“Today is the Solemnity of the Epiphany,” declared the reader before the beginning of Mass. “The focus of today’s liturgy is: ‘We need to proclaim God’s glory.’ The first reading tells us of the New Jerusalem and how the glory of the Lord shines on it. In the second reading, Paul reminds us that we are responsible for sharing the good news of Christ’s coming into the world. In the Gospel, we are told the story of the Magi visiting the newborn Christ. We are expected to recognize the glory of the Lord just as the Magi did. Please take the next few minutes...to reflect on these readings and prepare for the Eucharist.”
As the priests processed forward, the dim church — high-ceilinged but almost windowless — resounded with the music of “We Three Kings”: “Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright/ Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect Light.” But for those who couldn’t hear the resounding, a signer stood at the sanctuary stairs. Four rows of congregants signed along back at him.
The priest’s intoned opening prayer kept up the theme. “Father, You have revealed Your Son to the nations by the guidance of a star. Lead us to Your glory in heaven by the light of faith.”
The readings seemed more focused on reception than action. “The wealth of nations shall be brought to you,” said Isaiah of the New Jerusalem. Paul told the Ephesians, “It has now been revealed...the Gentiles are co-heirs...and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” But the Gospel — sung with high drama by a visiting priest — was just as the reader said: the story of the Magi, who found Christ with Herod’s help but were warned in a dream not to return to Herod afterward.
The reader’s emphasis on action certainly fit with the homily, however. The visiting priest belonged to Priests for Life, and he tied his cause in with the Gospel. “What was the warning about? Herod wanted to know where Jesus was so that he could kill the child.... Herod killed the people under age two in Bethlehem. It’s recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, and there’s a little saying in there, quoting from the Old Testament: ‘Rachel weeping for her children because they are no more.’ Abortion takes more lives than any other form of death in this land...some 50 million in the last 36 years.... Women are affected by this violence — after the abortion. We have piles of letters.... Some are coming forth to Rachel’s Vineyard retreats. They’re hurt and they want to do something about it.”
Happily, he said, “there is no sin so serious that God cannot forgive it.... What do we have? We have a crib here with a baby in it. That’s how God came to this earth, as a helpless baby.... We’ll never fathom that, but we do know one thing: God did not come to get even. God came to show mercy, and that is the essential message. We need to help these people. We know them.”
Father repeated, “The big message is God’s mercy. That’s the pound of cure. The ounce of prevention is chastity. We need to get back to teaching that — not just me from the pulpit, but all of you. Grandparents as well as parents. It’s not just abstinence; if you’re watching pornography all day long, you’re not going to stay abstinent too long. Chastity hits the mind as well as the body; it’s a much more encompassing thing.”
He had other practical advice as well: he told congregants to locate local abortion clinics. “Go down there with some other people and pray — not picket, but pray. Praying is much more powerful than picketing. And on the other side, the crisis pregnancy centers — the ones who are helping these young ladies to avoid killing their children and suffering afterwards — they should be supported by you.”
At the end of Mass, the celebrant added a few words of his own: “Epiphany means ‘manifestation.’ The Magi represented the people outside of the Jewish world — that is, all of humanity. They discovered Christ in Bethlehem. Let us pray that this new King will be part and parcel of our own lives, because there is no discovering the manifestation unless Christ is...an essential part of our daily living.” He encouraged families to use the prayers provided in the bulletin to bless their homes for the new year.
What happens when we die?
Father Mario Vesga, from the final blessing: “The wise men followed the star and found Christ, who is light from light. May you too find the Lord when your pilgrimage is ended.” — Matthew Lickona
Denomination: Roman Catholic
Address: 293 H Street, Chula Vista, 619-427-0230
Founded locally: 1921
Senior pastor: John Dolan
Congregation size: 6000 families
Staff size: n/a
Sunday school enrollment: 700–800
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Dress: casual to formal
Diversity: mixed — Caucasian, Pacific Islander, Hispanic, African American
Sunday worship: 7 a.m., 8:30 a.m., 10 a.m. (sign language interpreted), 11:30 a.m., 1:15 p.m. (in Spanish)
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 15 minutes