HOMILY
Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord – January 8, 2023

In his message for the 56th Annual World Day of Peace celebrated a week ago on January 1, Pope Francis reflected upon the many struggles that have enveloped our world during the past few years, particularly the Covid-19 health crisis.  The greatest lesson that we have learned from this challenges is that “we all need one another. Our greatest and yet most fragile treasure is our shared humanity as brothers and sisters, children of God. None of us can be saved alone.”  The Holy Father went on to state that “this experience has made us all the more aware of the need for everyone, including peoples and nations, to restore the word “together” to a central place. For it is together, in fraternity and solidarity, that we build peace, ensure justice and emerge from the greatest disasters.  …  Only the peace that comes from a fraternal and disinterested love can help us overcome personal, societal and global crises.”

Pope Francis’ words speak powerfully to today’s celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord.  Far from simply being the romanticized conclusion to the Christmas season, Saint Matthew shares the story of the magi’s arrival in Bethlehem as a challenge to all of us who seek peace and a way forward in life.

More than any others who arrived in Bethlehem, the magi seem to represent all of the different types of individuals to whom the message of salvation is addressed:  faithful souls, yes, but also – outsiders – seekers – latecomers – you and me.  …  Let’s consider how the magi speak to us.

First, the magi are outsiders.  They didn’t belong.  They were different.  Yet, as Pope Francis noted, the magi “are a living witness to the fact that the seeds of truth are present everywhere, for they are the gift of the Creator, who calls all people to acknowledge him as our good and faithful Father. The magi represent men and woman throughout the world who are welcomed into the house of God. Before Jesus, all divisions of race, language and culture disappear: in that Child, all humanity discovers its unity.” 

As such, the presence of these outsiders is a challenge to all of us about the manner in which we welcome individuals who are different than ourselves into our churches – and particularly into our lives.  …  How generous is our welcome of the poor, who are more noticeable in our world today than ever before?  …  How generous is our welcome of immigrants who knock at our doors every day seeking a peaceful place to care for their families, whether they are fleeing brutality in countless lands throughout the globe or victims of the horrendous war in Ukraine?  …  How generous is our welcome of those who seek a place in our lives, our neighborhoods and our churches whose lifestyle choices are more varied than we would like to see?

Yet, today’s gospel is very clear in conveying the fact that there were no outsiders at the birth of Jesus.  Indeed, it is a stark reminder to all of us that no matter how much we may believe that we have cornered the market on God, we are all recipients of his mercy and love, for we all stand on the peripheries of life looking for love and acceptance – because of our life styles, our behavior, our addictions, our struggles and so many other aspects of our lives.  …  Thankfully, the message of the gospel that is proclaimed on this great feast is that all of us are welcome to encounter the Christ.  No one is excluded from the love of God. 

The magi were also seekers.  They were looking for something more in their lives.  …  They crossed the desert and made their way to Bethlehem with a certain amount of doubt.  They weren’t sure of the path that they were taking.  They asked questions.  They looked for signs.  They made mistakes.  …  They did the types of things that we all do as we move through life trying to make sense of things.  They really were much more like each of us in our life journeys than we might be inclined to believe.

Pope Francis reminds us that the magi “personify all those who believe, those who long for God, who yearn for their home, their heavenly homeland. They reflect the image of all those who in their lives have not let their hearts be anesthetized.”  Moreover, the magi possessed something unique.  They possessed the humility and the openness of mind and heart to seek and welcome Jesus.  …  Their following of the star is a journey of faith, a constant search for meaning, for purpose, for the things of God.  Nor were they deterred on the journey.  …  Their search mirrors our own life-long search for forgiveness, mercy and peace. 

Finally, the magi were latecomers to Bethlehem.  They didn’t get there early on.  It took them a bit of time to decide whether it was worth their time and effort to set out on the journey to Bethlehem in the first place.  …  Yet, even though we might find ourselves a bit critical of such individuals or inclined to question the authenticity of their newfound faith, the gospel tells us that they – the magi and those of us who are like them – are welcomed by Jesus.

Ultimately, brothers and sisters, the magi’s journey and arrival in Bethlehem offer a consoling and hope-filled opportunity for each of us to see our journey of life and faith reflected within their own.  In short, the magi found the fulfillment of all that they were seeking in their lives.  So will we, if we engage the journey of faith honestly and are humble and wise enough to both welcome and walk together with those whom we encounter along the way. 

 

HOMILY
Memorial Mass for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Saint Peter’s Cathedral, Scranton – January 7, 2023
Job 19:1, 23-27a; Romans 8:22-27; John 6:37-40

“Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”  With these words from his first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est, released eight months following his election, Pope Benedict XVI set the tone for his pontificate and reminded us of who we are as Christians.  

Many have attempted to assess Pope Benedict’s pontificate both during the course of the eight years in which he served as successor of Saint Peter and in light of his historic resignation from office.  What one often hears is that he was a gifted theologian and defender of Catholic doctrine, qualities firmly established through his long-time service as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 

Yet, it is quite fair to say that the essence of Pope Benedict is discovered elsewhere in the simple words shared a moment ago from his first encyclical, words rooted in the love and compassion of the God to whom he entrusted his entire being.  …  A love that was first embraced through his relationship with the person of Jesus.  …  A love that enabled this shy man who never aspired to lead the Church to accept the responsibility of doing so simply and solely because of his encounter with Christ.  …  And a love that seared into his heart the words from today’s gospel that come from Jesus’ discourse on the Bread of Heaven:  “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.”

We should hardly be surprised, then, that the Pope’s last audible words reported by his longtime personal secretary, Archbishop Ganswein, just hours before his passing, were words that reflect this life giving encounter with Jesus, “Lord, I love you.”  …  Words that affirm beyond a doubt the very Word of God proclaimed in our first scripture reading from the Old Testament Book of Job, “For me, I know that my Vindicator lives … and from my flesh I shall see God; my inmost being is consumed with longing.”

In so many respects, it is only now, following Pope Benedict’s resignation almost ten years ago – following the time he spent in solitude and prayer as a result of that historic moment in the life of the Church – and following his death, that we are able to appreciate the depth of his faith, his humility, the courage rooted in his words and actions and the gift he has been to our Church.  

Our New Testament reading today, taken from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans serves as a foundation for Pope Benedict’s second encyclical, Spe Salvi.  In it, the Pope contrasts the contemporary age’s hope of creating a perfect world with where we Christians come to understand that our true hope is found:  “in God alone, who will love us to the end.”  Listen to the Pope’s words, which, so beautifully yet simply expressed, provide us all with the surest way forward in life.

“Let us say once again: we need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day. But these are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain. The fact that it comes to us as a gift is actually part of hope. God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety. His Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; his Kingdom is present wherever he is loved and wherever his love reaches us. His love alone gives us the possibility of soberly persevering day by day, without ceasing to be spurred on by hope, in a world which by its very nature is imperfect. His love is at the same time our guarantee of the existence of what we only vaguely sense and which nevertheless, in our deepest self, we await: a life that is “truly” life (Spe Salvi 31).”

What wisdom and blessings we have been privileged to receive in the words and through the life and example of our beloved Pope-Emeritus! 

There have been and will undoubtedly be many who seek to analyze Pope Benedict’s response to the various and complicated events that unfolded during the course of his papacy, including his historic resignation.  For all the critiques, opinions and analyses that will be offered, however, his place in the history of our Church and ultimately in God’s kingdom – and so for each of us – will be determined by the depth of his faith and hope in the person of Jesus – his humility in recognizing his need for a savior – his willingness to love selflessly and compassionately – and his trust in the abiding presence of God within his life.

Pope Benedict’s own words, written in his Spiritual Testament, dated August 29, 2006, reveal the heart and soul of this Servant of God!

“When, at this late hour of my life, I look back on the decades I have wandered through, I see first of all how much reason I have to give thanks. Above all, I thank God Himself, the giver of all good gifts, who has given me life and guided me through all kinds of confusion; who has always picked me up when I began to slip, who has always given me anew the light of his countenance. In retrospect, I see and understand that even the dark and arduous stretches of this path were for my salvation and that He guided me well in those very stretches.

“I thank my parents, who gave me life … my sister … and my brother. … I thank God from the bottom of my heart for the many friends, men and women, whom He has always placed at my side; for the co-workers at all stages of my path; for the teachers and students He has given me. I gratefully entrust them all to His goodness. And I thank the Lord for my beautiful home in the Bavarian foothills of the Alps, in which I was able to see the splendor of the Creator Himself shining through time and again.

“I ask for forgiveness from the bottom of my heart from all those whom I have wronged in some way. … To all who were entrusted to my service in the Church: Stand firm in the faith! … Jesus Christ is truly the Way, the Truth, and the Life – and the Church, in all her shortcomings, is truly His Body.”

And so, in gratitude for the life and ministry of this holy man of God, we pray:  “Gracious Father, we commend to your mercy Pope Emeritus Benedict whom you made Successor of Peter and shepherd of the Church, a fearless preacher of your word and a faithful minister of the divine mysteries.  Bottom of Form

Welcome him into your heavenly dwelling place, to enjoy eternal glory with all your chosen ones. We give you thanks, Lord, for all the blessings that in your goodness you bestowed upon him for the good of your people.  Grant us the comfort of faith and the strength of hope.  To you Father, source of life, through Christ, the conqueror of death, in the life-giving Spirit, be all honor and glory forever and ever.  Amen.