Next year, I will be ordained twenty-eight years, so as of today, I have preached on Epiphany twenty-seven times. Often I use the same homily because it is the same reading but the story has so much symbolism it is fascinating.
However, I do not use the same homily every year and I preached that homily last year. So, let us look at something different.
What makes it more interesting is that in twenty-seven years of priesthood, I never noticed what is probably the most important twist in the whole story of the Magi.
This past week, we celebrated the feast of the Holy Innocents. These were the infants two years old and younger whom Herod demanded to be executed to put an end to the threat of the new king coming to the Jewish People.
I am sure you know enough about politics to understand that in many cultures the threat to the throne is captured and executed before he can carry out his plans. This is clearly Herod’s plan. His first reaction is “I am the king of the Jews and there is no other.”
There is an interesting twist in this whole scenario. Once the Magi explain they are looking for the King of the Jews whose star they saw in the sky, Herod calls the chief priests and the scribes to investigate their claim. They confirm it and it is then that Herod puts his plan in action first to get intelligence as to whom and where this so called king is. That task he lays upon the Magi who are unaware of his ultimate plans. When that failed, he used plan B—kill all infants.
Where is that important twist?
The chief priests and the scribes not only confirm the Magi’s story to Herod, they prove this is by God’s design. Herod’s action is one of idolatry, the worst sin in the Bible. “I am the God in this Kingdom and there is no other.” That is literally what he does even if it is not explicitly spoken of in the story.
There is an important lesson there. What is the source of tyranny in Herod’s reign? Idolatry, he made himself greater than God.
The minute the leaders in a society say I am God here, or there is no God—whether it is a ruling party, a king, a chancellor, an agency or any form of personal or corporate civil or cultural leader, you understand that you encountered the tyrant.
Do not forget tyrants are good at giving lip service to God. Anyone can do that and even Herod did the same. The tyrant will always make it clear, however, that he or she is God in this territory. One of the most vicious tyrants in the American hemisphere was Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. The national seal says Dios Patria Familia: God Country Family. He would stand in front of the word Dios, God, because he was god in the Dominican Republic.
We are on the precipice of a new era in our country and in the midst of a difficult time. What must be our direction? We have a calling to embrace God as the Magi do.
For decades in this country, we watched our nation turn away from God and embrace and exalt human wisdom and achievement. There has been a move to eliminate God from every form of public discourse. Often times the defense is “look the sky didn’t fall after I took my action.” The truth is the sky never falls but the action begins a series of events that lead to a radical change in the society decades later.
Herod’s choice to reject God’s plan for his people did not cause the sky to fall but the result happened disastrously decades later. The Romans came in and destroyed the temple. The nation did not exist again until 1948 and to this day the temple has not been rebuilt. You can be assured that both John the Baptist and Jesus knew that day was coming. They warned people to turn back to God, they warn us through the Gospels. Let us heed their words this year.
So, what are we Catholics to do?
I believe that our country is undergoing a spiritual battle. Therefore, we must respond spiritually. Spiritual battles do not involve physical weapons. The greatest power we have is our faith in God and the greatest way that power can be manifested is by us choosing this day to become faithful to Him. We are not here to point out others’ sins, failures, etc. We are not here to attack others who pose a threat to our freedom of religion. We are here to seek to do the will of God by growing in faithfulness to him, in prayer and devotion and by repenting of our sins.
Who is the most powerful force for the destruction of humanity in the universe? The devil. How do you defeat the devil? Prayer and fasting.
The story of the three kings demonstrates what happens when we give lip service to God. Every time it causes a process of great destruction. I always point out that many of the leaders of NAZI Germany were ex-Catholics including Hitler himself. Do not ever forget that.
As we begin this new year, let us resolve to end it on the precipice of 2022 as people who returned to Christ with our whole heart and our whole mind. Let us seek to live lives of prayer and devotion with intention of returning to God with our whole heart and mind.
The greatest weapon against evil is the faithfulness of God’s people.
If evil grows powerful in this country it will be the fruit of the long history of many decades of losing a sense of what it means to live our Catholic faith today and maybe even turning a blind eye to issues in the name of what protects what material goods we treasure most.
We may have also taken upon ourselves a battle that isn’t ours. The way to defeat the most destructive force in the universe is through prayer and fasting. Let us reflect on that and come up with our respective plans for this coming year. So that a year from now we may be powerful signs of the light of Christ to those who seek him and let us eliminate from our lives every form of idolatry especially the most subtle that ones that are easy to dismiss.
Photo: By James Tissot - Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2008, 00.159.31_PS2.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10957334