One year, on the Feast of the Epiphany, little Tommy was so inspired by the story of giving gifts to the baby Jesus, that he walked up to his pastor on the front steps after Mass and made him a promise: "Father Bob?," he said. "Yes," his pastor replied. "Father, when I grow up, I'm going to give you some money." The priest, a bit confused, said, "well, thank you, but why's that?" Little Tommy then said, "because, my father says you=re one of the poorest preachers he's ever heard."
So, there you go. A little Epiphany humor on the tail-end of a few dreary days of weather. My family and I had a real "epiphany" the other night, if you will. It was my Mom=s eightieth birthday, and we all surprised her. She wanted to go to dinner at Gino=s, so my brother, his wife, and I said that we would take her. What she did not know was that our other siblings and their spouses were already at the restaurant waiting. My Mom, who will tell you that she does not like surprises or any fuss made over her at all, was completely surprised. As we sat there that night, we told stories, of course, dating back to childhood. It was something really special to celebrate "coming full circle," if you will. It was a real blessing to remember all of the gifts that our parents had placed before us during our lifetime and to then simply be in this moment, to "give homage" in the best sense of the word. Everyone in the room celebrated the blessing of being away from work and busyness for just a moment and just simply being there with each other and recalling, celebrating the journey.
This weekend and tomorrow marks the end of the Christmas season in the church year. Tomorrow we celebrate the feast known as The Baptism of the Lord. After that, the color will return to green, and the season will be referred to as "ordinary." Hopefully one of the things that has happened for us during this Christmas season and during this past year is a greater ability to see God's extraordinary presence in ordinary, everyday life. In the difficult and traumatic moments, yes, such as violence and flooding and the like. But in the everyday moments of life together also. In order for this to happen, however, we have to desire such vision. In part, this is what today's feast is about.
I could stand here and explore with you the traditional or usual questions about the actual event of the Epiphany itself: did it really happen? Were there 3? Were they kings, or magi, or astrologers? What gifts did they actually place before Jesus, and what did they symbolize? In this moment, however, there are 2 prominent statements made. The first is obvious: Jesus Christ is King. The second is not so obvious and can only be understood if we consider other details in the story. Why, for example, does it specifically say that they Acame from the east? Why does the story go out of the way to clearly say that these 3 wise men were from another land? And why have these 3 visitors always been depicted throughout history as different, even in skin color? The answer is in the message conveyed by all of this: for Jesus Christ, there are no outsiders. There are no foreigners. All, indeed, are welcome.
So, if we want to allow ourselves to really be challenged by the event that we celebrate today, we could simply ask ourselves: who are the outsiders in my life? This question can challenge us personally and as a community. Saint Jude Parish has often been described as a very welcoming community. (I think back to a gentleman and his daughter who stopped in here for Mass one weekend this past year, traveling from a State in the East, on a journey to Houston for his cancer treatment and an update on his condition. A father and his daughter trying to stay focused on the star, if you will, Jesus Christ who would give them hope. And they encountered that star here, in our midst.) But when we leave here today, however, we will have missed much if we will not have seriously asked ourselves-each of us-who are the outsiders in my life?
One of the most painful stories that I heard in 2016 was that of a young high school girl who would sits alone at lunch. She had a regular little lunch group, but they left her and started sitting with another group. She did not feel welcome. And while chose to sit alone, no one invited her either.Outsiders can be found in our schools, in our families, in fact, in our own homes. An outsider is that person who we go out of our way to avoid, someone to whom we don=t even give a chance. Someone who, on the inside, feels the agonizing pain of loneliness and no self-confidence. An outsider is a person who feels unwelcome, unfortunately, because of one unfair and discriminatory reason: simply because they're different. They didn't do anything to hurt us. We just, either, don't like them or something about them, or there is something about them of which we don't approve. And for that reason, we keep them at arm's length, on the outside.One of the songs that we sing often here throughout the year is entitled, "All Are Welcome." We sing, "let us build a house where love can dwell, where all can safely live..." When we go home today, we can ask ourselves how hard we are trying to build that house.More importantly, as Catholics we worship at a table. Jesus could have chosen any tradition or ritual or way or remembering him. But he chose a table and a meal. And every single time that we celebrate and receive his real presence in this eucharist, we pray these words, "humbly, we pray, that, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, we may be gathered into one by your Holy Spirit." Better yet, in the eucharistic prayer for Masses with children, it comes to us in these words, "remember, Father, our families and our friends and all those we do not love as we should." Wow. Power in simplicity.
Who, then, are the outsiders in our life?
Who do we "not love as we should?"