Epiphany of the Lord – Fr. Pete Iorio
January 4, 2020 – 5:00 PM
January 5, 2020 – 11:00 AM
I went to college at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. I was very excited to be in our nation’s Capital. I did not know a single soul there, and on top of that, I was a very shy guy. The first day of orientation, I met someone I would never have guessed would become one of my very good friends, and we keep in touch to this day. His name is Mohammed Ali. No kidding. Mohammed Ali Al-Hosawi from Saudi Arabia. He was tall, thin and has dark black skin. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but we kind of became buddies on the tour of the campus and then the tour of the city during orientation. Mohammed was a little older and was sent by his company, ARAMCO, to study engineering at CUA. He had worked in Houston prior to starting college. Mohammed lived off campus in an apartment. He spoke perfect English. His faith is Islam. And he was very faithful in living it, praying 5 times a day. He was also one of the kindest and most respectful human beings I have ever met. Inspired by our friend Mohammed, as juniors, 2 of my roommates who are American and I, took a course on Islam taught by a Catholic priest. Knowing him and learning about his faith made me a better Catholic.
This was interfaith dialog at a very low level. As I look back, for me, it was putting Christ’s commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” into practice. Mohammed was my neighbor by virtue of being classmates at the same school. I did not judge him by the color of his skin, nor by finding out that he practiced a religion different from mine, nor that he came from a different country. I welcomed Mohammed as Mary, Joseph and Jesus welcomed the Magi…from the East.
They are said to have practiced Zoroastrianism founded in the eastern part of ancient Greater Iran. It is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of the prophet Zoroaster (Zarathustra) and was formerly among the world’s largest religions.
Our Catholic tradition states that there were three Magi because there were three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Eastern Christian tradition states that there were 12 of them. In reality, we do not know how many there were.
In many ways, we have tamed this story with talk of kings, crowns, and camels. We often forget it is about real people seeking someone, seeking the light, that we all hope to find. If one word were used to sum up this gospel, it would be inclusiveness. In fact, the whole Christmas story is about inclusiveness, starting at the very beginning. Read your bible, it’s there all over the place: And the master of inclusiveness is Jesus.
You see, the first to come to the stable are shepherds, but not as we see them on Christmas cards today, but real shepherds who were considered the crooks at the time, looked down upon, avoided by decent folk. And they are the ones chosen to be the first to hear that God has touched earth.
Then the Magi – outsiders…not even Jewish…pagans! A Jew could not even let them into his house because they were ritually impure. They were not to be trusted or encouraged to stay around.
So, as it turns out, the two groups who were invited and guided to the babe were the most despised and the most rejected. Isn’t that what the gospel is all about? Where do we find the adult Jesus most of the time? Who is He with? The most despised and discarded. That is why our church must be attentive to people whose lives have been fractured, people who turn away from our church because they did not feel welcome, people who are told their lives are disoriented.
This tells us that if we have ever felt rejected, we belong close to Jesus. If we have somehow not measured up to other people’s standards, we belong close to Jesus. If we have sinned or separated ourselves from God, we belong close to Jesus. It is interesting that when they had found the Lord, the Magi entered the house, fell on their knees and offered Him their gifts. Gold for a king, frankincense for God and myrrh for someone who was going to die. Their gifts indicated a level of belief about who Jesus was.
I began by sharing my personal experience of befriending a Muslim. On this Solemnity of the Epiphany in which we can say that our Christian faith is in contact with people of other faith beliefs, I want to share with you officially what the Church teaches.
From Nostra Aetate: Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions issued in 1965. The Church, exhorts her children, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these people.
The Church regards with esteem the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. Muslims also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will reward all those who have risen. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
This sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.