A Light for the Nations

A Homily for Epiphany

May all kings bow before him, all nations serve him.

–Psalm 72:11–

           When I was growing up, our family would unwrap our Christmas gifts on Christmas morning.  My siblings and I would have only a few hours to enjoy our booty, but then, sure enough, sometime in the afternoon, the cousins would arrive, and we would have to share our new toys with them.  Ugh!  Why do these strangers have to show up and ruin everything? I would think to myself.  Couldn’t they just leave us alone to enjoy what we have?

           For many years, I used to believe that if I were Saint Joseph, I would think exactly about the Magi as young Bernard Ezaki thought about his cousins: Why must these wise guys, these foreigners, show up?  Why do I have to share the Christ Child with them?  Couldn’t they just leave us alone to enjoy the Baby?  Over the years, however, I’ve come to look at the Feast of the Epiphany with a more mature and generous frame of mind.  Now I’m glad I belong to a Church that believes in sharing Jesus with the world.  My change in outlook began when I was in my twenties.

           In the summer of 1982, while I was still in graduate school, I took a trip to Lourdes, France.  I was amazed to learn how many nations were represented by the pilgrims who came to Our Lady’s shrine.  There were people from England, Scotland, France, Germany, Canada, the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Poland, Australia, the Philippines, and Japan.  Name whatever nationality you like; chances are it was represented.  Sometimes we would pray the rosary together in Latin, the universal language of the Roman Catholic Church, and it was as if the curse of the Tower of Babel was undone.  Oh sure, the French pronounced their Latin in their characteristically nasal way.  The Japanese were more guttural.  The Americans did their best in a kind of Ralph Kramden fashion (Hobbidy, hobbidy, hobbidy).  But we were all praying together in a common tongue.  I was impressed!  Perhaps it is no coincidence that within a year after leaving Lourdes, I phoned our diocesan vocations director inquiring about what it would take for me to enter the seminary.  I was no longer a selfish child, and I wanted to belong to a Church that was international.  I wanted to belong to a Catholic, i.e. to a universal, Church, a Church that embraced not only all places, but all times as well.

           Look around you right now.  Count how many nationalities and ethnicities are represented here at Saint Jane’s.  Why, our noon Mass is a regular United Nations!  Isn’t it great to be Catholic?  Isn’t it wonderful to know that we have more in common with our fellow believers around the world and in all times than we do with our contemporary nonbelievers here at home?  Isn’t it awesome to know that the Catholic Church believes in embracing people down through the centuries and from all over the world, in sharing Jesus Christ with every epoch and nation?  When it comes to true diversity, the Catholic Church has been longer at it than anyone else!

           So Casper, Melchior, Balthazar, I’m no longer a bratty kid.  Come on over, and bring your friends!