Holy Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do you, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Archangels. Every so often there’s a story in the news about how many Americans believe in angels. Usually it’s presented in somewhat alarmist language…”more Americans believe in angels than in evolution, poll suggests!” Or “7 things Americans think are more plausible than man-made global warming! #1 Angels!” A 2011 poll conducted by the Associated Press says 77% of Americans believe angels are real. To me, how they ask the question is important. Years ago, I was one of those polled while touring the campus at Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary, and they asked, “Do you believe in angels?” and I thought “do you mean, do I believe in little adorable, chubby-cheeked Raphaelite cherubs with rainbow wings?” No, not really. Do I believe that there are things in the universe beyond my powers of comprehension who are active in doing God’s will? Then, yes. Without a doubt! When I asked for this clarification the poll taker looked at their clipboard and said, “it just says, do you believe in angels?” Well, then. “yes.”
A lot of Americans may believe in angels, but I don’t know how many of us give them much thought. Angels are one of those ubiquitous pop-culture things that show up in lots of places but I, for one, don’t spend an awful lot of time thinking about them. When I volunteered to write today’s sermon, I decided that I should do some research on angels, so I did what any self-respecting Generation-”Y”er would do…I went and re-watched the movie Dogma. Yup, you heard right!
That’s the Kevin Smith movie starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as a pair of angels who have been banished from heaven and sent not to hell, but to Wisconsin. They think they’ve discovered a loophole in Catholic Dogma that will allow them back into heaven and the movie is the wackiness that ensues as they try to enact their plan.
I enjoyed seeing it again, but I’m not sure it told me all that much about angels.
At least the angels in Dogma are somewhat closer to biblical angels than Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or Michael Landon on “Highway to Heaven,” or Roma Downey and Della Reese on “Touched by an Angel.”
At least for me, it’s hard to reconcile the “I’m just sent to help people out,” angles of those shows with the fearsome, world-ending appearance of the angels in our readings. TV angels are really pleasant, angels in scripture are really scary! Our ancestors thought much more systematically about angels. A lot of what we think we know about angels comes from a Syrian monk writing around the 5th century of the common era known as Dionysius the Areopagite. He’s the one who gives us the nine orders, or choirs, of angels.
Beginning with the Seraphim…those closest to God, the ones with six wings, two covering their feet, two covering their face, and two to fly with.
Next are the Cherubim…NOT the chubby little children that Raphael painted. These are the winged creatures with flaming swords guarding the entrance to Paradise, and represented on the top of the Ark of the Covenant. They are sometimes represented with the front quarters of a lion, and the hind quarters of a bull, the head of a man, and the wings of an eagle. Or with four-faces those of a bull, an eagle, a lion, and a human.
Then continuing down the ranks come the Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, and finally Archangels. This is where we find Michael, also Raphael, Gabriel, and sometime Uriel. At the very end, plain old angels.
It’s all quite dizzying!
Michael is one of the few named angels in scripture, and as such has attracted much devotion from a very early date. In Jewish midrash, Michael is the one who is said to have prevented the sacrifice of Isaac, saves the three young men from the fiery furnace, and the one who wrestles with Jacob. In Christian tradition, Michael is regarded as both a warrior—defeating Satan in the battle in heaven—and a healer—the earliest sanctuary dedicated to St. Michael was associated with a healing well.
Often feast days are associated with at least quasi-historical dates…often the presumed date of the saint’s death, but since angels and archangels don’t die, the association of Sept 29th with the feast of Michaelmas came from the 5th century dedication of a St. Michael’s basilica near Rome. In medieval England, Michalemas marked the end of the “husbandman’s year” when the harvest was done and accounts were settled, and hiring for the next year took place.
The fact that it takes place around the fall equinox is (I think) significant. Because in addition to angels, another thing we post-modern folks don’t think an awful lot about is the calendar. Oh sure, we are tied to our calendars but mostly to make sure that we are where we’re supposed to be when we’re supposed to be there. But our liturgical or church calendar does much more than simply mark time…it sanctifies it.
In the English Church the Feast of the Archangels would have been celebrated last night at a service called Evensong. Evensong is perhaps one of the most ancient of all prayerful actions. Our ancestors understood the necessity of marking the times of the day, the week, and the year. Those “thin-spaces” where time and eternity, earth and space, breath and Spirit flow into and out of one another. Morning Prayer at dawn. Evening Prayer at dusk. The two great hinges of every day. Weekly Sabbaths establishing times of work and rest. And yearly festivals not merely marking time but actually (re)creating and sanctifying the rhythm of existence—the rhythm of being. Michaelmas is almost an autumnal mirror of Pentecost.
In the northern hemisphere, the Triduum—the great three days of Holy Week—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday mark the dying—the pause in the tomb and the resurrection of our Lord, who becomes the first fruits of the new and unending life.
From that single seed the Holy Spirit—in the burst of Pentecost—is poured out on us to effect our transformation and the renewal of the whole earth—in this season of growth and greenness—bringing all creation closer to God’s realm.
Then as the season of growth turns to the abundance of fall and harvest our focus is increasingly drawn to the fullness of the Eschaton—the edge of time—the horizon of existence. As the sun lowers in the sky, our eyes are drawn to the horizon. As the days shorten and shadows lengthen Michaelmas directs our attention to the horizon and beyond to the heavenly host—to those who are always above and beyond us—angels.
As we move toward the fall Triduum—All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints, and All Souls day—the church continues to direct us to the culmination of all things—to those who have gone before—and then the coming of Christ just before Advent. The culmination of all things, dominions, princedoms, powers, virtues, archangels, angel choirs—all things find their reason and their rest in Christ.
You see, I do believe in angels, but more in the sense that there really are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.
So for me, this year, this celebration of the feast of St. Michael and All Angels is a gift from the church in her wisdom—a reminder to keep my eyes and heart focused on these things that really are above me and beyond my ability to grasp or understand. As the earth turns, once again, her northern face away from the sun, and we prepare again to enter the time of darkening days and cooler nights, it’s helpful to think of the heavenly hosts, the powers that I still don’t and never will totally understand—but knowing that they are working and praying and guarding and guiding and enacting God’s will…and allowing and inviting us to experience God’s grace in our own lives is somehow enough.
The 8th century scholar and monk Alcuin wrote a sequence litany for Michael and the other archangels that ends like this:
Hear us, Michael,
Come down a little
From thy high seat,
To bring us the strength of God,
And the lightening of His mercy.
And do thou, Gabriel,
Lay low our foes,
And thou, Raphael,
Heal our sick,
Purge our disease, ease thou our pain,
And give us to share
In the joys of the blessed.
The First Anniversary of the Transition to the Lord of The Servant of God, Phil of Madison IOFM
Today we come to together as his church, his clergy family and his dear friends, to remember our dear brother, The Rt Rev Philip Gerboc IOFM, on this, his first anniversary of his Transition to Eternal Life.
We all dearly loved our brother Phil. He was constantly striving in doing the Lord’s service. Phil spent a lot of time in political ministry, constantly working to improve conditions for the needy, and working to get acceptance for all our dear Lgbtqi brothers and sisters.
The servant of God Phil of Madison IOFM, passed into life eternal on 2 February 2017, after a couple of weeks in a coma with a severe double stroke. He was ordained to the priesthood on 27th May 2012 and was, at the time of his transition, the Vicar General and Bishop-elect of the Diocese of the Great Lakes of the Unified Old Catholic Church.
He was born on 19 February 1962 in Cleveland, OH to the late William and Kathleen Cullen Gerboc, the youngest of 4 children. He ministered to the homeless, mentally ill, and poor in Madison, Wisconsin and was known as the “Labor Priest.” He founded The Independent Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscan Order of The Unified Old Catholic Church, as well as the IOFM Third Order. He was also instrumental in the foundation of the church itself. Philip was one who fought for the faith, no matter the cost, who stood up for the down-trodden, who continually worked for the betterment of mankind. He truly exemplified Christ’s command to feed the hungry, to house the homeless, to clothe the naked.
Like his hero, St. Francis, Fr. Phil dedicated his life to service. A dedicated, die hard Franciscan, he could quote the Omnibus at length, at the drop of a hat, ad infinitum.
And like St. Francis, Phil has left us too soon.
Phil was a wonderful example of being a true, devout and faithful servant of God, and there is such a lot about his devotion, that we can all follow in our own lives in the service of our God. He was genuine, so sincere and would stop at nothing to care for those in need. He even put his own health at risk because others came first. I know that I am only one of the people in the church who has been blessed by the example and the love and friendship of Phil. He was very protective of his dear clergy brothers and sisters, and I remember fondly the amount of times, he would hear someone was giving me a hard time, and he would come and jump to my defence, always wanting to ensure people would treat me as Phil thought I deserved.
Thank you so much dear brother for your love and friendship, and for your example. You have indeed left a light shining in all of our hearts, and I just know you are carrying on your excellent service at the throne of the Heavenly Father on high.,
I will close with this poem Written by Lisa DeVinney on November 26, 2014:
Well Done, Faithful Servant!
Well done, faithful servant!
You ran a valiant race.
You pressed with fervour toward the mark;
And always sought My face.
Well done, faithful servant!
You stayed the course with love.
You reached out to a hurting world
With grace sent from above.
Yes, well done, faithful servant!
Come, rest here at My throne.
And let Me tell you just how much
I’m glad to have you home.
And now, My faithful servant,
Come, walk along with Me;
And find the joy awaiting you
For all eternity…
We love you!!!
Within the calendar year, there is another year: the great cycle of the liturgical year, revolving around the life and ministry Christ. Each season of the liturgical year has its own particular focus, feasts, words, and colors, giving us an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the coming of Jesus, his life, and his commission to His people to be a light to the world. Since the 900s, Advent has marked the beginning of the church year, and is a season of great anticipation, preparation, and excitement, traditionally focusing on the Nativity of the Christ Child, when Jesus came as our Savior. During Advent, we as Christians also direct our thoughts to His second coming as judge.
The word Advent is from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming,” and is celebrated during the four weeks of preparation for Christmas. Advent always contains four Sundays, beginning on the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, (November 30) and continuing until December 24. It blends together a penitential spirit, very similar to Lent, a liturgical theme of preparation for the Second and Final Coming of the Lord, called the Parousia, and a joyful theme of getting ready for the Bethlehem event. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. That is a process in which we participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate. Scripture readings for Advent reflect this emphasis on the Second Advent, including themes of accountability for faithfulness at His coming, judgment of sin, and the hope of eternal life.
In this double focus on past and future, Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation, as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power. That acknowledgment provides a basis for holy living, arising from a profound sense that we live “between the times” and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people. As the church celebrates God’s Incarnation in the physical presence of Jesus Christ, and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which “all creation is groaning , awaiting its redemption,” it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
We celebrate with gladness the great promise of Advent, yet knowing that there is also a somber tone as the theme of final judgment is added to the theme of promise. This is reflected in some of the Scripture readings for Advent, in which there is a strong prophetic tone of accountability and judgment of sin. This is also faithful to the role of the Coming King who comes to rule, save, and judge, the world.
Because of the dual themes of judgment and promise, Advent is a time of preparation that is marked by prayer. While Lent is characterized by fasting and a spirit of penitence, Advent’s prayers are prayers of humble devotion and commitment, prayers of submission, prayers for deliverance, prayers from those walking in darkness who are awaiting and anticipating a great light (Isaiah 9).
Historically, the primary color of Advent is Purple. This is the color of penitence and fasting as well as the color of royalty to welcome the Advent of the King. The purple of Advent is also the color of suffering used during Lent and Holy Week. This points to an important connection between Jesus’ birth and death. The nativity, the Incarnation, cannot be separated from the crucifixion. The purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world, of the “Word made flesh” and dwelling among us, is to reveal God and His grace to the world through Jesus’ life and teaching, but also through his suffering, death, and resurrection. To reflect this emphasis, originally Advent was a time of penitence and fasting, much as the Season of Lent, and so shared the color of Lent.
In the four weeks of Advent ,the third Sunday came to be a time of rejoicing that the fasting was almost over (in some traditions it is called Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for “rejoice”). The shift from the purple of the Season to pink or rose for the third Sunday reflected this lessening emphasis on penitence as attention turned more to celebration of the season.
In recent times, however, Advent has undergone a shift in emphasis, reflected in a change of colors used in many churches. The penitential aspect of the Season has been almost totally replaced by an emphasis on hope and anticipation. Many churches now use blue to distinguish the Season of Advent from Lent. Royal Blue is sometimes used as a symbol of royalty. Some churches use Bright Blue to symbolize the night sky, the anticipation of the impending announcement of the King’s coming, or to symbolize the waters of Genesis 1, the beginning of a new creation. Some churches, including some Catholic churches, use bluish violet to preserve the traditional use of purple while providing a visual distinction between the purple or red violet of Lent.
The Advent wreath is a popular symbol of the beginning of the Church year in many churches. It is a circular evergreen wreath with five candles, four around the wreath and one in the center. The circle of the wreath itself reminds us of God, His eternal being and endless mercy, which has no beginning or end. The green of the wreath speaks of the hope that we have in God, the hope of newness, of renewal, of eternal life.
The four outer candles represent the period of waiting during the four Sundays of Advent, which themselves symbolize the four centuries of waiting between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ. The center candle is white and is called the Christ Candle. It is traditionally lighted on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The central location of the Christ Candle reminds us that the incarnation is the heart of the season, giving light to the world.
The light of the candles becomes an important symbol of the season. The light reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world that comes into the darkness of our lives to bring newness, life, and hope. It also reminds us that we are called to be a light to the world as we reflect the light of God’s grace to others (Isa 42:6). The progression in the lighting of the candles symbolizes the various aspects of our waiting experience. As the candles are lighted over the four week period, it also symbolizes the darkness of fear and hopelessness receding and the shadows of sin falling away as more and more light is shed into the world. The flame of each new candle reminds the worshippers that something is happening, and that more is yet to come. Finally, the light that has come into the world is plainly visible as the Christ candle is lighted at Christmas, and worshippers rejoice over the fact that the promise of long ago has been realized.
As we enter this holy time of the year, we ask you to join with us in preparing for the coming of the Christ with joy, with anticipation, with prayer, and with love for all mankind. Amen.
We wish you a blessed and holy Advent.
The Order of Preachers, Independent
When he was younger, my husband loved to fish. While I don’t have the patience for this sport, I can understand the thrill of catching something with a simple string and a worm. Though now I can just go to the supermarket and buy whatever meat I wish, including fish, in St. Andrew’s time, fishing was one of the few ways to provide food for your family. So if you didn’t catch much that day, your family went hungry. Yet, St. Andrew was tasked with not only providing a meal for his family, but along with his brother Peter, providing a more filling fare for so many more people.
November 30th is the Feast of St Andrew the Apostle, who is also the patron saint of Scotland. Andrew was the older brother of the Apostle Peter and the two of them were fishing when Jesus approached them and said that He would make them “fishers of men”. Following Christ’s crucifixion, Andrew traveled around preaching the Good News (some sources say as far as Kiev and Veliky Novgorod in Russia) before he was crucified on an X-shaped cross in Patras, Greece. Andrew is the patron saint of fishermen and singers, as well as Scotland, Ukraine, Romania, Russia and Patras. The saltire, or St Andrew’s Cross, is used on the flag of Scotland.
St. John the Baptist was on the banks of the Jordan with two disciples when he saw Our Lord passing. He pointed to Him and said: ‘Behold the Lamb of God.’ Andrew and the other disciple followed Our Lord and remained with Him that day. Andrew at once recognized Jesus as the Messiah, and hastened to introduce his brother Peter to Him (John 1:41). Andrew told Simon Peter: “We have found the Messiah.” And he brought Peter to Our Lord. When Christ beheld him, He said, “Thou art Simon, the son of Jonas: thou shall be called Cephas, that is, rock.” And so, St. Andrew had the glory of presenting to Our Lord St. Peter, upon whom the Church would be built.
“As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw the two brothers, Simon who is now called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-20).
As in the case of all the apostles except Peter and John, the Gospels give us little about the holiness of Andrew. We do know he had a great love for the cross. As soon as he saw the cross on which he would be crucified, he saluted it with these words: “O most beautiful cross that was glorified by carrying the body of Christ! Glorious cross, sweetly desired, ardently loved, always sought, and finally prepared for my heart that has so long awaited you. Take me, o cross! Embrace me. Release me from my life among men. Bring me quickly and diligently to the Master. Through you He will receive me, He, Who through you has saved me.”
He remained two days hanging on the cross, preaching to the people. These were his last words before he died: “Lord, eternal King of glory, receive me hanging from the wood of this sweet cross. Thou who art my God, whom I have seen, do not permit them to loosen me from the cross. Do this for me, O Lord, for I know the virtue of Thy Holy Cross.”
St. Andrew not only accepted the crosses given him during his life, but he looked for them. This is clear when he said that he had “always sought” sacrifice. Then, in the hour of his martyrdom he had that marvelous reaction – he said that his “heart had long awaited” the crucifixion. Which one of us can say a thing like that? What a sublime courage St. Andrew had in saying these words, which, however, came to his lips naturally and with complete serenity because he had always lived in preparation for that. Our Lord said that there is no greater friend than one who would give his life for the other. No one can give a greater proof of friendship with Our Lord than to desire the cross like St. Andrew did.
The title, Our Lady of Sorrows, given to our Blessed Mother, focuses on her intense suffering and grief during the passion and death of our Lord. Traditionally, this suffering was not limited to the passion and death event; rather, it comprised the seven dolors or seven sorrows of Mary, which were foretold by the Priest Simeon who proclaimed to Mary, “This child [Jesus] is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed and you yourself shall be pierced with a sword so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare.” (Luke 2:34-35).
Devotion to the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady has its roots in Sacred Scripture and in Christian piety, which always associates the Blessed Mother with her suffering Son. Today’s feast was introduced by the Servites in order to intensify devotion to Our Lady’s Sorrows. In 1817 Pius VII — suffering grievously in exile but finally liberated by Mary’s intercession — extended the feast to the universal Church.
This feast dates back to the 12th century. It was especially promoted by the Cistercians and the Servites, so much so that in the 14th and 15th centuries it was widely celebrated throughout the Catholic Church. In 1482 the feast was added to the Missal under the title of “Our Lady of Compassion.” Pope Benedict XIII added it to the Roman Calendar in 1727 on the Friday before Palm Sunday. In 1913, Pope Pius X fixed the date on September 15. The title “Our Lady of Sorrows” focuses on Mary’s intense suffering during the passion and death of Christ. “The Seven Dolors,” the title by which it was celebrated in the 17th century, referred to the seven swords that pierced the Heart of Mary. It is dedicated to the spiritual martyrdom of Mary, Mother of God, and her compassion with the sufferings of her Divine Son, Jesus. In her suffering as co-redeemer, she reminds us of the tremendous evil of sin and shows us the way of true repentance. As Mary stood at the foot of the Cross on which Jesus hung, the sword of sorrow Simeon had foretold pierced her soul.
Below are the seven sorrows of Mary:
1. The prophecy of Simeon: “And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed.” – Luke II, 34-35.
2. The flight into Egypt: “And after they (the wise men) were departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise and take the child and His mother and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy Him. Who arose and took the child and His mother by night, and retired into Egypt: and He was there until the death of Herod.” – Matt. II, 13-14.
3. The loss of the Child Jesus in the temple: “And having fulfilled the days, when they returned, the Child Jesus remained in Jerusalem; and His parents knew it not. And thinking that he was in the company, they came a day’s journey, and sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And not finding Him, they returned into Jerusalem, seeking Him.” Luke II, 43-45.
4. The meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross: “And there followed Him a great multitude of people, and of women, who bewailed and lamented Him.” – Luke XXIII, 27.
5. The Crucifixion: “They crucified Him. Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, His Mother. When Jesus therefore had seen His Mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, He saith to His Mother: Woman: behold thy son. After that he saith to the disciple: Behold thy Mother.” – John XIX, l8-25-27.
6. The taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross: “Joseph of Arimathea, a noble counselor, came and went in boldly to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. And Joseph buying fine linen, and taking Him down, wrapped Him up in the fine linen.” – Mark XV, 43-46.
7. The burial of Jesus: “Now there was in the place where He was crucified, a garden; and in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein no man yet had been laid. There, therefore, because of the parasceve of the Jews, they laid Jesus, because the sepulcher was nigh at hand.” John XIX, 41-42.
The Angelic Salutation (Hail Mary)
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Prior to the Second Vatican Council, there were two feasts devoted to the sorrows of Mary. The first feast was insitituted in Cologne in 1413 as an expiation for the sins of the iconoclast Hussites. The second is attributed to the Servite order whose principal devotion are the Seven Sorrows. It was instituted in 1668, though the devotion had been in existence since 1239 – five years after the founding of the order.
Symbols: heart pierced with a sword; heart pierced by seven swords; winged heart pierced with a sword; flowers: red rose, iris (meaning: “sword-lily”), cyclamen.
Prayer to our Sorrowful Mother for a particular grace:
O, mother most holy and sorrowful, Queen of Martyrs, you who stood by your Son as He agonized on the cross; by the sufferings of your life, by that sword of pain that pierced your heart, by your perfect joy in heaven, look down on me kindly as I kneel before you, sympathizing with your sorrows and offering you my petition with childlike trust.
Dear Mother, since your Son refuses you nothing, ask of His Sacred Heart to mercifully grant what I ask, through the merits of His sacred passion, along with those of your sufferings at the foot of the cross.
Mother most merciful, to whom shall I go in my misery if not to you who pities us poor sinful exiles in this valley of tears? In our name, offer Jesus but one drop of His most precious blood, but one pang of His loving heart. Remind Him that you are our sweetness, our life and our hope, and your prayer will be heard.
Here are seven graces the Blessed Virgin Mary grants to souls who honor Her daily by saying seven Hail Marys and meditating on Her tears and Dolors. The devotion was passed to us by Saint Bridget.
I will grant peace to their families.
They will be enlightened about the divine mysteries.
I will console them in their pains and I will accompany them in their work.
I will give them as much as they ask for as long as it does not oppose the Adorable Will of my Divine Son or the sanctification of their souls.
I will defend them in their spiritual battles with the infernal enemy and I will protect them at every instant of their lives.
I will visibly help them at the moment of their death, they will see the face of their mother.
I have obtained (this grace) from my Divine Son, that those who propagate this devotion to my tears and sorrows, will be taken directly from this earthly life to eternal happiness since all their sins will be forgiven and my Son will be their eternal consolation and joy.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”
When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. Matthew 2:1-12 (NIV)
Today we mark the end of the Christmas season – the Day of Epiphany. We celebrate this day to reflect on the visit of the Magi – the wise men – to Jesus and the giving of their gifts. We reflect on the meaning of this visit of those wise ones to see Jesus.
Epiphany is about Jesus and his message being available and relevant to people of every age and race. Jesus isn’t just a Jewish prophet with an exciting message, but God made present amongst us and available to all of us to worship and follow. God’s love reaches beyond the everyday barriers of race and class; something the Magi didn’t quite get at first.
So Who Were the Magi?
We don’t know much about the Magi from Scripture. All Saint Matthew tells us is that they were “Magi from the East”. Some translations have “Wise men from the East”. The word in Greek refers to priests of the Zoroastrian religion. They came from Persia, the countries now known as Iran and Iraq, and they saw meaning in the movement of the stars. Their visit fits an Eastern pattern of great births being accompanied by momentous events in the sky. Certainly we know of a comet in 11BCE in Gemini with its head towards Leo, seen by many as a symbol of Judah. We also know of planetary conjunctions in both 7 BCE and 6 BCE which would have added to a sense that momentous happenings were on the way. The Magi would have noticed these things and taken them seriously. But who were they?
One commentator, Brian Stoffregen puts it like this;
“Originally in Persia, Magi were dream- interpreters. By Jesus’ time, the term referred to astronomers, fortune-tellers, or star-gazers. They were horoscope fanatics – a practice condemned by Jewish standards. We might compare them to people in fortune – telling booths, or people on the “psychic hotline” or other “occupations” that foretell the future by stars, tea leaves, Tarot cards etc. They were magicians, astronomers, star-gazers, pseudo-scientists, fortune tellers…”
Another writer, Nathan Nettleton, puts it like this;
“They were the speakers of the sacred words at the pagan sacrifices. At worst, the term referred to a magician or sorcerer, or even a deceiver. Magi were people whose activities were repeatedly condemned and prohibited throughout the scriptures and were completely anathema to the people of Israel.”
Whilst in English we get the words “magic” and “magician” from Magi, the Zoroastrian religion forbade sorcery. They clearly were looking for a new king and had found meaning in the movement of the planets and stars which led them to come to Israel to greet the new-born king. They journeyed from their homes in Persia to Bethlehem in search of this baby. Instead of angels and visions, we have the image of the Magi following a sign in the skies – in nature – and for a long period of time. The magi see the intentions of God in the skies. This is not new: Psalm 19 tells us that the heavens themselves declare who God is, and that his handiwork is seen in created nature. “We observed his star at its rising”. The magi know that there is something significant happening.
When did they come?
The Gospel of Saint Luke doesn’t mention the Magi and holds that the Holy Family returned to Nazareth after the presentation of Jesus at the Temple where he was circumcised. It’s probable that Saint Luke didn’t know of this episode in Jesus’ early life. Saint Matthew seems to place the visit of the Magi some time after Jesus’ birth. The Holy Family are in a “house” not in the stable of the inn. Herod kills all the newborn boys under the age of two years. So it’s likely that the Holy Family had stayed for some time in Bethlehem and the Magi came some time after Jesus’ birth, perhaps as long as two years after.
WHY did they come?
Clearly, the Magi were searching. The Magi recognized much of the truth of Jesus, who he was and what he would become. The Magi had a general idea of this God and this King of the Jews, but they didn’t really know who or what they were looking for. Bono and U2 were criticized some years ago by some supposedly orthodox Christians when they produced a song entitled, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” which is about searching for fulfillment. You see, the example of the Magi was that they were searchers, not really knowing what or who they were looking for. They didn’t claim to have it all but they saw their lives as a journey of discovery. And they were willing to take risks. They were willing to leave all that they had, all that they new, and risk it all for the sake of seeking out this child, this new king. And in that they are an example to us. We don’t know it all. But if we, like them, are prepared to be diligent seekers, then, like them, we may be graced by God’s light, by our own Epiphany. If we are willing to take the risk, the risk maybe of being shunned at work, the risk of condemnation by our friends and family, the risk of paying the price for following Christ….well…..When the wise men finally found Jesus, we are told that their first response was joy – “they were overwhelmed with joy”. That is what happens when we find Jesus. This is what awaits us at the end of the journey if we take that risk. Next, they paid him homage – they worshiped him and acknowledged Him as King. After the joy comes the worship. That means acknowledging Jesus as King. Jesus as the center. Jesus as Lord. And then, after joy and after worship, comes offering of their gifts. In response to who Jesus is and the joy He gives, we offer ourselves and our gifts to Him.
So my message for today is to dare, like them, to take the risk of seeking, and God may well bless us with our own Epiphanies which transform us, as doubtless the Magi were transformed by what must have been a surprising experience for them as they knelt before the infant Jesus.
So how do you find Jesus? Maybe you can start out like the Magi – with a general idea of God, and a general idea that He is guiding you. Like the Magi, we need to turn to the scriptures. If you don’t read them, you will never really get the specific directions that God is trying to give you. Approach them with the right spirit, the right purpose. Ask for help along the way – the church, we, God’s people, are meant to help you along that way. The wise men knew when they needed to ask someone else for help. And pray. Ask God. When you find Jesus, rejoice. After all, He is God. Put Him in the center of your life. Ask yourself whether what you are doing honors him a King. Offer to him what you have, who you are.
Where can this Jesus be found? He is with you now. Won’t you seek Him? Won’t you recognize Him? Won’t you let Him fill YOUR life with joy? Amen.
Reading 1:1 JN 3 :7-10
Psalm: PS 98:1,7=8,9
Gospel: JN 1:35=42
Today we commemorate the Memorial of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Throughout Biblical history and even today, we sometimes come across people who have endured much within their lives and who, regardless of this, remain strong and devout within their faith. Today we remember St Elizabeth, whom is one such person from whose life, heart and devotion, we can take inspiration within our own spiritual life.
Elizabeth was the first native-born citizen of the United States to be Canonized to sainthood.
Elizabeth was born as Elizabeth Ann Bayley in New York city on the 28th August in the year 1774, and she was a child of the Revolutionary war. She was raised Episcopalian which was the faith of her parents.
Elizabeth married at the young age of only nineteen, to William Magee Seton, who was a young but wealthy merchant and together they parented five children.
Elizabeth had a very deep faith and concern for the poor even as a young woman and she shared this devotion with her sister-in-law, Rebecca Seton, with whom she became very close friends. Together, Elizabeth and Rebecca would undertake various missions for the poor and needy of their region and they adopted the name of the ‘Protestant Sisters of Charity` for their mission works.
Elizabeth’s life changed after only four years of marriage and became rather burdensome in nature. Elizabeth and her husband were left with the responsibility for seven half-brothers and sisters of William’s father when he died in the year 1798.
Elizabeth suffered further in the year 1801, when her own father with whom she had a close relationship, especially since the loss of her mother at aged only three, himself passed onto the care of the Lord.
Then yet again she suffered after only a further two years, when both her husband’s business and health failed. Filing for bankruptcy, Elizabeth and her husband sailed to Italy to help his health and to try to revive his business.
Whilst in Italy, Elizabeth suffered even further, as William’s condition worsened. He was quarantined and subsequently died of Tuberculosis in December of 1803. Elizabeth remained in Italy for several months after his death and during this time, was more fully exposed to the Catholic faith.
Elizabeth returned to New York city in June of 1804, only to suffer yet again with the loss of her dear friend and sister-in=-aw, Rebecca Seton, the very next month.
At only thirty years of age, Elizabeth had endured the loss of so many who were close to her and she seemed to have the weight of the world upon her shoulders. Even throughout all this, Elizabeth still remained fervent in faith.
The months ahead were life-changing for Elizabeth and she seemed ever more drawn to the Catholic faith and to Mother Church, much to the horror of her friends and remaining family who were firmly Protestant.
Elizabeth Ann Seton was received into the Catholic Church on the 4th March 1805. Her conversion cost her dearly in the areas of friendship and in support from her remaining family.
Elizabeth relocated to the Baltimore area and there she established a school for girls. She also founded a religious community along with two other young women and she took vows before the Archbishop Carroll as a member of the Sisters of Charity of St Joseph. From this time forward, Elizabeth was known as Mother Seton and she left a legacy of care and education for the poor. She even established the first free Catholic school of the nation.
In so many ways, the journey into the Catholic faith, helped Elizabeth to much more appreciate and to embrace her faith even more profoundly. Elizabeth was willing to endure all things to follow Christ. In her journal, she even wrote, ‘If I am right Thy grace impart still in the right to stay. If I am wrong Oh, teach my heart to find the better way’.
Many of us who have chosen the Catholic faith have experienced some setbacks and have had to endure issues with relationships, but for this brave and devout woman of faith, the cost was even greater.
Elizabeth died aged 46 on January 4th 1821 from Tuberculosis and she was Canonized on September 14th 1975.
On this your special day, St Elizabeth Ann Seton, Pray for all of us who follow your pathway of faith. Pray that we likewise to yourself will say yes and will accept all that will come to us in the years ahead, and to allow our earthly endurance to further our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.