Tag Archives: Sean English

Sunday Sermon: the Epiphany of the three Magi

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Any number of times over the years the inspiration for these “Sunday Sermon” pieces has been drawn from some idea put forward by the priests at my church.

Today, Father Sean English provided that inspiration with his sermon in which he spoke of the “Three Kings” in relation to today’s celebration of the Epiphany.

The Epiphany goes by a few other names as well, depending on your cultural background or the specific church to which you may belong. The most frequent are for “Little Christmas” or “Three Kings Day” celebrations.

In today’s world, when someone is said to have an “epiphany” it means that some sudden realization has come upon them. A moment of clarity in which something fundamental is revealed to them.

The “three kings” or “three wise men” or even the “Magi” as they have alternately been known through history are credited with both having and passing on such an epiphany following the birth of Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago.

The word “Magi” is an ancient one. It referred to those who practiced what was known as magic, usually including incorporation and study of alchemy and astrology. These were extremely learned men, bordering on what today would be called scientists more than true magicians.

As Father Sean explained today, the Magi of Jesus’ time were not necessarily aligned with any particular religion. However, they were acquainted with all faith systems, including Judaism.

The Magi may have been followers or even priests of Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions. No matter, they certainly would know of the ancient Jewish prophecy regarding the coming of a Savior.

The western Christian churches, including the Catholic Church founded by Jesus himself, believe and teach that there were three of these wise Magi men. That theory was drawn from writings showing that three gifts were brought: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

One thing is almost certain, they were not “kings” in the classic sense of the word. The reference to “three kings” is almost certainly drawn from prophecies such as Psalm 72 which said “all kings shall fall down before him” in the Jewish Torah, or Old Testament.

The three were said to have come “from the east”, drawn by a star in the sky which their calculations led them to believe would lead to the Savior foretold in the Jewish prophetic writings.

In the western tradition, they went by the names Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, and hailed originally from Persia, India, and Babylonia respectively. Some claim that they actually are meant to represent Europe, Asia, and Africa.

As the Magi neared the end of their long journey, possibly from a home base in the Parthian Empire, the three received word that King Herod, the ruler of Judea, wished an audience with them.

At this meeting, Herod asked that when the Magi found this newborn future “King of the Jews”, that they return and let him know the location of the child. Herod alleged that this was so that he too could go and worship the child. However, his later actions revealed that Herod was actually plotting to kill the child, thus defeating the prophecy and a snuff out a future threat to his rule.

The traditional date of the Epiphany within Christianity is January 6th. However, the Catholic Church celebrates on the Sunday falling between the 2nd and 8th. It is celebrated on other dates by other Christian churches.

When you sing or hear the Christmas song “The Twelve Days of Christmas“, January 6th is that 12th day – exactly twelve days having passed since December 25th, Christmas Day.

The traditions and teachings hold that the Magi followed the star until it came to rest over the little town of Bethlehem in Judea. There, inside of what was essentially a cave-like shelter, lying in a manger, the Magi found the child.

Surrounded by the child’s parents, Mary and Joseph, as well as shepherds who had been visiting since the child’s birth, the wise men presented their gifts.

As pointed out in an article at The Telegraph, the gifts which the three Magi bore were each presented for a specific reason:

The gifts were symbolic of the importance of Jesus’ birth, the gold representing his royal standing; frankincense his divine birth; and myrrh his mortality.

The realization, the moment of clarity, the “epiphany” experienced by the Magi had come with the revelation that this child, this Jesus born in such humble circumstances, was indeed the Savior of prophecy. And this Savior came not only to and for the Jewish people, but all people.

When they had completed their visit, the Magi decided not to return to their homeland by the same route which they had arrived. This would take them past Herod, whose true intentions had been revealed to them. And so they returned to their homes a different way.

It is important that we not only accept Jesus as our personal Savior, but that we do our best to practice that faith and pass it along to our families and other loved ones.

Even should they decide not to follow our example, it remains important to continue demonstrating our faith. At some point, we changed. We accepted Christ into our lives. Our continuing example could prove to be the very thing that opens the eyes, minds, and hearts of others.

This leads us to a final important point that Father Sean made in his sermon. Each of us, having had the truth of Jesus Christ revealed to us, should return to our lives in a different way than we traveled prior to that moment. That pivotal revelation marked our individual, personal epiphany.

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NOTE: all of the prior “Sunday Sermon” pieces can be found simply by clicking on that ‘Label’ found below this piece when viewed in its web version. You can also find them by clicking on the ‘Faith’ tab in the website toolbar.

Sunday Sermon: Giving thanks for modern religious

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Another day marks the return of another regular series to my website. This time it will be the weekly ‘Sunday Sermon‘ series geared towards religious/spiritual issues.

This series is one of my oldest, beginning all the way back in September 2005. It ran fairly regularly through 2013, but then disappeared for the better part of three years.

I briefly resuscitated the series a year ago, but it turned out to be for just three installments. The last of those was published nine months ago.

Well, ‘Sunday Sermon’ is back for good now with this, the 70th installment in its history. All of the previous articles and any into the future can be viewed simply by clicking on that ‘Tag’ found immediately following this piece when viewed in its web version.

Today’s piece covers a topic of vital importance, one that speaks specifically to the Catholic Church. That would be the difficult decision made by young people in the 21st century in joining a religious order.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is currently engaged in its annual St. Charles Boromeo Seminary Appeal. The appeal is an attempt to raise money for the seminary through donations from parishioners.

There are currently fifteen young men at St. Charles who are in the midst of their studies to become a Catholic priest. They come not only from Philadelphia, but from all across the country. They entered the Seminary from high school and college, from careers on Wall Street, and from service to our nation’s military.

During today’s Mass at St. Christopher’s Parish in the Somerton section of Philadelphia, Father Sean English was the celebrant. In his homily, Father Sean spoke of his own decision making process after college. Father told of how, once he knew that he did indeed want to enter the Seminary and become a priest, the process of telling his family and friends took another nine months.

Father Sean’s last name may indeed be “English”, but he is a young Irishman through and through. There was a time when it was expected that a young man from an Irish American family would become one of three things: a cop, a politician, or a priest.

You would expect that his family might be overjoyed at having their son enter the priesthood. But it was still a difficult decision for Father Sean to tell his parents of his decision. To tell them that their son would not be having children to pass along the family name.

The Catholic Church has to be thankful that he heard a call from Christ, and had the courage to respond positively. Father Sean is an outstanding young priest. He is exactly what the Church needs more of, both here in American and across the globe.

It’s a difficult decision, surrendering yourself to a life of service to others. It is not so very unlike the calling that I felt myself at one point, to serve my community as a police officer. It is not unlike the call that many feel to serve the United States as a member of the military.

When called to a vocation, rather than simply taking a job in private industry, you have to surrender a certain amount of freedom. You must accept that you are going to help as many people as you can, under the most difficult circumstances. Not only will you face ridicule, but at times you will face outright opposition.

That call to the priestly vocation has been made particularly difficult in recent years by the priest abuse scandals which came to light over the last decade or so. Those scandals were then exacerbated by denials and cover-ups from some in the Catholic Church hierarchy.

But here is a fact. No matter those scandals, the Church needs priests. The priesthood is a vital institution for the survival of the Church into the future. The Church needs good men to step forward and become priests.

As a police officer, I have seen radicals charge that the entire profession is corrupt. There are some who believe that every police officer is racist, abusive, or both. I know from firsthand experience that is not only false, but that officers who fit into those categories are extreme rarities.

Do they exist? Yes. They exist in every profession. When those officers personal beliefs result in abusive actions, they often become newsworthy, sometimes sensationally so. But the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of police officers are good, decent people like everyone else. They try to help their community every single day while raising their own families.

Priests are the same. The vast majority are good, decent men just trying to serve their community and their Lord and savior Jesus Christ. I’ve said it many times regarding this issue: you cannot throw the baby out with the bath water. No one should turn away from their relationship with the Church because of bad priests.

The number of men hearing and then heeding the call to the priesthood has seriously declined in recent decades. However, the number of women heeding the call to service as a Sister or “Nun” had always remained far higher.

In his letter to our parishioners this week, Monsignor Joseph Garvin wrote of the decline in the numbers of nuns as well. Here is what ‘Father Joe’ wrote:

“As you may have heard, religious communities of Sisters are going through a very difficult time. There are few younger Sisters. There was a time that Sisters outnumbered priests five to one. Now the numbers are getting closer to one on one.”

 

Many young men and women today appear to be lost. They come out of high school and college to face a harsh, divisive world. That includes right here in the United States of America.

These young people would be helped greatly by praying on their situation. In turning our concerns, our trials, our lives over to God in prayer we can often find the answers. Unfortunately, many of those same young people just don’t know how to pray, or worse, don’t know to pray at all. They simply don’t believe.

The answer to the problems facing many of these young people could also prove to be the answer to the problems of the Catholic Church. If we can get more young people to be aware of the priestly and sisterly option, to seriously consider that option, and to pray on it, we might kill two birds with one stone.

There are three concrete things that we can do, and all of us can do at least one of these.

First, we can pray. Every Christian, and especially every Catholic, should pray for more young people to hear and then heed a call to service from the Lord.

Second, we can donate. Support the current St. Charles Seminary Appeal with a financial donation. You can do that right here, right now: DONATE NOW.

Third, we can guide our children’s spiritual development with purpose. We can further encourage our children and grandchildren to consider a life of service as a priest or nun.

This coming Thursday marks the holiday of Thanksgiving here in the United States. We should all give thanks to any young person in today’s world who is willing to take on the challenge and reap the rewards as they surrender themselves to a life of service as a priest or sister.