light by paying it forward, by giving of ourselves, by having concern for those in our lives and those the Lord puts in our lives. We spread the light by reaching out to those in need. 

And what is wonderful is that spreading the light never leaves us in the darkness. There is always more light to shine on us. Listen to Isaiah again:

Then you shall be radiant at what you see, 

your heart shall throb and overflow,

for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you,

the wealth of nations shall be brought to you.

The glory of the Lord is never diminished by shining on others. In fact, when we share that light with others, we only receive more, so that our hearts are throbbing and overflowing, beholding all the riches that we could ever hope to find. We may find a talent we never knew we had, one that can reach others for Christ. We may find a new energy that comes to a spiritual life that was previously rather listless. We may find new challenges, new opportunities, and always new grace. The riches and wealth of our God are never exhausted. 

All we have to do is walk toward the light. 

The word “epiphany” means “manifestation.” Today, and in the next couple of weeks, we will see Christ’s Lordship manifested in a few different ways. Each of these epiphanies will call us to a deeper appreciation of who Christ is in our lives and a deeper reflection on our own discipleship. 

The light that we walk toward today is very-likely life-changing. The Magi came to seek the light in today’s Gospel reading. All we get from Matthew is a description of the encounter. But we have no idea what the encounter did in the lives of those wise astrologers. We don’t know how it changed them, what it cost them, where it ultimately led them. We see that the light was not intended just for the Jews, but also for all of the nations, pagans and religious people alike. All could come to the light, all could be affected by the light, all could experience the true light of the world. 

And in just the same way, we have no idea how walking toward the light will affect us. We don’t know how it will change us, what it will cost us, where it ultimately will lead us. All we know is that, coming to the light, we will be changed, with the promise of grace upon grace. Just as the Magi were led to return by another way, we too might find ourselves taking another way in our lives. Epiphany is not the end of the story; it is just the beginning for us. What difference will what is manifested to us today make in our lives? Will we accept the one who not only lies in a manger as a newborn, but will also be rejected? Throughout this liturgical year we will hear Jesus’ preaching, observe his works, follow him to his death and then experience his resurrection. We will be exposed to the light many times and in many wonderful ways. It will be a year of many epiphanies for us. 

May this coming year find us walking toward the light countless times and in countless ways, and open to the many riches of grace that the Lord has in store for us. 

Thursday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today, Jesus manifests himself not just as one who came to do flashy deeds and heal the sick, but as one who does will that we would be made clean.  When Jesus performs a miracle, there’s always something deeper he’s getting at, always something more profound that he intends to reveal.  The healing of the leper reveals that Jesus is one who intends to heal us from the inside out.

“If you wish, you can make me clean.”  It’s kind of a weird statement, don’t you think?  On the face of it, it’s obviously true.  Jesus can do anything he wishes.  So it really seems to be a test of what it is that Jesus wishes to do.  And in the light of continuing Epiphany, Jesus reveals that he does, indeed, wish that the leper – and all of us too – would be made clean.  Notice that the leper doesn’t ask to be healed of his leprosy, although being made clean could certainly be construed to mean just that.  And Jesus doesn’t say, “I do will it, you’re healed.”  He says instead, “be made clean.”

I think Jesus intends for the leper, as he intends for all of us, that his sins would be forgiven, and that he would indeed be clean on the inside just as much as on the outside.  This may even have been the deepest desire of the poor leper’s heart, as it certainly should be for all of us.  To be made clean inside and out is certainly within the power of Jesus’ abilities, if he would just will it.  And today, we don’t have to tap dance around the issue or walk on eggshells to see if Jesus wills our complete healing.  We see that he certainly does, and for that Epiphany we should continue to rejoice.

Tuesday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It is always interesting to me how clearly the unclean spirits know who Jesus is. For them, Christ our God inspires fear and rebellion. But even these unclean spirits, hearing his voice, begrudgingly obey. Jesus teaches with authority, as the people standing by admit of him. This is a teaching that cannot be ignored. Each person may hear it and respond differently, but they do respond. Many hear his voice and follow. Others turn away.

In these early days of Ordinary Time, we essentially have the continuation of the Epiphany event. We continue to see Christ manifest in our midst, and continue to decide what to make of him. Today we see him as one who teaches with authority and who has authority over even the unclean spirits within us. Today he speaks to our sinfulness, to our brokenness, to our addictions, to our fallenness, to our procrastinations, to whatever debilitates us and saddens us and says “Quiet! Come out!”

This Epiphany of Christ as dispossessor of demons is an epiphany that does more than just heal us. It is an epiphany that calls us out of darkness, one that insists we come out of our hiding and step into the light, so that the light of God’s love can shine in us and through us.