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010817 Epiphany - Fr. Damian

There is a famous novel by Charles Dickens called A Tale of Two Cities about the French Revolution. This feast of the Epiphany could be called the “tale of three cities,” Bethlehem, Jerusalem and some city in the East whose name we do not know.

The identity of these strangers from the East is wrapped in mystery. We do not really know who they were, from where they came, or what happened to then later on although stories abound. We do know that in some mysterious city they saw a star and that star led them to Christ. We all have a city or a situation where we are addressed by God. Maybe after we have left that part of our life, we might denigrate it and be glad that we left there. But it was the place where we first saw the light. It is a place that was touched by God's grace in ways that we might never have anticipated. God gives light to every individual on the face of the earth. It is not the fullness of light and truth that we have in Jesus Christ, but it is a fragment, a flicker, of light that can enable that individual to find God.

In some distant city, far from Jerusalem, the magi saw a star that would lead them to Christ. Signs of God's presence are around us wherever we are. That is the teaching, the tale, of that first city.

The second city is Jerusalem, the center of Judaism. It is an odd detail in the Gospel reading that the inhabitants of Jerusalem were disturbed by the presence of these strangers. Jerusalem was a city to which many people came from all over the known world. What was disturbing about these strangers is that something extraordinary was happening to them. These magi were responding to a sign given them by God. They traveled through “field and fountain, moor and mountain” to follow that light. The people of Jerusalem chose not to move a yard.

We all can become very complacent about our faith. We take so much for granted and when we see the enthusiasm of even the most rudimentary believer, we are reminded of our self-satisfaction and may even become envious of their spiritual vitality. Many people are seeking something to anchor their life and are overjoyed when they find it. The Sacrifice of the Mass, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the guiding hand of Mary, the assurance of forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance, the teaching of Jesus proclaimed in the Gospels and in the Tradition of the Church are awesome gifts about which we may have grown lukewarm. God is very close to us but we have ceased to listen. We are often like the people of Jerusalem and it takes outsiders to help us appreciate the comfort and strength our Catholic faith can give.

The search for God, which so many people undertake, helps us appreciate the gift of faith we have been given. The amazing grace of faith is the teaching, the tale, of the second city of Jerusalem.

The third city is Bethlehem. At Bethlehem many people meet, Jew and Gentile, shepherd and king. Jesus is like the point on the interstate where various lanes merge and become one.

Christ can bring all people into one family. Jesus is the true unifier among us, our common Lord who is Brother to each of us. The last glimpse we have of Christmas is Bethlehem with the magi, the shepherds, Mary and Joseph all together around the Christ child. It is an image of what can always be in Christ. Jesus as our common bond is the teaching, the tale, of that third city of Bethlehem.

This moment of unity does not have to be only a memory. It is possible at each Eucharist and at each sign of peace. It is unfortunate today that what the Lord gave us to create and maintain our unity as disciples can sometimes become corrupted by controversy and division. Still, as often as we come together we can see once more that we are cane body, as St. Paul says, recipients of the same promise, followers of the same light, and agents of the same Christ.

The magi brought their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child in Bethlehem. We have a gift to bring from the Christ child in Bethlehem to our world. It is the promise and possibility of unity in Christ, the enduring chance to be family once again.

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