Yesterday was the feast of the Epiphany, where we remember the Magi from the east coming in search of the newborn King. Fr. Nathan O’Halloran, Mary Ann’s son, was visiting and filling in for the local priest, and I was very moved by his homily at Mass. I’d like to share and reflect on some the points he made.
Fr. Nathan spoke about the two types of kings represented in the Gospel reading*: Herod, who was doing all he could to cling to his power and reign, jealous and wishing to destroy the new rival; contrasted with the kings from the east, who were going to great lengths to find the newborn King and worship him.
The Magi left their homelands and traveled at great cost, great sacrifice, not knowing where they were going, how long it would take, or how their lives would be changed. They surrendered to God’s plan and were willing to let go of everything in order to find Him and worship Him.
Fr. Nathan went on to talk about the offerings that each gift of the kings might represent:
- He likened the gold to giving God our best — our good works and deeds, our strengths, the parts of us that we like to present and have offered.
- The gift of myrrh is representative of death — an offering that we will all have to make one day. How much better if we can embrace and surrender the time and circumstances of our own individual death. That is why we pray for the grace of a happy death, that we be ready and peacefully meet it when our time comes.
- But the clincher is the middle gift, the frankincense. He said this represents the hard things in our daily, ordinary lives — things we are attached to, cling to, that we don’t want to give up.
He explained how incense is made up of little rocks, not very pretty or attractive. But when placed on the fire they are transformed into smoke which rises up as a sweet-smelling aroma. This is why the Church uses incense in liturgies as the quintessential symbol of our prayers rising up to God.
When we lay down our attachments, what we cling to, and offer them to God as a sacrifice, then the fire of the Holy Spirit transforms them into something sweet and fragrant and pleasing to God. We cannot do this transforming ourselves, but we can surrender and allow the Holy Spirit to do that work in us.
Our identity is often wrapped up in what we cling to, what we jealously guard, what we are loathe to surrender. We don’t know what life would look like if we did offer that attachment to God. However, if we stay stuck, grasping onto what we think gives us purpose or happiness, we get more and more miserable like king Herod.
Alternately, we can choose to embark on the journey of true surrender, offering to God all our disordered attachments. (Father Nathan advised us on starting with the hardest one first.) We don’t know what that will cost us, or where that path will take us, but if we trust and believe, we, too, will be “overwhelmed with joy” like the Magi were.
This is the invitation that the Lord gives us this year: sweet, grace-filled, fruitful surrender. May He give us the grace to say yes to that call.
* Gospel taken from Matthew 2:1-12