Epiphany – Called to the Faith
“We have seen His star in the East, and are come to adore Him.”-Matt. ii. 2.
This is a blessed and memorable day for us, my dear brethren, on which the mercy of the Redeemer called us in the person of the Magi, from the darkness of unbelief, to the knowledge of the true faith. The Magi came at dawn of day to worship and to acknowledge the Messiah in our name, as their God and Redeemer. Yes, my brethren, they are our forefathers, and our models in the faith. Happy are we, if we imitate them faithfully, and follow in their footsteps. The holy Pope Leo calls out in an ecstasy of love and gratitude: “O angels of the heavenly city, lend me your glowing love, to thank Almighty God for being called to Christianity and eternal salvation.” “Let us, my brethren,” says this great saint, “celebrate joyfully the beginning of our blessed hopes. But let us be faithful to our calling, after the example of the Magi: otherwise we should have great cause to fear, that God might chastise us as He did the Jews, who were His chosen people. From the time of Abraham until His coming, He led them by the hand, and showed Himself everywhere their protector and liberator; and thereafter He rejected them, and thrust them from Him, because they despised His graces.” Yes, my brethren, this precious gift of faith will be taken from us, and given to others, if we do not make a practical use of it. Now, my brethren, do we wish to keep this precious legacy in our midst? Let us follow faithfully in the footsteps of our fathers in the faith.
So as to obtain a feeble idea of the magnitude of the grace of our call to Christianity, we have only to consider what the coming of the Messiah was to our forefathers. He was their God, their Saviour, their Light, their Hope.
As soon as they became aware of the appearance of the star, they at once, without asking any questions, made preparations to seek out their Redeemer. So powerfully did they feel impelled, so ardent was their desire to arrive at the place towards which they were attracted by the star, and towards which grace called them, that they did not delay a moment. Ah, my brethren, how very far indeed are we from imitating them! For how many years has God been calling to us by His grace, by inspiring us with the thought of renouncing our sins, and of making our peace with Him? But we are still deaf and stiff-necked. Oh, when will that blessed day come, on which we shall do as the Wise men did, and leaving everything give ourselves to God?
Secondly, I say, my brethren, that their faithfulness to their calling was strong; they overcame every difficulty and hindrance which stood in their way, so as to follow the star. And what sacrifices they had to make! They had to leave their country, their palaces, their families and their kingdom, or in other words, they had to leave everything which was most dear to them in this world. To part from them, they underwent the fatigues of a long and troublesome journey, and all this of a very cold season of the year: everything seemed to stand in the way of their undertaking. How much ridicule did they not have to put up with from their equals, and even from the people? But no! Nothing daunts them from undertaking this important journey. You see here plainly, my brethren, that the merit of the true faith consists in this, that we sacrifice all that which we love best, to obey the voice of grace which calls to us. Ah, my brethren, if we were called upon to make the same sacrifices as the Wise men did, to win heaven, how small would be the number of the elect! But no, my brethren, if we only do as much for eternal as we do for temporal affairs, we shall be sure to gain heaven. Look at the miser, how he labors day and night to gain money, and to hoard it up. Look at him who is addicted to drink: he works hard the whole week, and then spends his earnings on Saturday night in the saloon. Look at those young people on pleasure bent! Distance is no object to them in the pursuit of pleasures which they find to their cost are mixed with much bitterness. Now, in all these things, you can see for yourself, many sacrifices are required; but nothing hinders them and they all reach their goal: some by deception, others by cunning.
But, my dear brethren, how do we act, when it is a question of our eternal salvation? Almost every thing seems impracticable to us. We must admit, my dear brethren, that we are in a condition of lamentable blindness, because all our actions are performed for this miserable world, and we are not willing to undertake anything for our eternal salvation.
Thirdly, my brethren, let us consider what degree the persistence of the Wise men attained. On their arrival at Jerusalem, the star which had guided them on the journey, disappeared. They imagined without doubt that they had reached the place where our Saviour was born, and they thought that the whole of Jerusalem was beside itself with joy at the birth of its Redeemer. What astonishment, how surprised they were, my dear brethren. Jerusalem not only exhibits no signs of joy whatever, but it does not even know its Redeemer is born at all. The Jews are so surprised to see how the Wise men came to worship the Messiah, that the Wise men wondered why such an event was announced to them at all. How little hope these circumstances afforded their faith! Was it not rather calculated to deter them from their journey, and to cause them to return home secretly, for fear that they might become the laughing stock of all Jerusalem? Ah, my brethren, the greater number of us would have done this, if our faith had been so severely tried. It was not without a meaning that the star disappeared: it happened so that the Jews, who kept their eyes shut from such an event, might be called back to the faith; it was left to strangers to show them their blindness.
But all this only served to strengthen their resolution, instead of causing them to waver in it. Will the three holy kings allow themselves to be frightened after the brilliancy of that light has vanished? Will they, my brethren, give up? O no! We should; undoubtedly much less would dishearten us. They betake themselves elsewhere: they take refuge with the theologians, for they knew that the prophecies which designated the place and the time of the Messiah’s birth were in the custody of these theologians. Fearlessly they enter Herod’s palace, and ask him where the new-born king of the Jews is, and they explain to him without fear that they have come to adore Him. Although the king was offended at this speech, he was unable to prevent them from undertaking this significant journey; they wanted to find their God at any cost. What courage, my brethren, what steadfastness! O my brethren, how different is it with us, who are afraid of the least ridicule? The thought of “what will the world say” prevents us from fulfilling our religious duties, and from frequently receiving the Sacraments. How often have we not been ashamed to make the sign of the cross, before and after meals? How often has not the fear of men caused us to dispense with the days of fasting and abstinence, for fear of being observed, and taken for a good Christian? What a contrast, my brethren! O what confusion will be ours, if the Redeemer on the Day of judgment compares our behavior with that of the Wise men, our forefathers in the faith, who would sooner forsake and sacrifice all things, than to resist the voice of grace, which called them.
Let us see how great was their constancy. The theologians told them the prophecies announced that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, and that the time had came. They no sooner received this answer, than they set out for that town. Might they not expect that it would happen to them, as it had happened to the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, namely, that the crowd of people would be so great that they would find no room? Could they possibly doubt but that the Jews who had waited four thousand years for the coming of the Messiah, would hasten in great multitudes to prostrate themselves before the crib and acknowledge Him as their Redeemer and their God? But no, my brethren; no one stirred; they were living in darkness, and they remained in it. A true picture of the sinner, who continually hears the voice of God, calling him by the voice of his shepherds, that he must renounce his sins, and be converted, instead of which he only plunges deeper into sin, and becomes more and more hardened.
But let us return to the three holy kings, my brethren. They set forth alone from Jerusalem. How prompt they are! O what faith! Will God let this go unrewarded? No, certainly not. Almost immediately on leaving the city, that same light, the wonderful star preceded them, and seemed to take them by the hand so as to conduct them to that poor dwelling place of poverty and want. It stood still as if to say: Here is He whose presence is sought by you. Here is the expected One. Approach and behold Him. It is He who was conceived from eternity, and who is just born. He has taken a human body, which He will sacrifice, to save His people. Do not let the marks of poverty make you shrink back. He is bound in swaddling clothes; but He is that One who hurls the lightning from the heights of heaven. His look makes hell to tremble, because they behold in Him the avenger. These holy kings feel at this moment their hearts burning with love within them, they throw themselves at their Redeemer’s feet, and moisten the straw with their tears. What a sight for kings to behold! An infant lying between two lowly animals, in a manger, and they acknowledge Him to be their God, and Redeemer. O what a precious thing is faith! Instead of being startled at the aspect of poverty, it touched and edified them. Their eyes never tired of gazing on the Redeemer of the world, the king of heaven and earth, the Lord of all things, in this condition. The astonishment which filled their hearts was so overpowering, that they gave to God all that they had, all that they could give Him. At this moment they consecrated themselves to God, for they no longer desired to be masters of their own person. Not contented with this gift, they offered Him their entire kingdom. According to Oriental custom, which presents gifts to great princes, they brought Jesus the richest products of their country, as an offering; namely, gold, frankincense and myrrh, and through these gifts they gave expression to their idea of the Redeemer by recognizing His Divinity, His boundless dominion, and His humanity. His divinity by the frankincense, which belongs to God alone; His humanity by the myrrh, which is used for the embalming of bodies; and His sovereignty by the gold, which was the ordinary tribute paid to a sovereign. But the feelings which filled their hearts were expressed far more by their offering: their glowing love was revealed by the gold, which is a symbol of love; their tender devotion was prefigured by the frankincense; the oblation which they gave to God of their mortified hearts was represented by the myrrh. How we must admire the virtuousness of these three Oriental kings, my brethren! God, who knew the state of their hearts, must have said, as He did say in the course of time, that He had not found such ardent faith in all Israel! In fact, the Jews had the Messiah in their midst, and they took no notice of Him; the Wise men, although far away, hastened to seek Him, and to acknowledge Him, as their God. The Jews treated Him afterwards as the greatest criminal that the earth had ever seen, and crucified Him at last, just at the time when He was giving irrefutable proofs of His divinity; whereas the Wise men, although they saw Him lying on straw, in the most poverty-stricken condition, prostrated themselves at His feet, worshipped Him, and acknowledged Him as their God and Redeemer. O, what a precious treasure is faith! If we were fortunate enough to appreciate this fact in the right way, what care should we not take to preserve it!
Whom shall we imitate, my brethren, the Jews, or the Wise men? What do we see in the greater number of Christians? Alas, a feeble and tepid faith; and how many are there who have not even the faith of the devil, who believes that there is a God, and who trembles in His presence! It is very easy to convince ourselves of this. See, my brethren, God dwells in our churches, where we talk, and look about us, where we do not perhaps even kneel down, when He shows us the highest degree of His love, namely, at Holy Communion, and at benediction. Do we believe that there is a God? O no, my brethren, or if we do believe it, it is only to offend Him. What use do we make, my brethren, of the precious gifts of our faith, and of the means of salvation which we find in the bosom of the Catholic Church? What connection is there between our manner of living and the sanctity of our religion? Can we say, my brethren, that our life corresponds with the precepts of the Gospel, with the example that Jesus Christ has given us? that is to say, do we love poverty, humiliations, and contempt? Do we prefer Christianity above all honors, and everything which this world possesses and desires? Do we entertain that respect, that longing, and that zeal to draw all the graces we can from the Sacraments, which our Lord so lavishly bestows upon us? Let us examine ourselves on this question, my brethren. Alas! how numerous and bitter are the reproaches which we must make to ourselves regarding these questions!
Ought we not, at the sight of so much unbelief and ingratitude to be seriously afraid, that Jesus Christ might take from us the precious gift of faith, as He did from the Jews, and plant it in another nation, where a better use will be made of it? Why did the Jews cease to be God’s people? Was it not because they misused His graces? Take care, St. Paul exhorts us, that if you do not remain steadfast in the faith, you will be rejected and cast away like the Jews.
Imitate therefore the Wise men. If you hear the word of God, listen immediately; be strong in your faith in spite of difficulties, and never allow it to waver, but preserve it constantly; so that you, with the Wise men, will have the grace of beholding your God face to face in the hereafter-a blessing which I wish you all. Amen.