Sunday, January 08, 2017

'The Next Chapter' (Epiphany homily)

This feast of Epiphany may be more important than you realize. 

In many places outside the United States, 
the celebration of Epiphany is as special, if not more special, 
than Christmas. 

That may seem odd to us; but then, to these other Christians, 
who really enjoy celebrating this day, 
it may seem odd that we in the U.S. don’t make much of Epiphany.

Why is Epiphany important? 
Because it’s the next chapter. 

A lot of folks think of Christmas as the goal – 
the place to arrive, sort of like Joseph and Mary, 
who make their journey, and then the Magi make their journey too. 
Christmas becomes a destination. 
Isn’t it sort of like that? 
We have this great build-up to December 25, and then what? 
We have a food coma for a week!
The day after Christmas, everything is half-off!

But because that totally misunderstands Christmas, 
it also means we misunderstands Epiphany. 
Christmas is much more a beginning than an ending-point. 
After all, Jesus wasn’t born just to receive visits and gifts;
He came to do something. 

That’s the next chapter. The meaning of the Magi 
is that the light of Jesus is now beginning to reach out, 
beyond the stable, beyond Bethlehem, 
and beyond God’s Chosen People of Israel. 

As the first reading talks about, 
the light goes out to the nations, to all the world. 
That is symbolized by the arrival of these seekers from the east. 
They do not belong to Israel. 
They probably worshipped false gods; 
but they were looking for the truth, 
and they followed the light of a star till it led them to the Light itself.

There are several ways we could go with this, 
but at the head of the year of our Lord 2017, 
I want to talk about what this means for us as a parish. 
Very simply, what star will we be following, and where will it lead us?

As you know, I’ve been talking frequently 
about the mission of this parish, 
to share Christ with the people of this community. 
The Prophet Isaiah described how God wanted his holy people 
to be a light to the nations, to draw them to himself; 
so that, as we prayed in the psalm, 
“every nation on earth will adore” Him. 

That was Israel’s mission; and it is the Catholic Church’s mission. 
It is St. Remy’s mission. It is Father Martin Fox’s mission. 
And it is your mission; I mean, each person listening to me, 
however young or old. We all share it.

But how? What are you and I supposed to do? Is there a plan?

That’s something I’ve been working on with our parish staff 
and with the Pastoral Council. 
In a couple of weeks, the Pastoral Council and I hope 
to fine-tune some pastoral priorities. 
Then, we’ll share with the parish some concrete goals and tasks 
that will get us up and moving. 

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we as a parish 
aren’t already “in motion.” A lot of good things are happening. 
There’s a lot of light in this parish, thank God.

But let me be very blunt. In recent decades, 
the Catholic Church in our country, 
throughout North and South America and in Europe, is in crisis. 
In so many places, the practice of the Faith has collapsed. 
Universities and high schools and hospitals, 
built over many generations with great love and sacrifice, 
have mostly or entirely lost their Catholic identity. 
And we all know people who have walked away from the Faith.

The natural question is, why did all this happen? 
I’ll save the longer answer for another time. 
But a partial but pretty good answer is that 
what worked 60 years ago isn’t working now.
The world has changed. So how you and I share the Faith – 
with our children and our community – likewise must change.

The good news is, that we are doing a lot of things right in Russia,
 thanks to the deep faith of our community 
and the leadership of others who have gone before us. 

My message isn’t meant to be negative but positive: 
We don’t have to watch and wait; 
you and I can do things to make a positive difference. 

This is what I’ve been discussing 
with our staff and our pastoral council, and now, in 2017, 
it’s time to start talking with you about it. 

You’ll hear more as the year goes along, 
but in one sense it’s really simple: 
how do you and I help each other deepen and grow in our Faith together? 
How do we invite others, and what might we do 
to ensure they feel welcome? 
And what do we do when they show up? 
And then, what do we do after that?

With God’s help, together, 
you and I are going to answer these questions, and more. 
There’s a star that is going to lead us, we can be sure of that. 
God will provide it. 
But with all that, there are two simple steps that must happen 
to make everything else happen: 
You and I have to look up and see the star, and then decide, 
“I think I’ll see where that will lead me.” 

In other words, as a parish, we can’t be content with where we are.
We’re in a good spot. 
But Jesus didn’t save us and call us and equip us
just to find a good spot; 
he called us to find souls and bring them in. 

As a parish, you and I have to want more; 
to be hungry and thirsty for it. 

God will send the star. It’s there already. 
Our decision is whether to get up, 
and follow it, wherever it may lead. 

No comments: