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Epiphany – Year A 2019

1) IF I were to ask you how many St. Teresa’s there were

on the universal calendar of the Roman Catholic Church,

what would you say?

2) We would quickly list the ones we know; St. Therese of

Lisieux, the French nun and Doctor of the Church

3) St. Teresa of Avila, the Spanish Carmelite reformer.

4) Many would jump in with St. Teresa of Calcutta; mother


5) But how many of us would mention Saint Teresa

Benedicta of the Cross?

6) Well, she was a German Jewish philosopher who,

a) converted to the Catholic faith in the 1930s,

b) became a Carmelite nun,

c) and was eventually murdered by the Nazis at

Auschwitz in 1942.

d) I have mentioned her before in homilies because,

i) as a convert, she is a personal favorite of mine,

ii) and I have often prayed in the church in Münster,


(1) where she wrestled with her conversion.

7) She was canonized by John Paul II in 1995 as Saint

Teresa Benedicta of the Cross –

a) the name given to her when she entered the

Carmelite order –

b) Though most people know her by her birth name -

Edith Stein.

8) When John Paul proclaimed Edith Stein a saint,

a) he hoped that it would bring Jews and Christians


9) Well, just because the pope is supposed to be infallible,

a) doesn’t mean he can’t be naïve.

10) The Jewish world exploded in anger at her


a) Why?

i) She wasn’t killed for being Christian, the Jewish

community cried,

(1) but for being Jewish

ii) To canonize her

(1) was to hijack the holocaust for Christian


11) And thus, sadly Edith Stein became not only a Jew, a

Catholic, a convert, a martyr, a victim, but also a pawn

in the ongoing battle between Jew and Christian.

12) Yes, ongoing. That might surprise some to hear;

a) After all, we think, we are Americans; if there is ever a

place where Jews and Christians live in peace it is


b) And yet who here has not inherited the prejudices of

our parents?

c) Who has not used the insults developed over

generations of conflicts?

d) Who here has not resented the mess in the Middle

East and blamed it at least in part on Israel?

e) Who here has not looked at the Jewish people,

especially those who dress differently than we do or

speak differently than we do as different; as

outsiders, even though they American citizens too?

13) No, if we are not aware of that ongoing battle

a) it is because the ideas that shape it

b) and the fear that feeds it

i) are so close to us that we do not even recognize it.

14) We do not recognize it when it is shouting at us from

the very pages of the Bible in Matthew’s description of

the Jewish King, Herod.

a) Herod who did not know his own scriptures

i) and thus had no idea where the Messiah was to be


b) Herod who should have greeted the birth of the

Messiah with joy,

i) but instead reacted with fear

c) Herod, who soon would kill the innocent children of


i) in an attempt to stop this newborn king.

15) For Jews, Matthew’s story of Herod is anti Jewish


16) For Christians, Matthew’s story of Herod is Sacred


17) For Both, Herod, like Edith Stein, is just another pawn

in that ancient battle.

18) And yet, it was not supposed to be this way,

a) For in that part of the Bible, which is Sacred Scripture

to both Christians and Jews, we encounter the words

of today’s first reading,

i) Words written when the Jewish people were

returning home after a generation of forced exile in

the far - off kingdom of Babylon.

ii) During that time, they had been forced to follow

Babylonian customs, speak the Babylonian

language, and even worship Babylonian gods.

iii) They were forced to become Babylonians

(1) and it was understandable that now they

would want to be Jews

(a) they would fear foreigners,

(b) focus on themselves

(c) and reject the outside world.

iv) But when we read the prophet’s words in today’s

first reading,

(1) we see that is NOT what God wanted.

v) God did not want them to focus on themselves

(1) but to follow the Law as a sure guide to a

good life,

vi) God did not want them fear foreigners

(1) but to invite them to follow God’s law as


vii) God did not want them to reject the outside


(1) but to open themselves to it,

(2) Welcoming all nations to come and worship

their God.

19) When they did this, the prophet said, they would

become a “light to the nations”;

a) Guiding them, inviting them, welcoming them

i) to become the people God creates us to be

(1) and calls us all, Jew and Gentile, to be.

20) This is why for Matthew, the story of King Herod in

not complete

a) without the story of the Magi.

21) For us they have become kings in their own right;

a) Their number has been fixed at three

b) they have been given the names Caspar, Melchior

and Balthasar,

c) and their relics are found in another German Church;

i) the Cathedral in Cologne, Germany!

22) But for Matthew none of this would have mattered.

a) What mattered was

i) that they came from the east;

(1) from the very lands in which God’s people

were once forced to live

b) What mattered was

i) that they heard the invitation,

(1) spoken of by the prophet

(2) symbolized by that star

(3) and worshiped God embodied in Jesus.

(4) And thus, showed themselves truly to be

Magi – wise men.

23) For Matthew, Herod and the Magi belong together


a) NOT because Herod is Jewish - and the Magi are not

b) Not because Herod is evil - and the Magi are good;

c) but rather because Herod and the Magi represent the

two ways

i) all of us react to the radical invitation of God

(1) symbolized by that star and embodied in


ii) We either react as Herod did,

(1) And reject the one who threatened him;

iii) Or we react as the Magi did,

(1) And follow the one who invites us to

become the “Light to the Nations” God calls us

all to be.

24) OF course, it is not that simple; we would be quick to


a) For the Jewish people the light of God is the Law

b) For Christians it is the law revealed and embodied in


25) To accept Jesus

a) is to follow that law and be part of god’s people, just

like Edith Stein did.

26) To reject him

a) is to reject the law; to reject the light just like Herod


i) and on and on and on it goes; never once realizing,

that now it is we who

(1) fear others,

(2) Focus on ourselves

(3) and reject the outside world.

27) As we begin a new decade, we are facing

extraordinary challenges in America;

a) old hatreds are given new life

b) Prejudices are once again being given privilege.

28) There are those who would just shrug and say it is all


29) Others who would claim it is “fake news”

30) Others still who would ominously suggest “they” had

it coming to them, because “they” are not one of us

31) But when people can be attacked and killed at prayer,

32) At Hanukkah, a celebration which Jesus himself


33) We then see that the hatred expressed in these


34) And the fear that drives them,

35) And the division caused by them

36) Is not just a threat to some but to us all.

37) Well this may be what some want,

a) But it is NOT what God wants.

b) And we know this; because of King Herod.

c) Because of the Magi,

d) Because of the star

i) and the choice it offers.

e) Because when

i) we invite others to share our way of life

(1) rather than fear them when they try

ii) when we serve others

(1) rather than protect ourselves

iii) And when we live in this world

(1) rather than reject it,

f) that Epiphany star still shines – in us; for we become

a part of that light to the nations;

(1) inviting, not coercing,

(2) proposing, not imposing,

(3) encouraging and never rejecting anyone

who wants to walk with us as all of us follow the


(a) promised by the prophet,

(b) symbolized by that star and embodied in


ii) when we walk in that light

iii) we walk in the company of some important people:

(1) those wise women, The four Saint


(2) those wise men, the Magi and countless


(3) when we walk with them long enough,

learn Matthew’s lesson today and follow that

light, we become light in a dark world

(4) and maybe we will then become wise

women, wise men too.

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