The Solemnity of the Epiphany: The Mystery of Inclusion
It was a mystery. It was a truth hidden for the ages. It was revealed to Paul. No one would have ever heard of it, least of all Paul in the days when he was Saul of Tarsus, pharisee and persecutor of anything that did not appear to be thoroughly Hebrew. But the mystery was in Sacred Scripture. It is just that no one understood the meaning of the verses.
The mystery was this: all the peoples of the world would be included in God’s great promise to the Jews. Jews and Greeks, all people, would be co-heirs in Jesus Christ.
They could have found this in scripture, though. Isaiah said in today’s first reading that all nations would walk in the light of Jerusalem. Kings would come bearing gifts of gold and frankincense and proclaim the praises of the Lord. And Kings did come. Magi from the East appeared with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They prostrated themselves before Jesus, and did him homage. They were fulfilling the Old Testament prophecy.
The Gospel of Luke often addresses the place of the gentiles in Christianity, making the point that a good gentile can become a good Christian. But today’s reading isn’t from the Gospel of Luke. It is from the Gospel of Matthew, the gospel written to show that in Jesus we find the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies. This wasn’t about the worthiness of the gentiles. It was about God’s plan being revealed. If this was a mystery to Paul and the other Jews, it was because they never fathomed the depth of God’s love for mankind. They never understood the mystery of inclusion.
Perhaps the mystery of inclusion eludes many of us. We speak about our oneness in Christ, but we still have a temptation to consider some people as lesser members of His Body. For example, we are inclined to see those with cultures different than ours as less Christian than us. This was the huge mistake of the past centuries when missionaries tried to turn the people of Asia, Africa and America into European Christians.
But we don’t have to go to the past or to other lands to find people who might rightly feel excluded from the Church, or at least feel that they are lesser Christians. Who are those people who might feel excluded from the Church? Perhaps, people in second or third marriages who need to have their first marriages annulled and their present marriages convalidated. Many times these people have mistakenly thought that they were no longer part of the Church, even using the term excommunicated. They are wrong. It takes a lot of bad stuff to get excommunicated, like killing a bishop, or giving sacramental forgiveness to a partner in crime, or coming to Church sick and giving Fr. Joe the flu. (Just kidding on that one). People who have heard the call to come home to their Catholic faith, should be welcomed into the sacramental life of the Church. It may take a bit of time to set their marriages straight, but it is time well spent if they know that the Lord is sacramentally present in their love.
Some people who feel excluded are those who have suffered the trauma of an abortion. Two weeks from now we will remember the grim anniversary of Roe vs Wade. Many will come to Church that weekend and will be upset by the reminder of abortion in their own lives. Whatever degree of culpability they may have had, and that is not as great for those who were forced into an abortion by those they respected, the reminder of Roe vs Wade will make them feel that they should not be here. If you or anyone you know and love have suffered the trauma of abortion, you need to know that you do belong here. In fact, we need you to support life, protect the unborn, and keep others from suffering as you have suffered.
Perhaps there are some who feel excluded due to their sexual orientation. They should not be. A man once told me in confession that he was a homosexual doing his best to live a moral life. I responded that I was a heterosexual doing my best to live a moral life. That didn’t make me better than him or him better than me. It just meant that both of us are doing our best to live our faith. Sadly, many Catholics assume that because someone is gay that he or she is acting immorally. No one has the right to make that assumption, just as no one has the right to assume that all heterosexuals live immorally until they marry, and then become discreet about their immorality. A number of years ago a couple asked me to prepare them for marriage even though they had begun preparation with another priest in another parish. He had insulted them by assuming that they were living together, just because they were at the same college. The young lady said to the priest, “No, we are not living together. We are getting married so we can live together,” and then walked out of his office, rightly so. When we make judgements on other peoples lives, we are excluding them from the heart of the Church. Actually, by making those judgments, we are excluding ourselves.
Perhaps some feel excluded because they feel that they are more conservative than everyone around them, or more liberal than everyone around them. There is no liberal or conservative with Jesus Christ. Was St. John Paul II conservative? He gave talks on the theology of the body; he spoke about the rights of workers; he spoke abut the responsibility of the well off to care for those who had less; he spoke about the insanity of all wars. Those are not conservative positions. Was he liberal then? He spoke about the importance of celibacy in the clergy, about ordination being reserved for males, about devotion to the rosary and traditional pious practices, about respect for those in religious authority, and other positions that would not be considered liberal. There is no conservative or liberal in Christ. There is just charity for all.
The Church cannot be the Body of Christ unless it is open to all people. Each person is unique. Each person adds to the strength of the Body.
Perhaps there are some elements of the secret that is still hidden: no one is to be excluded from Christ. What St. Paul says about the gentiles refers to all people of whatever background, experience, orientation, or what have you: We are all co-heirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the same promise of Christ Jesus through the gospel.
I am tired of people using religion as an excuse to look down on other people. And I am frustrated at the times that I have done this myself. The Solemnity of the Epiphany teaches us this: There is no us and them in Jesus Christ. There is only one big us, an us that includes all people, everywhere.