By ancient tradition, the Church announces the dates for the coming year’s liturgical feast at the Epiphany Mass, which stands at the top, so to speak, of the liturgical year. From our perch at the top of the year we can see the year’s great feasts and mysteries spread out before us. And so, from the Roman Missal:
Know, dear brethren, that, as we have rejoiced at the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, so by leave of God's mercy we announce to you also the joy of his Resurrection, who is our Savior. On the sixth day of March will fall Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of the fast of the most sacred Lenten season. On the twenty-first day of April you will celebrate with joy Easter Day, the Paschal feast of our Lord Jesus Christ. On the second day of June will be the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. On the ninth day of June, the feast of Pentecost. On the twenty-third day of June, the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. On the first day of December, the First Sunday of the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom is honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
He who made the Pleiades and Orion
On Epiphany, a word in Greek that means “the shining forth,” one star rose in the East, pointing to the creator of all the stars. Let’s look into this starry heavens. If you filled a box with sand, each grain representing one star for every observable star in the universe, the box would have to be two miles high, two miles wide, and stretch from Washington to Atlanta. A few years ago astronomers pointed the Hubble telescope at the darkest part of the sky the size of a tennis ball at 100 yards, or about one 32 millionths of the sky. They kept the shutter open for a few weeks. What did they find in that “empty” bit of space? 5,500 galaxies, each containing about 100 billion stars. Go home and Google “Hubble deep field” to see the image—it’s beautiful! Galaxies of all sorts of shapes and colors and configurations, every one of them created by the baby in Bethlehem. And yet, that one baby—and every human life—outweighs all of those 200 billion trillion stars. That’s why the Catholic Church is unshakably prolife.
During Christmastide we celebrate the birth of a baby, and with the wise men, we kneel before his sacred face. In three weeks we will celebrate the annual Walk for Life West Coast, vowing never to forget January 22, 1973, the day our government gave us permission to destroy the baby. Babies are a mystery, and mysteries are hard to live with, and mysteries are often frightening. I can remember one summer night in the High Sierras, lying down to sleep under the open sky. It blazed with billions of stars so bright that I felt as if I were falling into them, or they were engulfing me. I could not remain face to face with the abyss and moved under a tree! Looking into creation on a scale that vast leaves no escape for the creature before a power infinitely greater than itself. It’s frightening to admit but it’s inescapably true that “there is a God, and I am not he.” When we deny the Creator or destroy the unborn child or mock the laws of nature it is not nature that is mocked. We do not break the law of God; we break against it. Consider how Herod tried to break the natural law by destroying the children of Bethlehem.
Herod was a king, and by all historical accounts maniacally fearful of losing the petty power he possessed in his little city. Three magi—scholars of sacred wisdom—arrive at his palace seeking to honor a newborn king. Herod, and we read “all Jerusalem with him,” was greatly troubled at this. He and his city heard of a power greater than themselves, greater even than Rome, a power that moves a star. Herod will try to control the situation by destroying all male children up to two years old, and probably ripped children from pregnant mothers for good measure. But the wise men, overjoyed at seeing the star (a power greater than themselves) prostrate themselves before the child, offering him the gifts of their trustful submission. They kneel before the mystery. “I am the steward of this mystery” St. Paul writes in our second reading. I am not the owner, but the steward, of God’s law.
The Law of God
The law of God is this: that every creature be saved. We pray in the opening prayer of this Mass “that we, who already know you by faith, may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory.” In other words, that everyone go to heaven. For that to happen, however, we must join all of creation in submitting ourselves to the Creator. Go into the mountains sometime, under the night sky, and fearlessly look up into the stars. Or simply look into the face of a baby, into the infinite mystery of a human life—look deeply, and do not flinch. Ask yourself how you or I could let others, in their confusion or fear, destroy that face. At this moment in history, we are more confused than we were fifty years ago. Our leaders are confused. We regain clarity by looking fearlessly into the face of the child, into the depths of God’s sublime creation. Seek the Child, and follow his Way, and bring as many as you can to this child with the time given you on earth.