Sunday, January 02, 2011

Lessons From The Magi

(Epiphany 2011: This homily was given on January 2, 2011 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 2011]

The title of my homily this morning is “Lessons from the Magi.” As I was praying about what I should preach about this weekend, several ideas—several lessons—came to mind, each of which could have been developed into a full homily. But instead of going that route, I decided that I would mention each of them very briefly, in the hope that one or two or more of them will contain a personal message for you—a message the Holy Spirit knows you need to hear today.

So here they are . . .

Lesson 1 courtesy of the Magi: Do not fall for the post-Enlightenment lie which says that religion and science are enemies. The Magi were people of science and religion—and we should be as well. God, after all, is the author of EVERY truth, whether it be in the realm of science or in the realm of faith. If we perceive a contradiction between a truth of religion and a truth of science, then the problem is with us, not God. We’ve misunderstood something. As I said in a letter I wrote to a scientist the other day: “Religion needs science to explain the mechanics of the universe, but science needs religion to explain the meaning of the universe.”

Lesson 2 from the Magi: Life is a rough journey at times, but with perseverance you can reach your ultimate destination. The Magi in all likelihood were from ancient Persia (which is modern-day Iran); thus their journey to Bethlehem was somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200 miles, and probably took several months. Can you imagine how much perseverance you need to ride on the back of a camel for that long?!!

Lesson 3 from the Magi: Always give the best that you have to Jesus Christ. Always! The Magi gave 3 precious gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh—the best they had, to the newborn King in Bethlehem. We are to give the Lord our best by giving him our best effort in every situation of life: first of all, in our vocation—as a husband and father, as a wife and mother, as a priest, as a religious--whatever it might be. We’re to give the Lord our best by giving our best effort at work, and at school, and by serving others selflessly in our families, in our church, in our community.

Are you giving Jesus your best effort in all these areas? (Be honest.)

Lesson 4: Never allow evil people to keep you from Jesus Christ. The Magi did not allow King Herod (as evil as he was) to keep them from Jesus, but unfortunately many men and women today do allow people who are evil (or maybe I should say, people that they think are evil) to keep them from the Lord. How often, for example, have you heard somebody say, “I don’t go to church, because those people who go to church every week are a bunch of hypocrites!” (Isn’t it nice to be talked about in such a loving way?)

Look, I don’t care if everyone else in church is an ax murderer—I’m not going to let them keep me from my Savior! I’m not going to allow them to deprive me of the forgiveness and the help and the comfort that Jesus Christ—and only Jesus Christ—can give me!

Lesson 5: Follow the right light! If the Magi had followed another star—any other star in the heavens—they would NOT have met Jesus in Bethlehem. They would have ended up somewhere else. If we want to meet Jesus in heaven someday we need to be guided by the principles of our Catholic faith, not the latest pop culture philosophy. The opening prayer of this Mass said it perfectly: “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”—the light of our CATHOLIC faith!

Lesson 6: Be open to God’s direction AND to God’s re-direction! Sometimes God wants to re-direct us in our lives. Most of us priests, for example, were not always planning to be priests—but somehow we got “re-directed” (through circumstances or through people or in some other way). The Magi were also open to this grace of “re-direction.” As we heard at the end of today’s gospel, God used a dream to warn them not to go back to King Herod, and so they “departed for their country by another way.”

Lesson 7: Jesus Christ will accept anyone—but they must bend their knee to him. Remember, the Magi were not Jews; they were Gentiles, like most of us. They were, in fact, the very first Gentiles to worship Jesus! Matthew, who wrote for Jewish converts to Christianity, included this story in his gospel to make it clear to his readers that Jesus came to save the whole world, not just the Jews.

Remember this if you think that you’ve done something for which you can’t be forgiven. Jesus will accept anyone, as long as they, like the Magi, bend their knee to him—especially through repentance and confession!

And finally, lesson 8: Make sure you don’t try to be a “Lone Ranger Christian.” Make sure, in other words, that you surround yourself with other believers who will support you on your journey to Jesus in heaven. We all need people in this life who will encourage us to do the right thing and to be faithful to God. If we don’t have that kind of support system in place, it’s extremely easy to get off the narrow road that leads to eternal life. Well, the Magi were in a similar situation. We don’t know how many of them there were, but we know there were at least 2, since the word in Scripture is plural. So think about it: a 1,200 mile journey from Persia, over rough, dangerous roads. If there had been only 1, what are the odds that he would have been able to make that journey successfully all by himself?

I’m sure there were many discouraging moments in that long, hard trip—moments when these men needed to encourage and motivate and even push one another.

We need that same type of support in our lives, if we’re going to make it to heaven.

There really is no such thing as a “Lone Ranger Christian.”

So there you have it: Lessons from the Magi. Which lesson (or lessons) hit home with you? Hopefully at least 1 did! It’s probably different for everybody here, but one thing we do have in common: the need to act on what we’ve heard. It does us no good whatsoever to hear a word—a message—from the Sacred Scriptures, unless we also make every effort to live it. As Jesus once said, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”

May each of us be so blessed—as the Magi were 2,000 years ago.