For his homily on Epiphany, Pope Francis spewed words of disdain for those who believe and worship as the Church has always believed and worshipped, and reductively characterized the magi as those we should imitate in their vacuous desire (in Francis’ mind) for all that is new New NEW NEW! NEW!!! (here). I was going to fisk that out, but it’s all too depressing.
Instead, I’d like to share with you what happened to me, yesterday, January 7, the day after Epiphany. This event took place as I read the Gospel “toward the North”, as they say. The Mass prayers and readings were those of Epiphany. The Gospel was that of the magi falling down in adoration of the Christ Child, offering their gifts.
Firstly, note that whenever I begin Holy Mass, I don’t know what I’m going to preach about. I like to be available to the Holy Spirit even though Pope Francis declares that this would have to be impossible for me, offering the Ancient Rite as I do. Perhaps my lack of preparation is presumption, laziness, careless neglect, even sinful. Certainly my parishioners tell me frequently enough that I’m never at a loss for words, never an unspoken thought kind of thing. But throughout the day before Mass I am in a state of begging the Holy Spirit to instruct me as I preach. I know that I myself have nothing to say, no matter how much I might prepare. I am nothing. I must, as it were, give the mic to the Holy Spirit. I hope that is not blasphemy. Obviously, I am inept at everything I do. But I hope that sometimes something for some souls will help point them to virtue and truth. So…
Whilst reading the Gospel… it’s like my heart – suddenly, with the words about the magi falling down in adoration – it’s like my heart was actually ripped from my chest and it was everything I could do not to fall to my knees. But then, right then, right there, there was a rubric written out right in the very text of the Gospel that the priest reading the Gospel is to fall to his knees in adoration with the magi!
- (hic genuflectitur)
I did so, so happy to have some seconds to recover after my heart was ripped out of my chest. Rising again, I didn’t want to make a spectacle of myself. I forced myself to continue reading. My voice faltered. I got choked up, I teared up. I was, despite the words of Pope Francis against priests who offer the Ancient Rite of Holy Mass… I was “surprised by the Holy Spirit.” And now I knew what I was going to preach about, namely, what happened to the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh brought by the magi.
I wasn’t there with the magi. I don’t know what happened to their gifts. I’m just telling you my ♬ experience ♬ my feelings ♬
When I say that it was like my heart was ripped out of me, what I’m trying to say is that my veiled eyes were less veiled, my heart was made less dull. I was convicted, as it’s said, by the Holy Spirit. I knew myself to be so unworthy to be in the presence of these great men and the total solidarity they had with the Holy Family. But I wasn’t concentrating on myself. It was all about their urgency to adore the Christ Child and then the dire straits they were in to provide those gifts to be used for the members of the Body of Christ, the boys who would be slaughtered in place of Jesus.
Here’s the deal. I think these wise men were Jews descended from Jews who stayed behind in Babylon after the Cyrus sent the Jews back to Jerusalem. I think these wise men knew all the prophesies about the Messiah, the Suffering Servant, the Lamb of God who will save His people and the whole world from sin, the Redeemer, the Savior, the Son of God.
Their gifts mirrored everything in the Jewish Scriptures, that the Divine Christ was to be Priest, Prophet and King. You can categorize all the Scriptures into those three categories. Gold is for the only King who would always be eager to provide for His subjects, Frankincense is for the Priest who would Himself be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, myrrh is for a Prophet who would be killed for speaking Truth and should therefore have his body packed with myrrh for burial. But wait. No. He might die, but He was to rise from the dead. So… wait… what?
They already knew the Child King was to be born in Bethlehem, but purposely went out of their way to shake up filthy, wretched, demonic, murderous King Herod, and all the rest of Jerusalem with him. These wise men already knew that they themselves should be killed by Herod for speaking of this new King. They already knew that Herod would want to kill the Child King, a rival King incomparably greater than him. But they knew Herod could never do such a thing. They fully believed it would have to be the babe Himself who would later lay down His life for His people, for the whole world. They were just provoking Herod and all the people on purpose, so that the event wouldn’t go by unnoticed even from the beginning. I love that.
And the gifts? They brought them knowing what would have to happen regardless of whether they provoked Herod and all Jerusalem with him. No matter what, it would soon be known that the Messiah was now born as the one and only King of the Jews. Herod would still try to kill Jesus, the Savior. Herod would still try to kill all the infant boys two years old or under. They knew that before they even started their journey.
Their gifts were brought, it seems to me, for the Holy Family to give to the families of those whose boys would die for Jesus. Those boys wouldn’t grow up to provide for their families, for their then elderly parents, but those families would now have gold to provide for themselves as they became older. The families of the boys being slaughtered by Herod would, unlike Jesus in future times, need the myrrh for packing around the corpses of those infant boys for their burial. The families of the boys, shaken by these events, would offer that frankincense in honor of Jesus who had been among them, in honor of the prayers of the lives of the infants slaughtered for Jesus. Joseph received a dream from an angel about the impending slaughter: “Take the child and His mother and flee to Egypt! Do it! Do it now!” What are they going to do with gold too heavy, frankincense too abundant, myrrh for a day so long in the future when it would not be used by Mary anyway (for she knew her Son would rise from the dead and she would not be at the tomb with Mary of Magdala early Sunday morning). The Holy Family didn’t have caravans of camels, but only a donkey for Mary and her newborn.
But Francis decries such an experience as impossible to the priest who offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, of Jesus, in the Ancient Rite. We priests must be rejecting the surprises of the Holy Spirit. We cannot be convicted by the Holy Spirit.
Pope Francis, you are wrong. Why limit the Holy Spirit? Be surprised that the Holy Spirit can also enliven the heart and soul of a wretch like me even whilst offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Ancient Rite. I am a sinner, a terrible sinner. But the Holy Spirit is more powerful than I am. I hope, Pope Francis, that you do not doubt that the Holy Spirit can work even with me, wretch that I am.
Be joyful, Pope Francis.
I can’t help myself. It’s just my ♬ feelings ♬ again. But this comes to mind about the rhetoric of Francis when he prejudicially lumps together all those who offer and assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Ancient Rite:
- Miss McCarthy replied that Lillian Hellman was “a bad writer, overrated, a dishonest writer.” When Mr. Cavett asked what was “dishonest” about Miss Hellman, Miss McCarthy answered, “Everything.” Miss McCarthy continued, “I once said in an interview that every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.'”
Does that sound like I’m criticizing Pope Francis? Yes, I suppose it does. Does he deserve it for the good of his own soul? Yes, I suppose he does. You know, Galatians 2:11 and all that. Be of good heart.