Sunday, January 6, 2013

Wise Stewards: Epiphany.B 2013

At Christmas generous parishioners brought me shortbread, soda bread, chocolates, wine, cookies and cake. Next year my doctor suggested that I ask for a gift card from Weight Watchers—or perhaps for gold, frankincense or myrrh, since they have no calories.

Christmas brings out the generous spirit in people. Partly gift-giving is a natural way of celebrating, but I like to think that it’s also a supernatural response to God’s gifts to us. The wise men were like good stewards, offering time, talent and treasure in homage to the newborn King: they made the sacrifice of a dangerous journey, they used their knowledge of the stars to find the way, and they gave him gifts that were precious and sincere.

Stewardship in our parish may be less dramatic and less demanding, but it follows the same pattern: countless good stewards in our community offer gifts fit for a King: gifts of time, of skill and ability, and of financial sacrifice.

Stewardship is a year-round reality at Christ the Redeemer, but it’s particularly visible at this time of year. You’ll find an insert in the bulletin that tells the beautiful story of your charity to the needy last month, so well coordinated by the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The bulletin also reports your generosity to the Christmas collection, which can make the difference between the parish ending the year in the red or in the black at this time of steady expansion in our programs and evangelization efforts.

But there are many individual stewardship stories the bulletin doesn’t tell—like the parishioner who refinished the hardwood floors in the rectory and then refused to be paid, or the parishioner who made and designed the new hymn boards so that we’d have something more attractive than money could buy. Or the parishioner who buys and delivers fresh fruit to the rectory every week of the year.

Whether it’s Christmas, Epiphany or any ordinary day, our parish is blessed to have so many men and women who recognize the gift they have received in Christ, and who want to give back generously to Him.

How do we all become people like that? How do we develop into wise men and women who understand what it means to offer time, talent, and treasure in homage to the newborn King?

It’s a crucial question, because only those who give truly receive; only those who surrender become free; and only those who make a difficult journey truly see the Lord and experience the radiant joy of his presence in their lives.

Today’s Gospel has the answer. The story of the wise men from the East shows us three very different attitudes to Christ; the one we choose determines the path our lives will follow. And as the poet Robert Frost wrote, the road we choose makes all the difference.

The first path is the path of fear. This is Herod’s attitude. He fears losing his position to a rival King. He fears what he does not know and cannot control. Herod’s insecurity drives his response to the news of the Messiah. He rejects the truth that could have brought him the deepest peace and embarks on a disastrous trail of lies and murder.

None of us here are murderous tyrants, but we can still be tempted to fear Jesus. He can challenge our selfish ambitions and drives. He can seem to be an obstacle to the life we want. Who Jesus really is can frighten us to the point that he’s as threatening to us as he was to Herod.

The second path is the way of indifference. Look at those experts whom Herod consults. They are religious—they know the Scriptures well and give the right answer to Herod’s question. But it makes no difference to their lives.  The chief priests and scribes aren’t going to ask the wise men for a place in the caravan; they’re not interested in seeing for themselves whether the Messiah has been born nearby.

We too can be tempted like that: not really to deny the Lord, but to refuse to do anything much about him. We subscribe to faith but not to the demands of discipleship; we’re in what Pierre Berton once called “the comfortable pew.”

Happily, there is a third way, and the three kings show us where it leads. Their attitude is one of readiness: they are ready to be inconvenienced, ready to meet the Lord where he is and not where they want him to be.

Those three really were “wise men”: wise enough to know that their material goods of gold, frankincense and myrrh had a place in God’s plan and could do greater things in His hands than in theirs. Wise enough to know what they didn’t know, and to open their hearts to search for the truth.

We need the feast of the Epiphany to complete Christmas. It inspires us to leave our comfort zone and get moving on the road that takes us to the life Christ came to bring: “a beautiful life, a life of steady progress in faith, hope and charity, a life of child-like trust in God and of solidarity with our brothers and sisters.”*

All this and more waits for us if we can rediscover the awe and wonder of those wise men from the Orient. As Matthew Kelly has written, “The story of Jesus Christ is the most powerful story in history and has directly or indirectly influenced every noble aspect of our modern civilization. But amidst the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, it is easy to become distracted and distance ourselves from this story.”

In his book RediscoveringCatholicism, Matthew Kelly prays that we can rediscover “the spellbinding power of the Gospel when it is actually lived.” He hopes that we can rediscover what it means to strive, for only by striving to live the full Christian life will we once again “capture the attention and intrigue the imaginations of all people everywhere.”

The Epiphany is the story of wise men who weren’t afraid to strive. Perhaps it’s no coincidence  that the subtitle of Kelly’s book is “Journeying Toward Our Spiritual North Star.”

* This quotation, along with other ideas in my homily, comes from Le Letture Bibliche delle Domeniche: Anno B, by Cardinal Albert Vanhoye, SJ.

No comments:

Post a Comment