Epiphany – Homily (Fr. Smith)

One of the many inequities which has surfaced during the year of Covid is the difficulties of receiving good health care in rural areas. It is hard to get Doctors in general and public health officials in particular to live and work in the countryside. It was then very surprising to see that some rural doctors were being harassed to the point of having to hire guards or to leave these areas for insisting on the value of wearing masks during the pandemic. They were told that they were impinging on people’s freedom and were insufficiently American. The result, as should come as no surprise is that Covid 19 cases have skyrocketed in these counties and the means distributing the antivirus has been compromised. We as Catholics see this as an example of the inescapability the common good: we are made to work for each other’s benefit and when we do not all lose.

Another key aspect of Catholic Social teaching is the importance of “fraternity or solidarity”. Pope Francis’ encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” and his recent book “Let us Dream” show us very powerfully that everyone is important, and no one can be discarded. We have seen this clearly this year when people who may have been previously invisible – people who picked up our trash or brought the mail, those who delivered our food or kept supermarkets open – have been deemed essential workers in ways which people in more prestigious jobs have not.  

We could indeed review all the elements of Catholic Social teaching and discover that every one of them has been proven an accurate description of reality. The more they are accepted the better the society runs. When they are not, we have chaos. Yet just to look at these two examples it is interesting that although we have seen the results of reducing freedom to mere individual choice there has been little vision or will to change? 

Why? 

When urging us to accept Catholic Social Teachings most writers including the Pope have used the parable of Good Samaritan. I would like to use our gospel today instead. It speaks to me more powerfully than any other. 

The Magi were good people. They were not followers of the LORD, but they were people of exceedingly good will. They were moved to see that there was something more than what they held to be true. This is not uncommon, but they actually did something about it, they got up and moved. This movement led them to the God of Israel. With all their good will they could not find the object of their desire without the Scriptures of the Jews. Even though those in whose custody the Bible was held remained unaware of their power and were unworthy of their beauty the scribes and pharisees were able to show the Magi where to go. They found Jesus and on entering the house in Bethlehem” they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.” The journey of their hearts was fulfilled in worship. 

This story has been found so powerful for so long because it speaks for and to all of us. It has been well said that “You have made us Lord and our hearts will be restless until they rest in you” (The Confessions, St Augustine). How do we find this rest? 

It begins with dis-ease: discomfort. Many of our certainties were destroyed in the pandemic and watching the life of George Floyd extinguished live and in exhausting detail forced many people to recognize that something is seriously wrong. It caused a restlessness which moved some people to ask new and tough questions and a few to seek to do something about it. A very few were like the magi and willing to leave their comfort behind to seek the truth. Where could they go?

The Christan church in general lost much credibility in the culture wars and few people looked at the Bible for guidance. Also, much worship has become the exhortation of self and is too weakened to motivate anyone to do much of anything. But I will ask us as Catholic Christians, “Did we go to the scriptures and through them to worship?”

The key to Catholic Social teaching is that everyone has an inerasable dignity by being a child of God. This extends from the unborn child in the womb, however inconvenient, to the most incorrigible criminal on death row, however vile. This dignity is a gift from God and one we cannot take away. Indeed, when we begin to exclude people receiving dignity it is only a matter of time and taste where this exclusion stops. It most often stops with people who don’t look like us.

The Maji prostrated themselves before Jesus and worshiped him, God does not need our worship, worship is a gift from him. In the process of worship, we keep our minds and hearts focused on God and beyond ourselves. It is not our own needs that are paramount but the wishes of the LORD. Following them can only do us good as individuals and as a community.   

This is particularly true for Catholics. Our belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is the heart of our relationship with God. In the Eucharist we form a covenant with God but also with our brothers and sisters: all humanity. We do not pray the “My Father’ or “His Father” but the “Our Father. When we say Amen at communion, we proclaim not only that I believe that this is truly Jesus but that I believe that you are my brother or sister as is everyone who needs me to wear a mask or assist them in obtaining health care. 

Other people even members of other religions have wiggle room but if we believe that what we consume is more than a piece of bread and that the Eucharist intimately connects us to each other then we do not. If I believe in the real presence, then I must believe in the dignity of every individual and act accordingly. The eucharist makes us prophets despite ourselves.  

The Magi worshiped by bowing down their bodies to Jesus; let us worship by lifting up the needy for Jesus.