From the Monsignor’s Desk

Dear Parishioners,

This weekend the Western Church celebrates the feast of the Epiphany. The word “epiphany” derives from two Greek words, which together mean a “showing forth”. Among members of the Eastern Churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, this feast is on par with Christmas. In fact, it is often called “little Christmas”. In the West, the traditional date was always January 6th but as that date often fell midweek, the feast became underappreciated. Generally, now it is celebrated on a weekend early in January.

St. Matthew’s Gospel introduces the Wise Men or the Magi to us. Epiphany celebrates the revelation of the Christ Child to the Wise Men, the Magi; however, the Magi are surrogates for all of us. If you examine the traditional images of the wise men, you will discover that usually they are pictured as representatives of the major families of humankind: one appears as of European background, one appears as of African stock and the third represents the various nations of Asia. The word “magi” has Persian roots but Matthew simply tells us that the travelers were “from the east”. The Magi were highly regarded scholars, who took very seriously the movements of the heavenly bodies. In common with many ancient cultures, they too accepted the notion that the stars and other heavenly bodies could have a profound influence on earthly events. It was commonly accepted that a new constellation of stars might indicate the birth of a famous person. Their title tells us that the Magi were not from a Jewish background but that they were Gentiles, non-Jews. These Wise Men follow a new constellation to seek out the recently born “king of the Jews”.

When their journey is complete, they offer the Child gifts that honor Him. These gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh are very significant. Even now gold is associated with wealth and who but the ruler, king or emperor would be among the wealthiest of people. So this Child is a king. Frankincense (incense) was and is yet used in divine worship. This gift implies the divine nature of the Child. Myrrh in ancient times was utilized as a preservative after death. This gift signifies that this Child, like all human beings, will experience death; thus He will also be fully human. In short, this Child, descended from the ancient lineage of King David, will have divine and human attributes.

At the beginning of his Gospel, Matthew gives us a genealogy of Jesus. He wishes to firmly root Jesus in His Jewish heritage. Many of the people for whom Matthew originally wrote his Gospel were Jewish Christians. They would have heard of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 A.D. by the Romans. Matthew intends to illustrate that Jesus is fully Jewish but He is also the new temple – the place where God and humans would encounter each other. Echoing our first Sunday reading, taken from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, Matthew’s other great concern was to indicate that all “wise” people would follow this new star, who was born near Jerusalem. Our responsorial psalm (Psalm 72) continues that theme: “Lord, every nation on earth will adore You.”

Paul, writing to the church community he had founded at the Greek City of Ephesus, assures his readers that “the gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Matthew wrote intending to make clear in this narration of Jesus’ earliest years that people of every race and background, like the Wise Men, follow this new Star. The Child born in Bethlehem has a human family composed of saints and sinners, kings and paupers, the wise and the foolish. In this, he is like us but this Child also bears the imprint of divinity. He is Emmanuel, God with us, walking among His people. All the wise people who seek this Child are welcome, regardless of color, background, former religion, nationality, or language – all are welcome!

In Christ,
Monsignor John A. McGuirl