"When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, Magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is the newborn King of the Jews? We saw His star at its rising and have come to do Him homage'" (Matthew 2:1–2).
On Jan. 6, the Church traditionally celebrates Epiphany, the visitation of the Christ Child by the Wise Men. These men made their visit at great personal expense, traveling for a long distance to accomplish one goal — to offer praise to the newborn King of the Jews. Their dedication, effort and sincere devotion poses a question to us: How dedicated are we when it comes to worshipping God? How much effort are we willing to expend on a cold, snowy Sunday morning to go to Mass? And perhaps even more important — when it comes to praising God, how sincere is our worship?
The account in Matthew's Gospel juxtaposes two types of believers — those who respond with unlimited love and those who respond with self-interest. As an example of love, you have the Magi, whose desire to worship the King of Kings knew no bounds. As a case of scorn, you have Herod, the sitting king of the Jews, whose worship of God was limited to lip service. "Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found Him, bring me word, that I too may go and do Him homage" (Matthew 2:8).
When Herod said he wanted to do Christ homage, it was a lie. He wanted to ascertain the whereabouts of the Child so that he could destroy Him.
Perhaps many sincere believers in the Catholic faith fall far closer to the example of the Magi than they do to that of King Herod. But it behooves us, on this holy solemnity, to consider times when we have succumbed to Herod's example of phony piety, just giving lip service to worshipping God — instead of truly worshipping and loving Him.
Sadly, in the aftermath of COVID lockdowns and churches being shuttered, I have encountered many individuals who have become entirely comfortable watching Mass on TV in lieu of going to Mass in person and receiving the fullness of God's graces by the reception of the Blessed Sacrament.
I use the word "comfortable" here purposefully. When talking to these individuals who continue to self-exile from the Church, I have found that the majority justify their ongoing TV Mass viewing by citing how this, that or the next discomfort prohibits them from getting off their sofa on a Sunday morning and going to church!
Recently, I heard, "You know, Father, there is the new omicron variant going around now, and the vaccines are not effective against it. I don't want to get sick." My rebuttal to this one was:
You still shop for groceries, don't you? If you follow your rationale for not going to Mass, not wanting to get sick, then you should just have your groceries delivered — and be satisfied with the fruit, vegetables and meats that someone else chooses for you, hoping that the delivery person is not contagious.
In the aftermath of the COVID lockdowns, too many have settled for an existence that is far less than what God desires of those made in His image and likeness. They have settled for mediocrity, living in self-imposed isolation out of fear from this, that and the next evil (whether real or imagined).
A lesson can be learned from the Wise Men here. These men, in addition to being smart, were also fundamentally fearless. Imagine, even today, starting out on a journey in which you do not know the destination, simply knowing that you must follow a star! These men traveled from the comfort of their own homes, going across the barren wastes and wilds between their homeland near the Euphrates and Tigris rivers to worship the King of Kings hundreds of miles away. Yet, they did so joyfully and filled with hope! The fearlessness of the Wise Men needs to be taken to heart by each and every Christian. And it needs to be put into practice.
Those of you still clinging to fears about this or that thing and refraining from going to Mass in person, push the fears aside. Go to Mass, reacquaint yourself with your parish community, make it a point to go to confession, and receive the Blessed Sacrament. Untold graces await you for worthily receiving Our Lord's True Presence in the Blessed Sacrament. The graces lost to humanity during the Church lockdowns were immeasurable. Now is the time, in 2022, to rectify the deficit.
The Devil makes hay with the human emotion of fear. Now, some fear is a good thing, like fear of black ice on the highway on a winter's day. But too much fear is bad, especially fear that is not substantiated by anything factual. As disciples of Christ, we should always bring our fears to Our Lord in our daily prayers, and let Him brush them aside. Let's remain certain in the knowledge that He loves us and wants the best for us and our families.
In short, bad fear thrives and grows in the darkness. Bring all your fears to God daily, and He will give you the hope, direction and courage to move forward, to be fearless disciples of the Lord — as compared to cowardly men and women, barely subsisting.
So, this Epiphany, take to heart not only Whom the Wise Men revealed, but the method by which they discovered Christ, a method that did not make any provision for fear or for personal comfort, but served one purpose alone — to worship the true God. The year 2022 requires fearless and courageous disciples who will follow in the footsteps of the Wise Men. My prayer for this year is that, for the faithful, all the residual COVID craziness and related COVID fears will be jettisoned by the strong winds of this winter and replaced with the sure knowledge that God has it all in His hand.