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Westward Leading, Still Proceeding

User’s Guide to Sunday
By Tom and April Hoopes

Sunday, Jan. 2, 2011, is the solemnity of the Epiphany in the United States (Liturgical Year A, Cycle I).

Saturday, Jan. 1, the solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, is not a holy day of obligation in the United States this year because it falls on a Saturday.

Papal
On Saturday, Jan. 1, at 10am, Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate Mass for the 44th World Day of Peace at St. Peter’s Basilica.

On Thursday, Jan. 6, at 10am, Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate Epiphany Mass at 10am at St. Peter’s Basilica.

Readings
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalms 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-13; Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

Our Take
Certain stories in the Gospel take us by surprise. The three temptations of Christ, with the devil whisking Jesus around like a magician. The beheading of John the Baptist as a response to a dance at a birthday party. They are wild, unexpected incidents that don’t follow the rules of the rest of the Gospel.

The Epiphany is one of those. It’s an exotic adventure story that feels almost incidental to the main event. But the Church finds it important enough to give it its own feast, so we should give it importance, too. Here are some lessons to take away:

1. We are on a quest. The Epiphany story is a classic quest story, with mysterious signs leading a band of brothers on a journey to find the Source of Power. Ben Hur expands on this theme to show one of the Magi on a lifelong quest to find that same source of power.

That the story is in the Bible gives us permission to see our life as a quest for the Christ Child. Yes, we have certainly already found him. But we can still search for the manifestations of God in the world. What we know from the Wise Men’s quest: The journey is sometimes long, and when we find Christ, he won’t always be what we expect.

2. Beware the evil king. In the Epiphany story, the king tries to trick the Wise Men. He wants to use their earnestness and purity for his own evil purposes. But the Wise Men don’t fall for it.

In our own search for Christ, there is no reason for naiveté. There are many counterfeits of the Gospel: false faith that is really a refusal to ask hard questions; false hope that is really wishful thinking; false charity that is really cowardice, afraid to offend. As St. Paul says, “Test everything and hold fast to what is true.” If our quest is to be like the Magi’s, it should be earnest and pure — and it should take place in prayer, study and discussion.

3. Follow the star. The star in the story is not merely an astronomical special-effects moment (though, how cool is that?). It’s also a reminder that not only is the natural world capable of leading us to God by inference, but God intentionally set it up as a homing beacon.

John Denver was right about one thing: In a place of great natural beauty, it is very possible to “speak to God and listen to his casual reply.” To hear God speak to us in this way, we first have to give him the opportunity. Explore the parks, prairies and peaks nearby. But remember: If the Wise Men had only followed the star, they would have put Jesus in danger. Eventually, they had to listen to the warning voice of the angel. The order and beauty of nature is just one way God communicates to us. The most direct ways are the words of Scripture and the Church.

4. Welcome the camels. Lastly, this story is a reminder of the universality of the Church, which embraces people from all parts of the world.

“Nations shall walk by your light and kings by your shining radiance,” says the first reading. “Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come.” The Psalm says, “The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts; the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute.”

Our Church is the Church of many cultures. It’s an exotic Church in addition to a down-home Church, but we are one in our adoration of the Lord.

Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,

where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.