Twice a year, the Catholic Church celebrates what is called an “Octave,” or an 8-day
celebration because of the magnitude of the event. These occur at Christmas and
In Easter, all of the readings are from after the resurrection, and some are duplicated in
the following Sundays. It takes on a very festive feeling after the solemn days of Lent,
which the focus on the resurrection and triumph of Jesus over death.
Christmas certainly is festive too. But you find some days in there that certainly don’t
seem all the festive.
For instance the 26th is Saint Stephen’s Day; Stephen being the first martyr of the faith.
The 28th we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents who were killed by Herod. The
29th is the feast of Thomas Becket who was killed by the English king’s knights in a
power struggle. And when we get to today’s feast of the Magi, while it is often depicted
as three astrologers from the East who come to see Jesus, the journey was certainly
very difficult and took quite some time to make. There’s a lot to unpack, but when we
look at the Octave of Christmas, we can get an understanding of how the faith is really a
journey in so many ways with some challenges we all have to face.
One among them is the necessity of patience. One account of the Magi’s journey
estimated it at 2 years. While we don’t know the exact length, it’s pretty obvious they
couldn’t take a flight or a train. When we try to live out our faith, that can be tough.
There can be spiritual dryness, where we don’t feel God’s presence. Then there’s the
waiting we have to do too as we pursue our vocation; seminary took me 6 years and
every married couple goes through ups and downs waiting to get married as they learn
a relationship takes work. There’s patience too that is needed with other people as we
hope for them to get more active in our faith; (on Saint Stephen’s Day we hear of a
young man named Saul helps to kill Stephen who later goes on to become a saint). And
patience with ourselves is needed too as we deal with the daily battle against sin. When
we are patient though we realize that we don’t go from sinner to saint in a day but that
it’s a journey – patience though has to be a part of it.
We also need to be aware of what children go through, as parents, but all of us, share in
helping young ones come to know who God is. Typically we think of childhood as a
happy, carefree time. And certainly for many kids there is that part of it, and many of us
look back on childhood with some great memories. But sadly, the reality is childhood
also has many challenges too. Some children are never born at all; and we must strive
to develop a pro-life mentality by working for an end to abortion and helping people to
choose life, not thinking this issue something we can do nothing about. Thanks to
sidewalk counselors, pro-life centers, and groups who help people chose life, lives are
saved each year. Some children also endure abuse. The clergy abuse scandal revealed
what happened when people said nothing and ignored sin. But abuse is far more
common in families, as there are many more families than priests, and as such we must all be vigilant in protecting children, reporting abuse anytime it’s suspected. More
common though is children dealing with issues such as bullying and stress. When we
become aware of these things we need to be there for kids to listen and affirm them.
Kids also deal with a lack of faith formation in the home, which is why it’s so important to
be involved and teach them the faith, take them to Mass, and pray with them. Even if
you aren’t living under the same roof, by looking for opportunities to talk about the faith
with them when you see them, or to spend time with them on the phone listening to
them, it can do so much to help fan the flames of the faith.
We also must be aware that we too will be persecuted for the faith. There are aspects of
our faith that are very counter-cultural or politically incorrect. As Catholics, we need to
be aware of that and help others understand things like the sanctity of life in the womb;
why we are against capital punishment; marriage as between a man and a woman; the
needs of immigrants, etc. It’s important we don’t fear having discussions and arguments
with others and engage those who aren’t active in the Church to we can help catechize
and evangelize. The faith isn’t meant to be kept within the Church.
The feast of Epiphany reminds us that Jesus comes for all of us. As Catholics, we want
to balance ecumenism, or working with people of other faiths, with the reality that Christ
indeed did create one, not multiple churches. For those of other faiths, I do believe
evangelization and missionary work is good, which is why we can’t fear talking about
our faith. But I also believe the truth of the faith will be fully revealed to those who did
not learn it when they die and stand before Jesus (the theologian Fr. Karl Rahner
referred to this as the “Anonymous Christian.”). However, even within our own Catholic
faith, some people can have tunnel vision and think “their way” or the way things are
done at their parish, or their preferred style of liturgy, is “holier” than the other parish, or
they can be quick to criticize something in a bishop or pope they don’t like. Lets leave
the governance of parishes up to bishops and the pope. Certainly we can have opinions
and lively discussions about liturgy and devotionals and the teachings of our Church;
that’s a good thing to be engaged. But we also can’t condemn other styles that the
Church says are perfectly acceptable simply because we dislike them.
Lastly, as I said on Christmas, as life goes on, continually give Jesus the gift of yourself.
Jesus accepts us as we are; and we give to him our acts of love and charity. But we
also give to Him our sins and struggles. The infant Jesus stayed with Mary and Joseph
after the Magi left, but the risen Christ the King journeys with us always after we leave
A popular saying is “wise men still seek Him” and that’s very true. The Christmas Story
is one of God seeking us out – so let Him into your lives. The journey after we say “yes”
to Christ isn’t an easy one. We’ll still have struggles along the way, and people might
not like what we have to say. But we must never fear ourselves or the world or the
future, for Jesus is with us always. So seek the King of Kings who seeks you.