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Contents: Volume 2 - The EPIPHANY of the Lord– B –
January 7, 2018


 

The

Epiphany

of the

Lord

1. -- Lanie LeBlanc OP

2. – Carol & Dennis Keller

3. --

4. -- Brian Gleeson CP

5.. (Your reflection can be here!)

 

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Epiphany 2018

It seems to me that the peacefulness that the Lord wants us to spread meets obstacles put in place by far too many people and events. Today's world is full of incidents of treachery, betrayal, and violence stemming from the same kinds of motives that Herod had. Our challenge is how to insure that the Message is still heard, honored, and shared.

We know that the wise, no matter the land of their origin, still seek the Lord or however the Lord is called. We know that there is a better way to communicate than confrontation. What we don't really know is how to build bridges between peoples and ideas that will be long lasting.

Our second reading from the Letter to the Ephesians talks about "the stewardship of grace". Grace is given to us so that the Message will endure. We must use it wisely and most carefully. Further in the reading, we are given a hint of a starting place and how that might be successful, even in our time of great discord.

There is a sense in the reading of commonality, across generations, across religions, of being "coheirs" and "co-partners". Sometimes it is difficult to remember that there is already a bond. That bond is more important than our differences and is what needs to be explored with gentleness.

This Sunday, my multicultural parish is having an international pot luck luncheon after our last Mass. We were asked a few weeks ago to fill out a card without our names but with our country of birth as well as our parents' and grandparents' and great grandparents'. What a variety the display shows! We plan to bring and share foods from one of our lands of heritage. What a wonderful way to celebrate both our uniqueness and the common ground of enjoying good food and fellowship! I am sure there will be much learning going on in-between bites of foods formerly un-tasted.

Bridging the gap between people of different lands is not that much different from bridging the gap between generations or regional parts of your own country. It is uncomfortable at first, but, with a bit of compromise and initiative, it can be mutually fulfilling. We all do have a common bond in being children of the Lord and heirs of the Kingdom... and liking good food!

It seems wise to follow the guiding light we are given through these kinds of opportunities and others to fill in the gaps of our own unknowing and lack of understanding. Most people really do need an "aha" moment, an epiphany of our own. It surely will be helpful in welcoming today's refugees, those travelers from distant lands who might seem so far removed from the plight we or our ancestors once faced. Just think how many more people we can embrace in Heaven one day if we get to know them here on earth!

Blessings,

Dr. Lanie LeBlanc OP

Southern Dominican Laity

lanie@leblanc.one

 

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Epiphany of the Lord January 7 2018

Isaiah 60:1-6; Responsorial Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3 & 5-6; Gospel Acclamation Matthew 2:2; Matthew 2:1-12

If we had time enough to read and study only one book of our Hebrew & Christian Scriptures, I would suggest the prophecies of Isaiah. That study must include understanding the secular history of those prophecies. Of all the writings of Scripture, the wonderful poetry and wisdom of the book of Isaiah can move us and inspire us to understand our present culture, socio-economic, and political circumstances in the light of faith and under the perspective of the revelation of the truth of our humanity. We’re heard from this book of Isaiah during our Advent preparation and during the season of Christmas. The images in Isaiah are vivid: a child is born of a virgin; God is the potter we are the clay; God’s messengers encourage the people -- ‘comfort, oh comfort my people’; God overcomes even the political wrangling of the two angry sides of governance in Judah; God defines his people as his delight, his espoused; the messenger insists that a people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Isaiah creates an image of a messenger hopping from mountain ridge to mountain ridge shouting out in joy ‘Your God is King.’ We recall readings about spears being turned into pruning hooks, swords into plow shears. Yet, the three historic periods contained in the book of Isaiah refuse to gloss over the pain and despair of the people. Each bit of history speaks of horrific suffering whose endurance leads to a enhanced understanding of Yahweh and a more resilient faith in the God of history. This is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the tribes and of Moses. Each suffering experience comes from the pride, self-indulgence, and injustice handed to the poor. Those of wealth, education, power, and influence strive to enhance their living on the backs of the workers and the poor.

The entire prophecy of Isaiah offers us a pathway of a return to a new Jerusalem, a city of Peace and prosperity, to the City where God dwells with mankind. All three segments of Isaiah remind us God is the God of History. God doesn’t give up on his creation. This flies in the face of how most of us live. We frequently separate our daily lives from Sunday lives as we divide our living into opposing dimensions. Much of our living in community, in work, in civil relationships march to the drum beat of the world. This is reinforced in the United States by the doctrine of the separation of Church and State. We sincerely believe and support the doctrine that the state will not endorse or favor any religious tradition. The framers of the documents of our national incorporation remembered the devastation of the Thirty Year’s War in Europe. That constant conflict slaughtered more than four hundred thousand non-combatants, robbed nations of its youthful talent, and drained treasuries. Those wars were conducted under the guise of establishing one religion as the religion of the state. Looking behind the scenes of power we discover those wars were the source of wealth and power for many. That wealth and power was nourished by the blood of the poor and the innocent.

It has been a temptation for religion to use political power to support its agenda. In our United States history several Christian leaders sought to gain influence in political discourse. Even though the majority of reformed Christianity thought abortion was a Catholic issue, they discovered abortion could be used as a rallying point to acquire political influence. A leading minister promised Ronald Reagan he could deliver the vote of the Bible Belt if he promised to make abortion a political issue. That political promise has never been fulfilled either then or now. Abortion robbed the Hebrew-Christian tradition of its abiding belief in the sacredness of all life, born and unborn. Political focus on the unborn distracted attention from the lives of those already born, allowing for an ignoring of the needs of children born, of youth impoverished, of workers denied dignified work that could provide adequate support of families. The failure to respect the wisdom and experience of the aged who no longer are units of production has encouraged a disregard of the elderly who struggle with poverty and inattention. By succumbing to the idolatrous desire for political power, we have denied the right to life to millions of persons already born. The emphasis must be support and defense of all human life including the alien, the disabled, the challenged, the victims of war and the search for political power.

In the first section of Isaiah we see the prophet shouting to the nation: "Repent, mend your ways, return to the Lord." Isaiah identifies the sins of the nation as pride, self-indulgence by the powerful and wealthy, and a callous injustice toward the poor. We can identify these traits under the term corruption which turns power and wealth to the advantage of those in power and in control of the assets of production and commerce. Corruption is always the root cause of the fall of empires, of kingdoms, of democracies, of republics. Wealth and power are not necessarily corrupt, nor does wealth and power necessarily lead to corruption. Lord Acton speaks of power in this way.

"Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you super-add the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority."

But even more telling is another of Lord Acton’s quotes:

"The notion of sin and repentance waned with belief in authority. Men thought they could make good the evil they do."

When those holding power and wealth deny the existence of truth and an objective goodness they in effect are corrupt. When lies and fabrications, twisting of the truth of events and violence become the norm for behavior, then there is corruption. Power, wealth, knowledge, wisdom, and influence are not corrupt in themselves. But those who possess these attributes are historically tempted to worship those attributes in the place of a compassionate, loving, and caring God. Idolatry is an awful sin because through it we deny a basis for truth and morality.

In the end of the first section of Isaiah, the northern kingdom, Israel, was conquered by the Assyrians and its subjects dispersed through-out the known world. This how the region of Samaritans began.

The second part of Isaiah reflects the disaster of the Babylonian conquest of Judah. There were two Babylonian campaigns against Judah. After the first a Babylonian governor was set up to govern Judah. There followed a rebellion by the nation in which the Babylonian governor was assassinated. As punishment, the city Jerusalem was destroyed, buildings leveled, men, women and children slaughtered, and the temple totally destroyed to its very foundations. The wealthy, the powerful, the educated, and the nobility of Judah were taken away into slavery into Babylon and its cities. Jerusalem was left to bandits and vagrants. It was an unsafe place and a city of desolation that must have looked like Germany at the end of the WW II. This second portion of Isaiah reflects the experience of the Jews as slaves and captives in the Babylonian Empire. This second Isaiah sought to discover the meaning of this terrible situation for the Jews whose God promised mercy and support. During this captivity in Babylon, religious leaders did a critical review of the history of God in the history of the Hebrew Tribes. It was during this time that the first books of Hebrew Scripture were written down, collected from the oral tradition of the people. It was during this time that later books were also written, taken from the writings that chronicled the works, the culture, the worship of the nation of Israel during the time of conquest, the time of the judges, and the time of the kings beginning with Saul and leading up to Solomon. After Solomon, the one kingdom split into two – the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of Israel. Upon the split, there followed a period of prophets who struggled to keep the faith true to the one God, the Lawgiver, the One who called Abram and Sara out of Ur of the Chaldees into the land God promised to Abraham and to his successors. This section of Isaiah gives us the Suffering Servant. In his four songs about the Suffering Servant, Isaiah insists a return to the glory of Jerusalem will be achieved only by the "one who takes on the sins of all." We apply these prophecies to the Anointed One, the Christ, the God-Man Jesus.

The third part of Isaiah follows the Jews release from the clutches of the Babylonian empire by Cyrus the Great of Persia. It was a time of return, a time of renewal of the faith and rituals of the Mosaic experience at Sinai and in the desert wanderings. But it was even more so a time of great uncertainty. But the prophets, Isaiah ( the 3rd), Ezekiel, Ezra. Nehemiah, Malachi and others found a foothold in this period of uncertainty to teach, to cajole, to insist on the presence of Yahweh among his people. This time portrayed by Isaiah leads us to the time of the Anointed One, the time of the Christ (Greek for ‘the anointed one’). It was a time when hope was in short supply. The work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and the Temple seemed insurmountable. But they persisted in the light of God’s presence.

Words change meaning over time as persons experience their lives. The intensity of experience and images dissipate with the familiarity of their usage. The coy and often irrelevant use by writers and homilists does little to revitalize the value of those experiences and images. Emmanuel is one such word. In the season of Advent and it fruition in the season of Christmas, Emmanuel becomes a nick-name for Jesus. We wonder why we don’t call out, "Hey, Emmanuel! Come to us now." But Emmanuel isn’t a proper or nick-name. Emmanuel is a condition, an environment in which we live. Emmanuel has always meant – even in its watered down understanding by overexposure and misuse – God with us. It is a condition of living for Christians – Reformed and Roman and Byzantine and Orthodox and all the other Christian traditions. It is apparent, if we think about the condition of the world in our time, that we have dumbed down the meaning of Emmanuel, the meaning of the Prophets, the truth of the Exodus and the desert wanderings, the conquest of the Promised Land, the struggles to establish a nation from among warring tribes, the progeny of Jacob, and the fight of the Maccabees against the pagan influence of the intellectual Greeks.

Every Christmas season serves to remind us that "God IS with us". And today our first reading from Isaiah tells us how we will know this to be true. The first line of our Isaiah reading insists: "Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come! The glory of God shines upon you." The next verses tell us why this light that shines is so important. "See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the Lord shines and over you appears the glory. Nations shall walk by your light."

Doesn’t the darkness and thick clouds that cover the people not describe the condition of the world? On every continent there are movements toward autocratic control. Resources of the earth are taken by arrogant wealthy to increase their accumulation. Laws are enacted to control and subordinate whole swaths of persons. More and more individuals are denied dignity and worth as persons. Those in power consider people units of production, creating additional wealth for those in high places. Human experience is valued only if it adds to autocratic, oligarchic wealth, reducing ordinary people to consumers driving economies that enrich those in power and wealth. The poor become impoverished: those who work for family and home are burdened with obligations that provide avenues for prideful rich to become richer. How much of their new wealth will in fact be invested to create jobs and opportunities for the middle class and opportunities for the poor be struggle their way into the middle class and a better life for themselves and their children? We live so much in the present that we fail to review our history for clues of what works for the common good of all.

Emmanuel! We have fallen victim to the division of our lives into the sacred and the profane. We accept systems of power, economy, and leadership without reflecting on the effect on creation and on the dignity and worth of individual humanity. The great divide in our lives between faith and the movements of secular history is not bridged by Emmanuel. Isaiah insists in all three segments of those prophecies that God is the God of history. God is present and at work. When humanity discovers God present in the day-to-day of human life, great progress is made toward the establishment of the Kingdom of God. Isaiah is a guide for us. Isaiah insists that a Great Light has come to the people. The darkness and fog of the way of the world is pierced through by God’s presence in word and in work.

"The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!"
 

Carol & Dennis Keller dkeller002@nc.rr.com

 

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GOD’S GREATEST GIFT: EPIPHANY (B)

‘Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.’

At Christmas time we give gifts to different people. Different people give gifts to us. What's it all about? It all goes back to the story of the wise men going to Bethlehem, falling down on their knees, and offering the best gifts they could afford to the Infant King.

Our gift-giving may sometimes be aimed more at keeping on side and keeping the peace than anything else. Our gift-giving may at times be part of the commercialization of Christmas instead of expressions of unconditional love.

In contrast, the wise men are completely single-minded and sincere in their giving. Their gifts are expressions of their respect, reverence, gratitude and love for the poor Baby of Bethlehem. Their gifts are given with no strings attached, no conditions, and no mixed motives.

The flaws in our gift-giving may make us feel that the whole business of exchanging Christmas gifts should be gradually abolished, and that the commercialization of Christmas should be restricted and restrained. If or when we think such thoughts, it may help to remember that the commercialization of Christmas is somewhat necessary. Were it a completely spiritual celebration, hundreds of small businesses would go to the wall. Thousands of factory workers making bon-bons, trees, chocolates, decorations, cards and toys, would find themselves unemployed.

It may also be helpful to remember that if people did not spend money on gifts to family and friends at Christmas, their consciences would not be roused to make donations to the poor and needy at this time of giving and sharing. (Many charities, in fact, experience quite a boost at Christmas time).

Despite the limits and flaws in our gift-giving, it’s important to both keep the practice alive and to purify it of its worst excesses. It's particularly important to the lives of children. The good news is that while they are attracted to receiving e.g. a gift of a new play-station, they are also attracted to the Crib and to the story of the baby lying there. Their hearts are touched by the plight of his parents who are so poor that they can offer him nothing except their protection and affection. In fact, children very easily get the message that this is a story of love. They appreciate the humanity of the Holy Family, their struggles and their sacrifices, to bring to the human race the Light of the Nations.

The story of the visit to the Crib by the Wise Men is a story of giving and receiving. But it is not simply about the giving of things - in this case gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It speaks of how gifts express love between persons, and of how gifts given with love bind people together.

In celebrating Epiphany we are celebrating the greatest manifestation and gift that there has ever been, that of God's love for us. For it was out of love, that God the Father gave us the Son, his number one gift, and gave him to be our Light, our Saviour, our King and our Joy.

Jesus, then, is the celebrity we are celebrating at this time. He is the reason for the season, the Twelve Days of Christmas, that began on Christmas Day. So, as a beautiful carol puts it: ‘JOY, JOY, FOR CHRIST IS BORN, THE BABE, THE SON OF MARY!’

As our Eucharist continues then, I suggest that we make a special point of giving thanks for the coming of Jesus Christ into our lives. May we acknowledge with sincerity that he is the most precious gift we have ever received! May we also renew in return the gift of our whole lives to God!

Moreover, as a modern hymn puts it, let us

Give thanks with a grateful heart

Give thanks to the Holy One,

Because he has given, Jesus Christ, his Son.

And now let the weak say I am strong

Let the poor say I am rich

Because of what the Lord has done for us.

Give thanks!

"Brian Gleeson CP" <bgleesoncp@gmail.com>

 

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Volume 2 is for you. Your thoughts, reflections, and insights on the next Sundays readings can influence the preaching you hear. Send them to preacherexchange@att.net.  Deadline is Wednesday Noon. Include your Name, and Email Address.

-- Fr. John
 


 

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