The Feast of the Epiphany
We have seen His star, and are come to adore Him.”–Matt, ii, 2.
The festival of the Epiphany, also called the Feast of the Holy Three Kings, is one of the most ancient feasts of the Church of God; and from the very earliest ages was celebrated with special rejoicing by the children of the Catholic Church. We find the cause for this in the fact that this feast is associated with the remembrance of the greatest graces in which the faithful in every nation of the earth rejoice,–namely, their call to the only saving faith, the holy Catholic Church.
We learn from sacred history, that in the early days of Christianity this feast was celebrated with greater solemnity even than Christmas, the birthday of our Lord himself; for as the Church exclaims in her joy on Holy Saturday: “Of what use would it be for us to be born if we had not been made partakers of the benefits of redemption?” So might we cry out: “Of what use to us would it be to possess all the goods and pleasures of the world, if the grace of being called to the true faith had not been granted to us through the mercy of God?”
The three kings with their attendants, prostrate at the feet of the Infant Jesus, were the firstlings of the heathens who acknowledged Jesus, and entered His Church. As we reflect upon the great happiness vouchsafed to them, the question forces itself upon us: “Why do not all nations likewise enjoy a participation in their happiness?” My answer is: “Because they do not look upward with the same love of truth to the star of the Magi;” and this, as I understand it, I will explain today.
O Mary, Queen of heaven and earth, Mother of the King of kings, obtain for us, from your divine Son, hearts deeply penetrated with the love of truth! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater glory of God!
Christ, before whom the three Magi knelt, calls himself the King of Truth. He calls His kingdom, the Church, a kingdom of truth; consequently, whosoever will enter His kingdom, and find therein salvation must love truth and seek it; then he will find it, follow it, and through its influence attain salvation. It was thus that the hearts of the Magi were disposed; therefore they learned to know Jesus and the truth contained in His Church, to live in her spirit, propagate the kingdom of Christ, and at last to enter the realm of His glory.
They saw the star, knew its signification, and followed it. Why? They loved truth. Had not this been the case, the annunciation of the birth of our Saviour through the star would not have excited so much interest in them. Had they not loved truth more than the goods and pleasures of this world, which, as crowned heads, they possessed in abundance, they would not have undertaken, at the cost of so much self-sacrifice, to seek for Christ. But they were more interested in obtaining the truth of salvation, in beholding the coming Teacher of nations, in learning to honor and adore Him, than in all the treasures of the world. Their resolution to search for Him was sublimely heroic.
If their eagerness for knowledge of heavenly things had not existed to so great a degree in their hearts, they might have thought within themselves: “It is well that He is born; He will surely arrange to come to us to teach us, or He will send some one else in His place. Besides, He is still a child, and can not converse with us, wherefore, then, should we undertake a journey connected with so many difficulties, and, perhaps, expose ourselves to the derision and mockery of the people of Jerusalem, to whom, it may be, the star did not appear?” All these circumstances, however, were of no weight with the three Magi, in whom eager desire and ardent love overpowered all other considerations, and they entered upon their journey.
The three sages searched for truth with assiduity and fearlessness. “Where is He who is to be born the King of the Jews?” Thus they inquired, full of confidence that their search would be rewarded, let the population of Jerusalem think what they would; let them mock and ridicule; did they but know the name of the place where the Messiah was to be born, according to the declaration of the prophets, they would find the way thereto, even if they could gain no companions for the journey, which it would seem was eventually the case, as they left Jerusalem alone. The star again appeared, and remained over the place wherein Mary abode with the child. They fall down before the divine Infant, and oh! with what joyful sentiments of adoration, love, and gratitude do they offer Him their homage! But, on the other hand, how graciously did the new-born babe bless them, and replenish their hearts with the power and unction of His grace; how did it strengthen them in their resolution to follow His inspirations, to live and die for Him, and to spread His kingdom among their people all over the earth!
The three Magi searched for the truth, found it, and returned, obedient to the admonition of an angel, by another road to their respective homes, thus to escape the snares of Herod, and to fulfill the will of God. It was thus, that these first fruits of faith in countries over which the dark cloud of heathenism still rested, gave the example unto all the children of men, how to know Christ and to enter heaven. And what is the reason that, up to this time, this was not done in such a manner as the mercy of God intended, for the evils of all mankind?
I answer by the assertion that love for truth is, in general, rare among men. They love darkness better than light,–delusion, which flatters them, more than the truth, which points to the exercise of duty, which teaches the spirit of Christian self-denial, which inspires contempt of human consideration, united with that fidelity which assures for us perseverance unto the end.
The gospel for today affirms that Herod, and with him all Jerusalem, was terrified at the message of the three Magi, that the Saviour, the King and Deliverer of the human race, was born. Herod was afraid, and trembled lest he should lose his throne. The scribes and Pharisees also, those whitened sepulchers of evil, as Christ called them, instead of rejoicing, were filled with alarm; for they felt, and truly, that the promised Messiah would penetrate their interior, and censure their hypocrisy and malice.
The people principally imitate those who have the power to govern or command them, and generally yield to the stronger will of men whose knowledge is superior to their own. They also felt disappointed, because they expected an earthly Messiah, who would elevate them to be the mightiest nation in the world, and endow them with all temporal advantages, riches, and pleasures. Yet now they hear He has entered this world without His advent being perceived, and, whilst the scribes remain in entire ignorance of His birth, men in the East are said to have seen His star, which nevertheless was not beheld by a single person in Jerusalem.
Love for truth was lacking in those who thus expressed themselves, and, therefore, they remained incredulous and indifferent, and did not even trouble themselves so far as to guide or direct the Magi to the vicinity of Bethlehem; nay, they probably regarded them as visionaries and dreamers. Behold here, as in a mirror, the character of the infidel, especially of those who, with premeditation, become infidels,–who, although born of Catholic parents, and brought up in the Church of God, later on, play the infidel, and pretend to waver in faith.
Such do not love truth, but the desire of their hearts is to find out what might make them rich and happy in this world. As regards their duties towards God–that is, with respect to religion–the generality of men are satisfied to live and die in that belief in which they were born, and do not inquire whether their religion is really the true religion.
Yes, a great portion, particularly of the so-called learned men, are afraid to recognize the truth, that they may not feel urged to confess and live according to its precepts. And, since they know that the word of truth condemns their sinful actions, and threatens them with terrible chastisements from God, they hate it, and wish that they could totally extirpate the kingdom of Christ on earth. If they, at times, arrive at the conviction that all their endeavors in this regard are Fruitless,–and if, at certain times, the voice of conscience whispers loudly that the threatenings of the Lord might one day be verified in them on account of their infidelity, then, in secret, like Herod, they tremble, and a fear, which for the time can not be stilled, fastens upon their souls.
Certainly they endeavor to appear, with all this, entirely different from what they are, and, therefore, become hypocrites, as Herod was. They assume the appearance of respecting God and His commands, Christ and His doctrines, but their actions do not correspond with their demeanor, for they persecute the Church with the direct intention to destroy her. Thereat they are filled with the suspicion which terrified the heart of Herod, that the Church would be dangerous to their plans. This is especially the case with rulers of the present day and with infidel politicians, although the experiences of the nineteenth century should long ago have opened their eyes, and forced them to see that the Holy Church not alone in spiritual, but in temporal affairs, exercises a most beneficial influence upon the state. They think to conquer by their cunning, just as Herod thought, but God’s providence brings them to disgrace. I point especially to one propensity in the character of Herod, a fit type of this worthy class. He became a tyrant, and committed infanticide.
This also resembles, especially in our days, the conduct of the enemies of the truths of faith. Such men, if they succeed in grasping the reins of government, proceed to persecution, and as they are endowed with an evil prudence, they recognize that nothing can promote their ideas better than to pervert the Catholic youth to their dangerous ideas, and seek to destroy in their hearts the life of holy faith. Therefore their solicitude to impede the influence of the Church in the education of youth, with which that infanticide, of which Herod was guilty, is not to be compared.
Herod benefited the souls of the Holy Innocents against their will, whilst the Herods in our days corrupt the youth and destroy their souls. What crime! Therefore, children of the Church, thank God for your call to the only true Church–to the holy faith! Like the Magi, love the truth with all sincerity of heart. This disposition of heart is a pledge of victory over Lucifer, the “liar from the beginning.” Hold every-where and always to this maxim of life: ” Defend truth, and it will defend you and save you through Jesus Christ, the incarnate truth.”–Amen!
hey offered Him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”–Matt, ii, 11.
After the three Magi had first knelt in adoration and paid their homage to the new-born King of kings, they opened their treasures; and, according to Holy Writ, offered Him the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
At the annual recurrence of this feast, beloved in Christ, the meditation upon its mystery points to three circumstances which principally and powerfully attract our attention, namely: the star, the Infant (to whom it led), the three Magi, and the nature of their offering. Each of these three circumstances has its deep significance; and this year we shall especially consider the gifts of the three Magi, and the nature of their offering.
This consideration, beyond doubt, deserves a particular place, since the feast itself signifies the call of all nations to the Church of Christ. This call, which is most intimately connected with the salvation of our souls, pre-supposes that we have not only the happiness of being exteriorly called to the true Church of Christ, but that we also, as her faithful children, live truly in the spirit which animates her. But that our lives, as Catholics, may be indeed modeled according to the Church, the character of the gifts must be expressed in our Christian conduct. I will prove this today, and that through the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, which symbolize the virtues which we must practise.
O Mary, you who, with the warmest feelings of thanks, accepted the gifts which the three Magi offered to your Divine Child, look graciously upon that which we are resolved ,to offer to Him. I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater glory of God!
The general signification of the feast which we celebrate today is well known to us, as also its importance for the salvation of our souls, because of our call to the true faith. Let us, therefore, from the depths of our grateful hearts, pour forth our ardent thanks for this priceless benefit, which has been granted to us in preference to millions and millions; yes, we have been called to the only true and saving faith before those nations whose people, during the long course of centuries, have lived and died in the darkness of error. But let us not forget the warning of the Lord. “From him to whom much has been given much will be required.”
And do not let us forget, beloved in Christ, that St. James cries out to us: “You believe: the devil believes, too; but show your faith by your works.” Christ assures us: “That the children of the house shall be cast out into extreme darkness.” From this it is evident that we must not only believe, but also live according to the faith; and such a life, I will not conceal from you, must bear the character of sacrifice, as every thing in the whole order of salvation clearly proves. It was decreed, by the eternal God, that man was to be redeemed and saved; and this by the bitter sacrifice which Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, offered. His whole life bore the character of sacrifice, and He terminated it by the sacrificial death of the cross.
He offered it already on the eve of His passion, at the Last Supper, in an unbloody manner, to His heavenly Father; and so instituted the Sacrifice of the New Law, which characterizes and includes the entire divine service of Holy Church. Sacrifice, considered in general, is the highest act of divine worship, as is shown by its usage even among the heathens. So much the more necessary, then, is it, that, in the New Law, divine worship must leave its impress and character in the life of every child of God, in imitation of our Lord and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
Those whom God has predestined to glory, He has also chosen to become like unto our Lord and Saviour, as we are most expressly assured by the Apostle of the Gentiles. The character of the life of Jesus was essentially one of sacrifice. He cries out to all mankind: “He who will follow Me, let him take up his cross and deny himself,” which signifies that our whole life must be one of self-denial, and, therefore, of constant sacrifice. It is of the utmost importance, therefore, that we be thoroughly penetrated by this truth. The spirit of the Gospel is arrayed in opposition to that of the world; and the character of the life of a worldling to that of a true Christian.
The character of the worldling is to enjoy himself in the fullest sense of the word; to plunge recklessly into pleasures’ giddy maze; to satisfy every desire; to accomplish all his projects. This is the creed of the child of the world; while St. Paul, on the contrary, cries out to us, in a far different spirit: “Those who belong to Christ have crucified their flesh with its evil desires.” They are living burnt-offerings of the Lord, and their rule of life may be summed up in the following words: “Lord, I am Thine, with all that I am and I have; all is dedicated and offered for Thy greater glory.”
It must be so, and can not be otherwise; for we can serve God only in the spirit of self-denial and self-immolation, since, by the fall of our first parents, the law of the flesh and concupiscence have been firmly implanted in our members in opposition to the law of the Spirit. Therefore, since all who desire to belong to Christ have to live in this spirit of sacrifice, St. Peter calls the Christians, “A priestly people”; and those who finish their lives in this spirit will one day rejoice in heaven; for St. John declares: “Thou hast made of us kings and priests.”
But if, in the second place, you inquire what are really the most proper and special gifts which, as children of the Church we are bound to offer, they are symbolized by the gifts of the three holy kings. They offered to the Infant Jesus: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I apply these gifts to our understanding, will, and heart, which are dedicated to God, and offered through our faith, as children of the Church, through our hope and our love.
This oblation of the life of a true Christian possesses, indeed, and that in the highest degree, the qualities which characterize a sacrifice in the service of God as an oblation of praise, thanksgiving, and expiation. I prove this through the following remarks: Man is, according to his nature, intellect, will, and heart.
The intellect is the power of the soul, by which we know the reality of things, and the relation which they bear toward one another. This faculty of the soul man offers to his God and Creator through holy faith; for holy faith places before him the truths which are above his comprehension. He believes them to be true only in consideration of the infallible truth, which is God Himself speaking to us by the mouth of the infallible Church. He believes these revealed truths, although they contradict the senses, and man should, by force of intellect, be utterly unable to penetrate them, or to prove them. This act, therefore, is an oblation of the intellect, and a magnificent and precious oblation it is. It is by faith, among other acts, that we honor God–the genuine coin or test-metal between true and false currency.
The will of man is, according to its nature, free. Naturally its desires tend toward the possession and enjoyment of that which is earthly; but the power of holy hope imparts to it the wish to aim after “the things which are above.” It draws man gently on to the resolution to yield his will to nothing whatsoever which is of “the earth, earthly”; but only to fulfill the will of God, who will reward our obedience and our fidelity with eternal bliss. This oblation is symbolized by the frankincense, whose sweet odor ascends toward heaven.
Our hearts feel and love, and naturally incline, toward creatures–toward other hearts. The power of love toward God effects that man loves God above all things,–every thing else he loves only in God and for God; and, that he may one day rejoice in the eternal possession of God, he joyfully resolves, in the fervor of his love, to sacrifice every thing in this world to overcome all difficulties which are an obstacle to the love of God. Yes, in the heat of this love, he desires even to sever the closest and tenderest bonds of friendship and nature.
This oblation is symbolized by myrrh, for no one is able to lead such a life without feeling, in regard to earthly things, and in the combat of the interior, the bitterness of self-sacrifice.
In this disposition, the faithful, hoping, and loving soul praises and thanks God unceasingly by her life, which is dedicated and immolated to the Lord. Well may we rejoice if we in truth have a right to declare before Christ, with St. Ignatius: “Take, O Lord, all my liberty, my intellect, my memory, and my entire will. All that I am and that I have, I have from Thee. I give and offer it all to Thee again. Give me only Thy love and Thy grace, and I am rich enough.”
Such is the gold, the frankincense, and the myrrh of our dedication and oblation to Him, the Triune God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.