By Father Kyle
I was once scheduled to present for an RCIA group at Our Lady of Peace Church in Erie on a topic that makes many people uncomfortable – moral issues. When it concerns the Catholic Church’s teachings on such issues, a conversation, lecture, or discussion can be very perplexing and sometimes very heated. During my presentation, I could sense a certain level of uneasiness, stemming from the people’s relationships with family members and friends who were living different lifestyles than those sanctioned by the Church. People like to hear about how much God loves them and how they should love each other, how they have been saved and redeemed by Christ and called to share eternal life with Him in heaven, but when the Gospel and the Church’s teachings convict and challenge them and hit close to home, many people have problems. Unfortunately, for many Christians (and many Catholics in particular), their faith is often shaken or crumbles altogether when the truth of the faith convicts and challenges them or those they love.
What I think is especially difficult for many of us is facing the stark reality that many people we know and care about are not living the faith that we cherish and are in fact going down paths that lead to damnation. Many do not know the faith at all, many others were brought up in the faith and throw it away, and it is hard for us to come to grips with that, if we believe that our Catholic faith is meant for everyone and not just Catholics and other Christians. I would be surprised if there is a family here today that has not felt this pain, the pain of knowing that some or all the children and grandchildren are living outside the Church and the life of grace. It might be people in an active homosexual or transgender lifestyle, people who support abortion through their thoughts, words, and votes, people who are living together outside of marriage, or people who put things like work, sports, and other entertainment above going to the Mass on Sundays. Whatever the scenario is, I believe that most of us have had to struggle with how to deal with it. When the yelling and arguing fails us, sometimes it might seem like relativism is the best solution to the crisis, believing that truth is completely subjective, something that people create for themselves. With so many people close to home who do not invest in living the faith, maybe we should just give up on trying to spread the faith in its entirety and leave people alone.
But wait, before we settle with either extreme of yelling or remaining silent, we need to remember what we celebrate today on this solemnity of the Epiphany. We celebrate Jesus Christ’s manifestation to the whole world. In this Christmas season, our attention is drawn to the simple, profound fact that God entered the world to save all of us, the whole human race. God wills to save all people. In ancient times, the prophets of the Old Testament continually announced that God was going to bring all nations to salvation through His chosen people Israel. We heard this in the first reading from Isaiah. Speaking to Jerusalem, the heart of the chosen people, Isaiah joyfully said, “Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance. Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.”
In the Gospel reading, we heard of the visitation of the magi and the adoration they offered to the Christ-child. No one would have expected these pagans from Persia, who were astrologers and traditional opponents of Daniel and the other prophets, to be among the first people to pay homage to Christ, just as we might be slow to expect some people we know of becoming devout Catholics. But there they were, wise men from a foreign land, prostrating themselves before the baby Jesus and acknowledging His kingship, His divinity, and His humanity with their precious gifts. The outsiders are thus destined to share in what the insiders enjoy, and what began in the plan of God with the people of Israel has been brought to fulfillment in the Church, the universal sacrament of salvation, the gateway to heaven open to all peoples. This should give us unfailing hope for ourselves, our loved ones, and the whole world, as well as unyielding resolve to reach out in truth, with love, to every person we encounter.
Our hope is to see for ourselves and to help others see the Lord’s epiphany, or manifestation, in this life and so be brought to eternal life. We want to know Christ more deeply and help others to know Him, too. There is a quote from the pope St. Gregory the Great that speaks to this well. “When the king of heaven was born, the heavens knew that he was God because they immediately sent forth a star; the sea knew him because it allowed him to walk upon it; the earth knew him because it trembled when he died; the sun knew him because it hid the rays of its light.” If nature recognized the Savior of the world, how much more should we human beings recognize Him? The story of the magi might seem too good to be true, given what we face in our families and among our friends. We do not always know what to say or how to say it when we are with those who have fallen away and lost their way, and that can leave us feeling helpless. Later in Matthew’s Gospel, however, we hear Jesus tell His apostles, “When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” Because we are all on different stages of the same journey and because God is all-powerful, we do not have to be afraid of our mission. It is not in our place to judge anyone, but, knowing that all people are made for union with the Lord and His Church, it is our duty and our delight to speak the truth with love and so help our brothers and sisters to live in the light of His coming.