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