Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Epiphany of the Lord

“We saw his star in the east  and  have come to worship him.”      
Matthew 2:2




EPIPHANY, which in the original Greek signifies appearance or manifestation, as St. Austin observes, is a festival principally solemnised in honour of the discovery Jesus Christ made of himself to the Magi, or wise men; who, soon after his birth, by a particular inspiration of Almighty God, came to adore him and bring him presents. Two other manifestations of our Lord are jointly commemorated on this day in the office of the church: that at his baptism, when the Holy Ghost descended on him in the visible form of a dove, and a voice from heaven was heard at the same time: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The third manifestation was that of his divine power at the performance of his first miracle, the changing of water into wine, at the marriage at Cana, "by which he manifested his glory, and his disciples believed in him." Upon so many accounts ought this festival to challenge a more than ordinary regard and veneration; but from none more than us Gentiles, who, in the persons of the wise men, our first-fruits and forerunners, were on this day called to the faith and worship of the true God.

The call of the Gentiles had been foretold for many ages before in the clearest terms. David and Isaias abound with predictions of this import; the like is found in the other prophets; but their completion was a mercy reserved for the times of the Messiah. It was to him, who was also the consubstantial Son of God, that the eternal Father had made the promise of all "nations for his inheritance"; who being born the spiritual king of the whole world, for the salvation of "all men," would therefore manifest his coming both to those that "were near, and those that were afar off," that is, both to Jew and Gentile. Upon his birth, angels were dispatched ambassadors to the Jews, in the persons of the poor shepherds, and a star was the divine messenger on this important errand to the Gentiles of the East; conformably to Balaam's prophecy, who foretold the coming of the Messias by that sign.

The summons of the Gentiles to Bethlehem to pay homage to the world's Redeemer was obeyed by several whom the Scripture mentions under the name and title of <Magi>, or wise men; but is silent as to their number. The general opinion, supported by the authority of St. Leo, Caesarius, Bede, and others, declares for three. However, the number was small, comparatively to those many others that saw that star, no less than the wise men, but paid no regard to this voice of heaven: admiring, no doubt, its uncommon brightness, but culpably ignorant of the divine call it, or hardening their hearts against its salutary impressions, overcome by their passions, and the dictates of self-love. In like manner do Christians, from the same cause, turn a deaf ear to the voice of the divine grace in their souls, and harden their hearts against it in such numbers, that, notwithstanding their call, their graces, and the mysteries wrought in their favour, it is to be feared that even among <them> many "are called, but few are chosen." It was the case with the Jews, "with the most of whom," St. Paul says, "God was not well pleased."
The wise men being come, by the guidance of the star, into Jerusalem, or near it, it there disappears: whereupon they reasonably suppose they are come to their journey's end, and upon the point of being blessed with the sight of the new-born king: that, on their entering the royal city, they shall in every street and corner hear the acclamations of a happy people, and learn with ease the way to the royal palace, made famous to all posterity by the birth of their king and Saviour. But to their great surprise there appears not the least sign of any such solemnity. The court and city go quietly on in seeking their pleasure and profit! and in this unexpected juncture what shall these weary travellers do? Were they governed by human prudence, this disappointment is enough to make them abandon their design, and retreat as privately as they can to screen their reputation, and avoid the raillery of the populace, as well as to prevent the resentment of the most zealous of tyrants, already infamous for blood. But true virtue makes trials the matter and occasion of its most glorious triumphs. Seeming to be forsaken by God, on their being deprived of extraordinary, they have recourse to the ordinary means of information. Steady in the resolution of following the divine call, and fearless of danger, they inquire in the city with equal confidence and humility, and pursue their inquiry in the very court of Herod himself: "Where is he that is born king of the Jews? " And does not their conduct teach us, under all difficulties of the spiritual kind, to have recourse to those God has appointed to be our spiritual guides, for their advice and direction? To "obey and be subject to them," that so God may lead us to himself, as he guided the wise men to Bethlehem by the directions of the priests of the Jewish church...
The Magi, pursuant to the custom of the eastern nations, where the persons of great princes are not to be approached without presents, present to Jesus, as a token of homage, the richest produce their countries afforded, gold, frankincense, and myrrh— gold, as an acknowledgment of his regal power; incense, as a confession of his Godhead; and myrrh, as a testimony that he was become man for the redemption of the world.
The holy kings being about to return home, God, who saw the hypocrisy and malicious designs of Herod, by a particular intimation diverted them from their purpose of carrying back word to Jerusalem where the child was to be found. So, to complete their fidelity and grace, they returned not to Herod's court; but, leaving their hearts with their infant Saviour, took another road back into their own country. In like manner, if we would persevere in the possession of the graces bestowed on us, we must resolve from this day to hold no correspondence with a sinful world, the irreconcilable enemy to Jesus Christ; but to take a way that lies a distance from it, I mean that which is marked out to us by the saving maxims of the gospel. And pursuing this with an unshaken confidence in his grace and merits, we shall safely arrive at our heavenly country.


It has never been questioned but that the holy Magi spent the rest of their lives in the fervent service of God. The ancient author of the imperfect comment on St. Matthew, among the works of St. Chrysostom, says they were afterwards baptized in Persia by St. Thomas the apostle, and became themselves preachers of the gospel. Their bodies were said to have been translated to Constantinople under the first Christian emperors. From thence they were conveyed to Milan, where the place in which they were deposited is still shown in the Dominicans' church of that city. The emperor Frederick Barbarossa having taken Milan, caused them to be translated to Cologne in Germany, in the twelfth century.





Epiphany Morning Prayer
Father, you revealed your Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star.
Lead us to your glory in heaven by the light of faith. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen 

The Liturgy of the Hours 
 O God Who by a star guided the wise men to the worship of your Son we pray you to lead to yourself the wise and great of every land that unto you every knee may bow, and every thought be brought into captivity Through Jesus Christ our Lord. 


"One night there went out over the stillness of an evening breeze; out over the white chalked hills of Bethlehem, a cry, a gentle cry. The sea did not hear the cry, for the sea was filled with its own voice. The earth did not hear the cry, for the earth slept. The great men of the earth did not hear the cry, for they did not understand how a child could be greater than a man. The Kings of the earth did not hear the cry, for they could not fathom how a King could be born in a stable. There were only two classes of men who heard the cry that night: Shepherds and Wise Men. Shepherds: those who know they know nothing. Wise men: those who know they do not know everything. Shepherds: poor simple men who knew only how to tend their flocks, who perhaps could not tell who was the Governor of Judea; who, perhaps, did not know a single line of Virgil, though there was not a Roman who could not quote him. On the other hand, there were the Wise Men; not Kings, but teachers of Kings; men who knew how to read the stars, to tell the story of their movements; men who were constantly bent on discovery. Both these heard the cry. The Shepherds found their Shepherd, and the Wise Men discovered Wisdom. And the Shepherd and Wisdom was a Babe in a crib." Fulton J. Sheen, _The Divine Romance_ (New York: Society of St. Paul/Alba House, 1982 [1930]), pp. 70-71.
Epiphany Hymn of St. Ambrose
Hymn of St. Ambrose (338-397), used by the Church in Milan
Most High God!
Thou that enkindlest
the fires of the shining stars!
O Jesus!
Thou that art peace and life and light and truth,
hear and grant our prayers.
This present day has been made holy
by thy mystic baptism,
whereby thou didst sanctify
those waters of the Jordan,
which of old were thrice turned back.
It is holy by the star shining in the heavens,
whereby thou didst announce
thy Virginal Mother's delivery
and didst, on the same day,
lead the Magi to adore thee in thy crib.
It is holy too,
by thy changing the water
of the pitchers into wine;
which the steward of the feast,
knowing that he had not so filled them,
drew forth for the guests.
Glory be to thee, O Lord Jesus,
that didst appear on this Day!
And to the Father and to the Holy Spirit,
for everlasting ages. Amen. 




St. Gregory:
We have departed from it by pride, disobedience, abuse of the senses, therefore it is needed that we return to it by obedience, contempt of the world, and by taming the desires of the flesh; thus we return to our own country by another road. By forbidden pleasures we have forfeited the joys of paradise, by penance we must regain them."


ASPIRATION Give me, O divine Savior, the faith of those Eastern kings. Enlighten my understanding with the light which enlightened them, and move my heart, that I may in future follow this light, and sincerely seek Thee who hast first sought me. Grant also, that I may really find Thee, with the wise men may adore Thee in spirit and in truth, and bring to Thee the gold of love, the frankincense of prayer, and the myrrh of penance and mortification, that, having here offered Thee the sacrifice of my faith, I may adore Thee in Thy eternal glory. Amen.
 

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