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Fr. Pastorius: Who is your higher power?

12daysofChristmasblogFr. Tom Pastorius is pastor of Epiphany Parish in South City. He was gracious enough to share with the Virtual Vestibule an advance copy of his homily for the Feast of the Epiphany, January 3, 2016.

There was a young lion who wandered from his father to test whether or not he would get the same respect from the other animals as his father did. As the young lion approached some monkeys, he roared and asked, “WHO IS THE KING OF THE JUNGLE?”

The monkeys, being afraid, responded, “YOU are!” The lion replied, “And don’t you forget it!” The lion repeated this to each animal in the jungle and got the same response until he came across a herd of elephants. The little lion roared and asked, “WHO IS THE KING OF THE JUNGLE?”

The big bull elephant walked closer to the lion, swooped him up in his trunk, swung him around and around and threw him in the river. Battered and wet, the little lion replied, “Just because you didn’t know the answer to the question didn’t mean you had to get nasty about it!”

The short story about the young lion came to mind in the light of today’s Gospel.   The magi ask Herod and all of Jerusalem “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?” in other words “Who is the king of the Jews”  “Who is the ruler of your life.

This is a very dangerous question to ask.  For with a new king comes a new set of laws, and a new set of expectations, a new set of taxes, etc.

I believe that we can all sympathize with Herod, a little bit, for I believe there is a time in everyone’s life when we realize that we are not the one in charge.

We discover that there is ultimately a high power that we must report to and this leaves us a choice.  We can have our responses motivate out of fear of this higher power or we can come to love this higher power.

Herod’s major problem is that he does not trust God to do what is best for him and thus he fears relinquishing any control to this newborn King.

John Paul II taught us that love is making oneself a gift for the other and we see this in the magi.  They show this not only through the giving of their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh but by the giving of their very lives symbolized by their willingness to travel to the newborn king and in following the commands of the angel to return to their kingdom in another way.

Fear kept Herod from traveling the six miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.  The magi out of love traveled an untold distance and would not stop until they came upon the new born king.  Sometimes we are like Herod complaining about little things like going to Mass on Sunday (the amount of music, the priest’s preaching skills, the church decorations, etc) and miss out on the fact that God has become present in the Eucharist for us.  He has become food for our journey.

The magi willing suffered great inconvenience in order to worship the infant God.  How much are we willing to suffer?  (Note: the magi do not even complain when then they believe that they have come to the end of their journey only to discover they still have six more miles to go).  Love manifests itself by our willingness to suffer.

Herod feared the arrival of the messiah because he knew the coming messiah would mean that he would have to change the way in which he dealt with others.  His comfortable lifestyle could be no more.  Do we allow Jesus’ coming to change the way we live our lives? Have our priority changed since this past Christmas?  Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed the following at his first Mass as pope: The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.

Herod feared the loss of his earthly treasures.  He clung to them for protection and power.  The magi on the other hand gave generously not only of the treasuries but also out their time (the time to travel) and their talent (ability to navigate by stars etc.).  Do we fear Christ coming into our lives because we selfishly want to hold onto our material possessions? How can we live more generous lives this New Year?  How can we use our money, time, and talent, for the glory of God?

Herod was all about promoting himself and ultimately this led him to be a very lonely, violent, and paranoid man.  The magi were willing to offer homage to the true God and thus return to their kingdoms peacefully.

Most of our problems in life happen when we try to play God instead of following God’s plan for us. There is great wisdom from the 12 step method that says we must admit that there is a high power if we are going to change.  Who is your higher power?

I like to think of this way.  There is one God and I am not Him.  I therefore want to do as much as I can to be in aligning with his will because He knows what is truly best for us.  Will I give myself to God this year by listening to the Church teaching on immigration, birth control, abortion, justice, the Sacraments especially Eucharist and Reconciliation?  Not just reading about them but truly studying why the Church teaches what she teaches.

Ultimately today’s feast teaches us another important lesson about our faith.   How we respond to God makes a huge difference in our lives and the lives of those around us. The magi returned to homeland still as kings with their integrity attached and people still remember their generosity today because they submitted their will to God’s will.

Herod on the other hand became a madman because he kept trying to control what he could not control.  This violence spread to him murdering many of his family members and ultimately his death was caused by a violent illness that he could not control.

Today is also one of the days that some people find it appropriate to start taking down their Christmas decorations – now that the 12 days of Christmas are over with.

Perhaps that the reason Christians take down their Christmas decorations today is because now we are supposed to be ready to be the living reminders of Christ’s coming into the world.

So as the wreaths come down that symbolize eternal life let us encourage one another to live lives worthy of eternal life.

So as the Christmas lights come down that symbolize Christ as our light in our darkness may we be the light in other people’s loneliness.

So as the Christmas tree comes down that reminds us of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and salvation history let us give thanks to Jesus for mounting the tree of life on Calvary.

So as all the wrapping paper and bows are put away let us remind ourselves that everyone we meet is a gift from God.

So as the candy canes are eaten or put away for another year, let us also be reminded especially in this year of mercy that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who came to earth in order to find his lost sheep. Let us rejoice in our saviors love by extending love and mercy to all we meet.

So as the Christmas angels are placed is storage let us extend God’s message of peace and good will to those we meet.

So as the Santa clauses are packed away let us remind ourselves that it is better to give than to receive.

Finally as the nativity sets are packed away let us remind ourselves that through the reception of the Eucharist our bodies are now living dwelling places for Jesus.

May Jesus Christ be praised – Now and Forever!

This is the ninth in a 12-day series of posts with the purpose of helping readers deepen their appreciation for, and celebration of, the 12 Days of Christmas, a season which traditionally concludes with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th.