Gentile da Fabriano, Adoration of the Magi, 1423, tempera on panel, 283 x 300 cm (Uffizi Gallery, Florence)Gentile da Fabriano, Adoration of the Magi, 1423, tempera on panel, 283 x 300 cm (Uffizi Gallery, Florence)

God did not reveal himself to the world for the first time on the occasion of the Magi’s visit to the Christ child in Bethlehem.  God had revealed himself to the world on countless prior occasions as we know from reading the Old Testament.  Saint John tells us in the Prologue to his Gospel that “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.”

–  Abyssum


Until the fourth century, Christians celebrated Easter and Pentecost as the definitive feasts, for there would be no Church without the Resurrection and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Christmas and Epiphany were added to the calendar as collateral causes for celebration, and they go together since both are “revelations” or “manifestations” of the Messiah. As the term “epiphany” may be applied to any time “in the fullness of time” that God chooses to reveal himself as he did in his only-begotten Son, the Baptism of the Lord and the Miracle at Cana are also epiphanies. God wants it to be known that he has come to the human race to reconcile the world to himself.

The Feast of the Epiphany is officially celebrated in the United States on the Sunday following the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, although the actual date is January 6, rounding out the Twelve Days of Christmas. In Syria it is called Denho or “Up-going” because of the star that seemed to “rise in the East.” The details are obscure and so exotic that some assume the events are embellished, but they all fit cogently into what is known of that culture. The Wise Men—and Scripture does not limit them to three—possibly were Zoroastrians who early in the tenth century would be driven out of their homeland by Muslims, many relocating around Bombay. These Magi may have been from present-day Iran, though one theory says Yemen, but they certainly were from where Christians now are carrying a heavy cross, some literally being crucified.

Today, the brutal Islamic State armies under the self-appointed caliph, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, are slaughtering Christians in Syria and Iraq in the first genocide of the twenty-first century. It is the next chapter in a horrid history that has sullied the human story, but which displays itself on an unprecedented scale in the modern age. The world may have become inured to mass killings after the terrors of the last century: the Turkish slaughter of Armenians, Stalin’s forced  Holodomor famine in Ukraine, the Rape of Nanking, Hitler’s Holocaust, Pol Pot, Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina . . . and the list goes on.

Christians now are being persecuted in the very lands they have inhabited since not long after the Magi walked through that region. They outwitted Herod, but innocents were slaughtered nonetheless. Recently, four children refused to renounce Yeshuah and convert to Islam, in consequence of which they were beheaded. That was one incident among many. We cannot say these martyrdoms are countless, since the ISIS officials meticulously record their killings as a matter of pride, though they are too numerous and too vile to be countenanced.

In this holy season, we are obliged to remember that now, as then, much of this moral chaos is permitted by the silence of others. Some of it has been born of ignorance, but much of it has been willful. More than one courageous soul has seen in our times a parallel with the dark days of slavery in the eighteenth century. In the very year that, on the upside, the U.S. Constitution was enacted and, on the downside, the French Revolution began, William Wilberforce, “The Great Liberator,” told his fellow members in the House of Commons: “Having heard all of this, you may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” 

– Father George W. Rutler

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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