Sunday, January 05, 2020

Christmas is the 'message'; Epiphany is about our mission (Sunday homily)

With all the hustle and build-up to Christmas,
By this point of the new year, this feast of Epiphany gets lost.
Lots of people think Christmas is over.

Not so!

Jesus wasn’t born just to receive visits and gifts; 
he came to do something. 

The two feasts, Christmas and Epiphany, are both super-important; 
they form the heart of this season.
One way to think about is “message” and “mission”:
Christmas is the “message” and Epiphany is about “mission.”

Christmas: God came to us as one of us. 
God became flesh and dwells among us. 
God became man so that men might become God.

That’s the message: from Gabriel to Mary and Joseph;
From the angels on Christmas night.
That’s our Faith and our hope.

Now, Epiphany is about mission: take that message everywhere.
“Go out to all the world,” Jesus said;
“Preach the Gospel to every creature”;
“And I will be with you until the end of the age,” he promised.

And it’s kind of funny the way God underlines this point:
Before he sends us to the world,
He has the world – in the person of the magi – come to Bethlehem!
In a way, it answers in advance the objections people always have:
Oh, we can’t go out and tell people about Jesus!
It’s too hard; we don’t want to be pushy; and, people won’t listen.

Now, it’s true, sharing our faith takes effort; 
it can even require sacrifice and risk. 

Meanwhile, there are a lot of people, including a lot Catholics, and – 
I’m sorry to say, even bishops – who perpetuate this idea 
that pretty much everyone is headed to heaven.

Along with this goes the notion 
that there really aren’t any important differences between 
Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or other beliefs.

These are much more soothing things to believe; 
They let us off the hook from the embarrassment of sharing our faith, 
or offering a counterpoint to the world around us.

The only trouble is that Jesus never said these things.
He said the exact opposite.

“No one comes to the Father except through me,” he said.
“Enter through the narrow gate,” Jesus warned,
because broad and easy is the road that leads to destruction; 
but “hard is the way that leads to salvation.”

You will find such blunt talk from Jesus on every page of the Gospels. 
I think he said it so much  
precisely because we would be tempted to believe those other voices.

That said, you and I certainly must not be pushy or arrogant.
On one side is indifferentism, which I just talked about.

The other temptation is to act superior.
“We are the Catholics!” Look at us!
You and I are not smarter, not better, not holier;
God does not love us more, because we are Catholic.

Sometimes we focus on the wrong stuff.
It’s not about impressing God by how often we go to confession,
Or how piously we can recite our prayers.
We don’t wear a cross or scapular to show off.
Rather, the point of it all is that you and I are sinners,
and we need every bit of help we can get.

Being a Catholic is not badge of accomplishment!
Maybe you’ve heard of AA, Alcoholics Anonymous.
It’s a lifeboat for those who are drowning in booze.
And the Catholic Faith is a lifeboat for those who are drowning in sin. 
So maybe we could change our name to “Sinners Anonymous.”

If you’re in the life-raft, don’t brag; get busy pulling others in!

Is it true that people won’t listen? Of course! 
It happened to Jesus himself!
But that isn’t to say it does no good.
Seeds of faith often take many years to germinate.
That little bit of faith you share, by word or example,
May make all the difference, but you won’t know until heaven.
Pride says, “I want to be successful.” 
Love says, “I want to be faithful.”

It is intimidating to think about “sharing our faith”: 
What does it mean? How do I do it?

Let me answer this way. If someone asked you, 
“Do you love your spouse?”; “Do you love your family?”;
or “Do you love America?”
Would you know how to answer? I think you would.

We would all answer in our own way.
Some might even be offended by the question, right?
Your answer doesn’t have to be fancy or intellectual;
it just has to be true; and then people will believe you.

And it’s the same here, except now the question is,
“Do you love Jesus?”

Sometimes you might not be ready with an answer
because you may not have sorted out your faith yet.
That’s where I was as a teenager, tagging along with my family.
We grow into that moment when it’s not just “our” faith;
Now it’s “MY” faith. I believe.

Then, I can look in my heart and give an answer.
“Sharing your faith”? That’s it. That’s how you do it.
And that is our mission. 

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