Sunday, January 04, 2009

‘Wishing Upon’ the Right Star

(Epiphany 2009: This homily was given on January 4, 2009, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Matthew 2: 1-12.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Epiphany 2009]

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are . . .
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true.

As some of you know, those are the first two and the last two lines of a song that was written way back in 1940 for the Disney film, Pinocchio.

It won an Academy Award that year for the Best Original Song.

But I submit to you today that this little tune (or at least the 4 lines I just quoted) could be the theme song for the feast we celebrate in the Church this weekend, the feast of the Epiphany. Or at least it could be given the #2 spot behind “We Three Kings.”

I say this because the Magi followed the Star of Bethlehem with a real religious fervor. All of their hopes, all of their wishes, all of their deepest desires were somehow connected to that incredible star, and to the great King that the star would lead them to.

And so they were not discouraged by the length of their journey (which was probably over 1000 miles), or by the many difficulties they faced along the way (including the encounter with crazy King Herod!).

And it didn’t matter that they were Gentiles either! When you “wish” upon a Star—and the Star is Jesus Christ—it makes no difference who you are.

Jesus came to save the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike; the Magi remind us of that extremely important truth. On the practical level, this means Jesus came to save all the people we love and all the people who love us; but it also means that he came to save all the people we have difficulty getting along with, and even the people who hate us.

And the dreams of the Magi definitely came true, as the Disney song says. In fact, I’m convinced that their experience actually eclipsed their dreams. Think about it: they were looking for the greatest king on earth, and what they found was the King of heaven and earth; what they found was the King of kings and the Lord of lords!

When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are. . . . When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.

That is true if your “star” is Jesus Christ; that’s true if you pursue Jesus Christ and a relationship with the same kind of religious fervor that the Magi pursued him with.

Your dreams ultimately come true. They come true to a certain extent here on earth, but fully in heaven.

Actually, in heaven, according to St. Paul, our dreams will actually be eclipsed (as the dreams of the Magi were eclipsed), since according to Paul heaven is much greater than anything we can possibly dream of or imagine right now.

But what if you wish upon another star? What if the star you wish upon in your life turns out to be like a “black hole”?

I should say at this point that the star you “wish upon” is whatever you pursue with religious fervor. We are supposed to pursue Jesus Christ—and only Jesus Christ—in this way (like the Magi did). As the first commandment reminds us, we are to put no “strange gods” before the Lord. He, and only he, is to be the ultimate passion of our lives.

Put him first, and everything else gets in order and stays in order; put something else in his place, and everything else eventually falls apart.

That last one, of course, is a temptation we all constantly face in this life. And sometimes we give into it—because we’re weak. The key is to catch ourselves quickly when it happens, repent, and get our focus back on Christ as quickly as possible.

But many don’t do that, as we all know. Many men and women today wish upon the wrong star and stay focused on that wrong star—stubbornly—until it falls from the sky and crashes and ruins their lives.

And for proof of that, all you need to do is pick up your daily newspaper and look at the headlines.

We’ve been reading and hearing lately about the governor of Illinois, who allegedly tried to sell Barak Obama’s senate seat to the highest bidder. His life and career are now in a shambles; even people in his own party have turned against him. That’s what happens when you pursue the “star of power” with religious fervor and forget your faith and morals.

Every once in a while we read in the sports section about athletes who have pursued the “star of greatness” through the use of performance-enhancing drugs. And so their careers, which were once considered great, become forever tarnished. That’s because they’ve pursued greatness, and not God, with a religious fervor.

And what about the famous celebrities whose careers—and personal lives—unravel because of alcohol or drug abuse, or because of sexual promiscuity? They pursue the “star of pleasure and fame” at the price of their marriages and their families and their personal health—and sometimes their sanity.

I thought of this last one the other night as I watched an episode of a very depressing reality show on TV. It’s called, “Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew.” Have you seen this show? If you need some added motivation to focus on the right star in your life, just watch one episode of this series. That should provide you with all the incentive you need!

It will scare you straight!

My brothers and sisters, there were many stars in the sky back in the first century—as there are many stars in the sky today. The Magi “wished upon” the right one and followed it perseveringly—and it led them to salvation. If they had made the mistake of following another one—any other one—they would not have ended up in Bethlehem. I hope everyone realizes that. They would have gotten lost, and their journey would have ended somewhere else.

May God help us to follow the example of these wise men by pursuing Jesus Christ, the true light of the world, every day with religious fervor, so that the perfect joy and peace we dream about will someday come true for all of us.