On the smartphone App “Hallow,” a Catholic Biblical Scholar named Jeff Cavins offers his reflections on the scriptures heard at daily Mass.  This past Friday, his thoughts were on the importance of Evangelization: how essential it is for Catholic Christians to share the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, with the rest of the world.  Which we know as “the great commission” – Jesus’ final command at His Ascension to disciples of every age.   So, as Jeff gave various ways and examples of how this is accomplished, he shared how curiosity got to him.  He had heard about this computer-generated “artificial intelligence” thing called Chat GPT.   For those who don’t know what “Chat GPT” or artificial intelligence is, think of it as Google on steroids.  You can ask it something pretty direct and specific, and it combs through the internet and spits out a fairly specific, direct answer to your question in a matter of seconds.  Jeff experimented with this and said, “I wanted to see what Chat GPT would answer to my question ‘How do we evangelize the whole world for Jesus?’ [as he continued]… it was pretty good until the last statement, but it had to get a woke comment in at the end.  It said ‘Evangelizing the whole world for Jesus involves sharing His teachings with others, demonstrating love and compassion, and living a life that reflects Christian values.  Engage in open conversations, build relationships, and be a positive example of faith.  Remember, respect for diverse beliefs is crucial in these discussions.”

Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the SOLEMNITY OF THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD – January 7, 2024.  I appreciate your sharing this on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim

I laughed at Jeff, kind of losing it at that point.  Mainly because it is nice hearing someone of that stature and education have the same reaction that I have had.  Because what does that mean, “respect for diverse beliefs is crucial?”  That’s so general, vague, and open to interpretation that you can have very different interpretations.  Which the programmers of Chat GPT and promoters of that statement know and use to significant effect.     Because sadly for most Christians, they’ve heard that as a demand to keep your faith to yourself – and even more sadly, too many of us have gone along with it.  Maybe it’s okay to do things for poor people as a Christian group – maybe – but let’s be really careful about sharing anything about Jesus.

Do you know who was never respectful of diverse beliefs?  King Herod.  We see that in this familiar story from the Gospel of the “wise men,” the “magi from the east,” arriving in Jerusalem looking for Jesus.  King Herod knew he wasn’t the legitimate King of the Jews.  He was a stooge who had worked out an arrangement with the Roman Empire.  Herod called himself Jewish even though he had no respect for the Jewish scriptures, the law, or even for God Himself.  He did some things to appease his “fellow” Jews.  The Romans would let him rule as he would make sure the Jews paid their taxes and allegiance to the empire was maintained.   So Jerusalem had become a shell of the Kingdom that God had made them in previous generations, and those who had remained faithful knew it.  Herod would eliminate any perceived threats to his power.  He killed any political opponents, including family members.

So when these foreign visitors come to town asking about a new King of the Jews that gets Herod’s attention, he immediately sees this as a threat to his status, not to mention his pride, his ego, and his lusts.  He lies to the Magi, saying he wants to meet this newborn King.  When the Magi don’t return to Herod, his reaction is to kill every male two years and younger born in the kingdom.  That’s how “respectful to diverse beliefs” Herod is.

In fairness, Herod might be a tyrant (well, he was a tyrant) and might be insane, but he’s honest.  He realizes that Jesus is a threat as much as light is to darkness.  There is no way for these competing realities to, as our bumper sticker ideologues like to pretend they advocate for, to “co-exist.” Light and darkness can’t co-exist; love and hate can’t respect one another.  Herod recognizes that.  Herod knows it’s a threat and shows us in his diabolical reaction what is truly in his mind and heart.

Ironically, the one who is the most respectful of “diverse beliefs” and doesn’t have to be is God Himself.  That is what the gift of freedom is all about.  We have a choice to accept Him or not.  That reality is very much highlighted throughout the Christmas story.  Jesus’ entry into the world is as unassuming and humble as possible.  Jesus doesn’t arrive with legions of armed forces – but as a helpless child born to a virgin in a cave.  The announcement of his arrival came in prophecies made centuries earlier and then with this tremendous, mysterious, cosmic sign in the night skies.  God is so respectful of our freedom that He allows people to find Him if they want to – but doesn’t impose Himself.

Once someone starts to recognize something is missing in their lives, something is wrong with life itself.  Once there’s an honest assessment of our limitations as human beings, acknowledging that those “somethings” are more extensive than anything we can repair on our own  – that’s what leads to seeking.  Does someone have an answer to what is missing, an antidote to what is wrong, that can make up for what I’m limited by?

That is what first causes the Magi to look up, look out, and see a light.  The Magi, or “Wise men,” were learned of many things of the world – being philosophers, astronomers, and astrologers.  They had figured out many answers to many questions that plague every human being.  But still, there was this inner longing and restlessness caused them to keep thinking, looking out, and seeking.  And this mysterious light -which is labeled a star – but maybe it was a comet, or a collection of stars, whatever it was, this supernatural phenomenon captures their attention, makes them set out in pursuit of what would’ve taken months, maybe even years to pursue.  That’s how committed they were to wanting to see what this incredible sight in the heavens was revealing.  It draws these men who were not Jews themselves to encounter the fulfillment of the Jewish prophecies of the Messiah – it leads them to Jesus.  And what happens after that encounter?  Their horizons have expanded, and their very lives have changed.  Had they been simply interested in “respect for diverse beliefs,” getting along with the powers and authority of the world, what better leverage would they have had then to return to Herod and use this to their advantage?  Even though He hasn’t preached a single word or performed any miraculous sign yet, in meeting Jesus (who is love incarnate), the personification of truth itself, the Magi recognize things are changing, and they have to change too.  They reject worldly power and authority and depart for their country in another way.

That’s the reminder this great Christmas feast highlights for us.  We who have been baptized, who receive Jesus’ very body and blood, soul, and divinity as real and present in the Eucharistic host as He was in the lap of the Virgin Mary – we are meant to be that light of the star to a darkened world.  We are to radiate the life and love of Jesus Christ in all we say and do and be unafraid in testifying the reason for our joy.  We evangelize not out of a desire for power, popularity, or prestige that comes from having a greater number of members.  Rather, we believe it’s a matter of life and death.  If we recognize the darkness of the world, the devastation that sin and evil inflict on us, on one another, and if we genuinely believe that there’s a light to that darkness, that there’s a remedy to that damage, then wouldn’t the greatest respect we can show to those suffering who remain unaware of the way out is to tell them?

On this Solemnity of the Epiphany, may we be wise men and women who are attentive to that restlessness for God, who seek, who find Him in Jesus Christ at this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  And then to leave here with humility and faith, becoming stars which go before men and women, pointing out to them the right path in life.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the Newman Catholic Center at Montclair State University (aka Red Hawk Catholic) Annual Christmas Appeal.  To our goal of $35,000, we’ve just topped $15,000… a benefactor has offered to match up to $8,000 any gifts made this weekend as an “Epiphany challenge.” So in theory if you donate $100 it’s like $200 this weekend (till Jan 7 at midnight) We appreciate your considering to support us and our mission of bringing Christ’s light and life to the faculty, staff, administration and especially the students of MSU! To donate online, please click our PayPal Link here .  (If for some reason the link doesn’t work, you can get to the Donate link on REDHAWKCATHOLIC.COM the link is on the top to the right. Checks can be made out and mailed to Newman Catholic; 894 Valley Road, Montclair, NJ 07043.  Thanks so much for your generosity and support!  Father Jim