Most Rev. Rhee Timbang, Bishop Emergencio Padillo, Bishop Ciriaco Francisco, Bishop Noel Pantoja, Elder Steven Bangerter, Bishop Ariel Santos, Pastor Emily Santos Gabule, Pastor Irma Balaba, Msgr. Bernardo Pantin, Bishop Ebenezer Camino, Bishop Melzar Labuntog, Bishop Rudy Juan, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, welcome to the Manila Cathedral, the seat of the Archdiocese of Manila. It is our honor to host the second day of this week-long nationwide prayer for Christian unity.
Today, united in our common Baptism, through which we receive the spirit of adoption, we gather together as children of God, brothers and sisters in the Lord, as we cry out, “Aba”, “Father”. This year’s week of prayer for Christian unity was prepared by churches in the Middle East, and the theme that they choose is, “We saw a star in the East.”
Our sisters and brothers in the Middle East chose the episode of the first Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ when his first coming was manifested by a bright star to the Magi, who represented all the nations. The theme is emblematic of the drama in the Middle East, whose history is characterized even to this day by disputes and troubles.
We meditate on the Lord’s first manifestation surrounded by these dark shadows of conflict and strife. Like the Magi, we do not lose sight of the bright star which led them to the child Jesus and his mother, whose luminescence refused to be overpowered by the darkness of death.
When Jesus was born, wise men from the East unexpectedly appeared in Jerusalem, inquiring about the newborn king of the Jews. Where is the infant king of the Jews? We saw his star as he throws and have come to do him homage (Mt. 2:2).
King Herod the Great and the whole of Jerusalem were deeply troubled by the news. He called the chief priest and the scribes and inquired as to the location of the child. The religious leaders were aware of the place, at Bethlehem in Judea (Mt. 2:5).
After obtaining the information, Herod summoned the Magi asking for more information as to the exact date of the appearance of the star. He then sent them to Bethlehem with the instruction that they gather more information on the child, telling them that he too, wish to pay homage to the newborn king.
As the Magi was sending out for Bethlehem, the star once again appeared to them and led them to the house where the child and his mother were. The wise men were elated at seeing the star.
On entering the house, they prostrated themselves and offered Jesus their gifts of gold for a king, frankincense for a god and myrrh for a god-king who is to die for his people.
The gospel relates that an angel appeared to them in a dream, one in them not to go back to Herod. And they returned to their own country in a different way. That manifests to Jesus to all men of goodwill. God made use of a bright star to guide the wise men who live in the far East. In Jesus, there is no Jew or Gentile.
It is appropriate that the last day of the week of Prayer for Christian Unity coincides with the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. God is not confined by the walls and borders that we put up. His loving kindness extends to all. This is why we must engage in ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. The mission of the Church is to bring Jesus to all peoples. God does not discriminate. This is why we must actively pursue Christian unity.
Our quarrels and divisions provoke scandal. This is not saying that we must contend with false irenicism. Our Unity must be based on charity and truth – Truthful charity and charitable truth. Let the prayer of Jesus Ut Unum Sint, that we be one, be our prayer.
There are three ways of responding to Jesus’ epiphany. First is the way of Herod, which is the way of violence, strife and domination. Second is the way of the high priest and the scribes which is the way of indifference.
In the first Epiphany, the religious leaders were informed by the wise men of the coming of the Messiah. They knew that the Messiah was in Bethlehem. As stone throw away from Jerusalem, they did not bother to go and pay him homage. They were content to stay in their comfort zone. And last is the way of the Magi, which is the way of wisdom. The Magi spared no expense when they embark on a long and perilous journey that took a considerable amount of time in order to do homage to the newborn king. They brought with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gifts that they could offer the best.
Today is our turn to be the bright star that points the way to Jesus. May our love for one another as brothers and sisters united in Christ, enlighten the world, our common home, a world that is mired in sadness, violence, sin and death.
We are called to be light of the world, salt of the earth and a city set on a hill. Let our love for one another bring hope and joy to his fallen world.
Let us not choose the way of Herod. Let us not choose the way of the chief priest and the scribes during the first Epiphany. Let us choose the way of the Magi who came all the way from the East. Let us devote the sum total of our lives and resources to Jesus who we worship and obey.
May the light of Jesus guide us all. Amen. (RCAM-AOC | Photo by Maricar Santos/RCAM-AOC | Photo Gallery)