One of my regrets from our wonderful trip home to Rochester earlier this week is that we were unable to assist at Mass at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in my mother’s (and sisters’) Irondequoit neighborhood due to its current Sunday-only worship schedule. You may recall that the former bishop, one of the last surviving Bernardin-Jadot appointees, effectively and vindictively closed the parish during the waning days of his episcopate when he pursued a scorched-earth policy against Rochester’s few remaining centers of orthodoxy. Among his first acts as the new ordinary, Bishop Salvatore Matano last year restored the parish as the new home of the Latin Mass community, and it now celebrates Masses in the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms every Sunday. (Can I get a Te Deum!?) Hopefully, by my next trip home, weekday Masses will be added. St. Thomas was the home of the late and holy priest-historian Fr. Robert Francis McNamara, and many of his works have been painstakingly preserved online by parishioners. They are wonderful. Aside from his terrific lives of the saints, Saints Alive!, there are his rich, historically detailed reflections on the Sunday lectionary, conveniently indexed to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. If more family catechesis is on your list of New Year’s resolutions, you now have another great resource. Here is Fr. McNamara’s reflection on this Sunday’s Feast of the Epiphany:
Kings shall pay him homage
Christian tradition has made three Kings out of the three Wise Men. Whether they were royal is not important; but it would certainly have been appropriate for the first Gentiles who were invited to greet the infant King of Kings, to have been of kingly state.
King St. Louis IX of France became a sort of fourth Wise Man when he devoutly visited the shrines of the Holy Land around the year 1250. Those were the days of the crusades – armed Christian expeditions against the Moslems of Palestine who had seized Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the other places of pilgrimage made holy by Christ’s presence. As a young king, Louis followed the crusade movement with great devotion. In 1239, he accepted as a most precious gift the crown of thorns of Christ, given to him by the French crusader, Emperor Baldwin II of Constantinople. To house this crown of thorns King Louis built a beautiful little church that still stands in Paris, “La Sainte Chappelle.”
In 1244, St. Louis was gravely ill. Blessed with the relic of the sacred crown of Christ, he suddenly recovered. In thanks, he vowed to head a new crusade to the Holy Land, where the Moslems were threatening to recoup their losses. Louis landed in Egypt and set out against the enemy. “Never did any one behold so fine a man,” one of his officers said. “He appeared towering over all his people, head and shoulders taller than they, a gilded helmet on his head, a German sword in his hand.” A truly royal figure!
Actually, Louis’ campaign failed. He was himself captured, then ransomed. But he was nevertheless able to make his way as a pilgrim to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Thus he fulfilled the dream of the psalmist: “Let us go where He is waiting and worship at His footstool” (Ps. 132, 7)…”All kings shall pay Him homage, all nations shall serve Him” (Ps. 72, 11. Today’s responsorial psalm.)
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q353: There is a lot of talk about “light” and “glory” and “stars” in today’s readings. Surely there is more going on here than just pious words?
Both the Old and the New Testaments are full of images that speak symbolically of the real presence of God. One image that looms especially large is the image of light. The “pillar of fire” that accompanied the Hebrews during the initial phases of the exodus journey, and the “burning bush” episode with Moses are two great examples from the Old Testament. In the New Testament, John’s gospel is exceptional in its recognition of this ‘light’ imagery as standing for God’s presence, He whose “light shines in the darkness” (John 1).
The nation of Israel had destroyed its relationship with Yahweh by falling away from the truth that there is One God, and that he commands his people to live their lives His way. Their “darkness” – the sins of apostasy, idolatry and lack of a true spirituality – eventually caused them to be led away into exile to Babylonia in 587 B.C. After seventy years during which they could ponder the real reason for their misfortunes, the prophet we refer to as “Third Isaiah” announced that their relationship with Yahweh was being restored: His light once more was being restored to the Israelites (Is 60:1-6). Once again they are called to be His servants, focused on God and not on the worldly allurements or distractions.
The light theme continues into the gospel today (Matt 2:1-12), where we see a “star” shining in Bethlehem over the “true light that shines in the darkness,” the child Jesus. Here we find the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy from Third Isaiah that all nations would be drawn to this light. They will come to do homage and worship and praise the Lord, the One who will shepherd His people.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! On this celebration we call “Epiphany,” we celebrate the adoration of Jesus by those Magi drawn to the “light of the world” and guided to him by the “light of a star” (CCC #528). The long-awaited Messiah of the world has come. In the Holy Spirit, Christ fulfills the Old Testament symbols of light and glory (CCC #697). Are you focused on God first, or on worldly allurements – i.e., does light or darkness govern your life?
Nations Shall Walk by Your Light
All through their history the Israelites were ever conscious of their covenant relationship with God and of the promises God had made to Abraham, Moses and David. They were vividly aware that these promises had been fulfilled only in part — due to Israel’s infidelities. Isaiah today consoles them with the assurance that God is faithful, even when they are not. He describes in poetic language the future fulfillment of God’s promises. Not only will they be reunited in the land of promise, but all the nations of the earth will see the glorious works of God. Then will be fulfilled the promise to Abraham that all nations will be blessed in his offspring and will come bringing gifts and praise for the wonderful work of god. St. Luke sees all these things coming beginning in the in the birth of Jesus. The Gentile Magi come bearing gifts and worshipping God. By baptism we share in the life of the Child of Bethlehem and so our lives should reflect the light that enables people to see the wonderful works of God.
God our Father, you led the wise men by the light of a star to worship your infant son, guide us by his teachings to a life reflecting to friends and strangers something of your promise fulfilled.
Fr. McNamara was also the author of the standard history of my home diocese, The Diocese of Rochester in America: 1868-1993.
Those interested in learning more about Fr. McNamara can consult his cousin Ann Maloney’s new biography, A Priest Forever: The Life and Times of Fr. Robert F. McNamara.