Sunday Sermon for January 2, 1011, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, Year A

Readings: Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12

In the second reading St. Paul tells us that a mystery had been revealed to him by God which had not been previously revealed through the Prophets. The mystery is the inclusion of the Gentiles as coheirs with the Jews. Prior to the point of St. Paul’s revelation, the Jewish people would have interpreted what the Prophets said as meaning that the Gentiles would become Jews and, thereby, become members of the People of God and participants in the Covenant.

It is most interesting that God chose the man who was the ultimate Pharisee prior to his conversion as the one to whom He revealed this new understanding. Not only does God choose someone who was so profoundly Jewish that he would have preferred the death of anyone who did not adhere to Jewish ways, but He also caught the whole of the Jewish people, with a few exceptions, by surprise. They were so immersed in their worldly pursuits that they not only missed the signs that God had given but, as we read in the Gospel, they were troubled when they received word that the Messiah was born.

The three magi, on the other hand, were more attentive to the working of the Lord. God made use of what they understood to show them that the Savior of the world had been born. These men were somewhat heroic in their efforts to get to Jerusalem, crossing deserts on a trip that would have lasted nearly three months one way. Somehow they understood that this was not just an ordinary king, because they probably did not make such journeys every time a king was born into the world. This means that there had to have been some faith underlying their wisdom in that they grasped the truth that what was happening was supernatural.

For the people of Israel, on the other hand, you would think that news of the birth of the Messiah would have caused them to want to find Him and worship Him. Not even the priests, who were called by Herod and answered his question regarding the birthplace of the Messiah, undertook to make the five mile journey to Bethlehem. Perhaps they thought the pagan magi were a bit crazy; perhaps they just figured that if such an extraordinary thing had occurred they would have been the ones to recognize it. Since they were not, they rejected any possibility that this could be true.

We have to put this into context, however. Recall that the people were expecting the Messiah based on the prophecy of Jeremiah and the insight given to the Prophet Daniel regarding the time frame spoken of by Jeremiah. Those who truly believed in the Word of God were steeped in anticipation. This being the case, one has to wonder if the priests Herod had consulted really believed in what God had revealed, or if they thought that their academic version of the Faith was better than the simple, lived out faith of the people. Either way, their pride was in the way and they were not able to recognize God’s entrance into human history.

Our situation today is, in many ways, similar to what was happening in Jerusalem at the time of our Lord. I find it fascinating that so many people are converting to the Faith, other Christians, pagans and even Jews. At the same time, there seems to be a greater laxity among people who have been Catholic their whole life long; many, in fact, are leaving the Church. When they hear the truth, like Herod and the people of Jerusalem 2000 years ago, they are troubled. They know what the Church teaches, but they have chosen to ignore it; they reject the truth while many are now embracing it.

Pagans are recognizing what God is doing in our world today, but many Catholics and other Christians are not. Every time God does something, we are quick to dismiss it with a “scientific” answer, as if God could not use the very creation He made to get His point across. This is what He did with the Magi and the star; why do we think that anything God does would have to be so fantastic that it would be impossible not to notice? When He worked in extraordinary ways in the past, the people dismissed it, as we do now. God is working in our world today as He was 2000 years ago. Only those who are wise in the ways of God will notice. Some of these will be Catholic, but many will be unexpected; in the end, all who believe in what God has said and in what He is doing will be one: members of the same Body and copartners in the promise in Jesus Christ through the Gospel.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit