Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
January 8, 2017
The Epiphany of the Lord
“And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.” Matthew 2:9
“But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea.” Such was the statement of the agnostic to the believer in one of my favorite novels (Brideshead Revisited, Chapter 4). The two men are seated on a terrace. The believer has just attended Mass, and the agnostic is inquiring. “[Y]ou can’t seriously believe it all…. I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.” To which the believer responds, “Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”
The account of the Magi is beautiful. Wise men, coming from the East, pagans, Gentiles, in search of the “newborn king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2), following a star, encountering a jealous, vindictive king, bringing their hallowed gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and laying them before the Prince of Peace, as His silent mother looks on, wondering at this marvel. All of it is filled with wonder and awe. The secularist might say it is like a children’s story. Is it?
The worldly wise, the self-proclaimed sophisticates, will say, “[Y]ou can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea.” In response, we must issue a challenge. Is it possible that we cannot believe that truth is communicated through beauty because we are so jaded with ugliness that we cannot recognize beauty when we encounter it? I would answer, and I think the Church would also, that the Gospel is not ordinary. The Gospels and all the Sacred Scriptures rise above every category of literature known to mankind. This is not fiction or non-fiction. It is not epic poetry, history or story. There are elements of literary style and genre, yes, but what we encounter in the Gospels is sui generis. It defies categorizing because it does not fit anything that preceded it or followed it. It is extraordinary. Well, then, we might ask, what is it?
It is the Good News. It is Divine Revelation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses it this way: “Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 102). The Catechism continues: “In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, ‘but as what it really is, the word of God’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 104, quoting I Thessalonians 2:13).
The visit of the Magi is “lovely” because as God’s Word it tells me so much. The Magi tell me that salvation is intended for everyone, a message to go out to all the world. Their gifts tell me about the recipient. Gold is for a king, frankincense is for God, and myrrh is for Him who will die upon the cross to redeem. The jealousy of Herod is the cynicism of the world which cannot abide the truth, for truth is a threat to its power. And the star, what can we say about the star? The star is the light, pointing the way to the light of the world, God’s creation showing the way to honest men who seek answers to their questions. Questions like, “[Y]ou can’t seriously believe it all.” To which I answer, “Oh yes, I believe.” I believe because it is true. I have seen God’s work. It is more beautiful than anything our secular world can produce with its vulgarity and crudeness, its disingenuousness, its deconstruction and pointless pretense. The truth of God and the beauty that communicates it puts to shame the sophistication of the world and points the way to a truth that is larger than the constructs of this age. I will take the truth and beauty of what it says far more seriously than I would the front page of a daily newspaper.
“And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way” (Matthew 2:12). May God bring us home by His own way to our true country.
Bishop Glen John Provost