The Gospel passage today and even the entire Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord afford us so many points or themes for Christian reflection and living. These include the manifestation of the Messiah to the Gentiles as represented by the magi, indicating the universality of God’s offer of salvation in and through His Son Jesus; the significance of the three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh; the megalomaniac personality of King Herod; the figure of Jesus as the shepherd of God’s people; and, the search for God. Allow me to just focus on the theme of the universal search for God.
Chapter One of the The Catechism of the Catholic Church starts by asserting that “the desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God, and God never ceases to draw man to Himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (CCC, 1).
To believe this assertion is to recognize that the search for God is not only universal but also innate. The longing for God is existentially inserted in every heart like a blue chip, whether we admit it or not. This is the reason why saints and spiritual writers tell us that our deepest and most authentic longings have something to do with God. There is a fundamental restlessness in every heart that is oriented towards God and that can only be satisfied by God. St. Augustine very well expressed it, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.”
The problem is that this existential restlessness is not always recognized as something basically religious or spiritual by all people. Thus, some seek satisfaction in the wrong directions and places. Some give their hearts to things that cannot truly or even remotely satisfy their deepest longings and desires. The Desert monk Abba Poemen warned many centuries ago, “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.” Indeed, our hearts have been created for more and greater things. We have been created by and for God and for his plans.
I remember an incident when I was a college student. I was already in the Franciscan Seminary and one day, I just felt very restless. It was the restlessness experienced particularly by young people.
As I was walking along the corridors, I saw the open door of my professor’s room. He is an Indian Franciscan priest who always left his room door open to make the seminarians feel welcome. I greeted the professor, went inside his room and just started to look at his books on the bookshelf.
He asked, “Robert, what are you looking for?” I really did not know what I was looking for; all I felt was the restlessness in my heart. So I said, “Father, I am looking for God.” The Indian Franciscan priest stood up and came close to me. He said, “You are looking for God?” He pointed his finger at my heart and said, “God is there.”
Indeed, God is everywhere. But we must experience Him, first of all, in the depths of our hearts and recognize Him in the longings and desires of our hearts. We see outside what we see inside. We must recognize His presence written in the heart – in my heart and in your hearts that are fundamentally oriented and drawn to a life-long search for God.
The journey of the magi in the Gospel reading today is basically that – a search for the God who searches for us even more. As St. John of the Cross said, “It is a consolation for a seeker to know that it is the beloved who seeks him all the more.” We cannot even seek for God without Him seeking us first. It is a journey from God, with God in Christ and towards God.
The name Magi comes from the Greek word magoi. The word suggests that the wise men mentioned in the story are priestly sages from Persia who are experts in astrology and interpretations of dreams. They are not actually kings and we do not really know how many they are. The tradition that they are three is based on the number of gifts offered to the infant Jesus.
What distinguishes these magi in the story is their sincere and persistent search for the baby “born king of the Jews.” They embark on a long journey unmindful of all the sacrifices and difficulties involved in the search for the Son of God.
Indeed, the journey to God is the most difficult journey we will ever make because it may involve leaving the familiar and the comfortable and venturing into the unknown and the untested. But what one thing is sure – the magi throughout their journey are patiently guided by God. First, through a star in the East, then through a text from Micah and finally through a dream.
The magi see a star in the East and this guides them in their search for the child. Eventually, the star leads them to the child.
Throughout their journey the magi need to be focused on the star, whether they always see it or not. Perhaps, at times they only see the star in their hearts and not out there in the skies because of the clouds or the darkness of the night.
God always sends us guiding stars in our spiritual journey through life. The star may be another person who always reminds us of or lead us to God. It may be a spiritual book that we chance upon and that challenges us to a new and more godly path. It may be a spiritual experience from childhood when we deeply felt the unconditional love of God that is now coming back to our consciousness because we have digressed from walking more humbly with the Lord. We will never run out of stars if we are only willing to recognize them. They come to us at the right time, in God’s time. And our biggest Star is none other than Jesus Christ the Way, the Truth and the Life who leads us to the Father.
The prophetic Word of God from the Book of Micah also serves as a guide to the magi. The prophecy of Micah about the birth of Jesus in the town of Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, gives directions for the magi in their search for the King of the Jews. Such is the continuing power of the Word of God or any Sacred Word for that matter. The Bible serves as our primary guide in the journey towards God. Countless men and women have become saints because they have found God and Jesus in the Scriptures.
The Spanish St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, after being wounded at the battle of Pamplona with the French soldiers, had to recuperate in their ancestral palace at Loyola. To accompany him in the loneliness of period of recovery, he was looking for romantic novels and other worldly books. But these were not available. The only available materials were the lives of the saints and a book on the life of Jesus. St. Ignatius was somehow forced to read these books. He gave a small opening to God and that was enough for God to propel him to conversion. He was never the same again. He said, after reading the lives of the saints and the life of Jesus, “If St. Francis and St. Dominic could do it, I can also do it.”
In St. Ignatius of Loyola’s ancestral palace, which now belongs to the Jesuits, we find a room, which has been called Conversion Room. In this room there is a replica of St. Ignatius sitting, wounded from the battle in Pamplona, and reading the Life of Jesus. Such is the power of the Word of God. It helps us to interpret our experiences from the perspective of the eyes of God and His plan and action in history. It shows us the futilities of things and endeavors that have nothing to do with God and our final destiny. It jolts us to conversion, renewal and transformation. It makes God alive in our midst and it guides us in our life journey.
Finally, God also gives a warning to the magi through a dream not to return to Herod. God sometimes sends warnings in different forms to wake us up from mediocrity, selfishness, indifference and sinfulness, to alert us to the things that are not perhaps good for us, to keep us from harm or from further harming ourselves, and to redirect us to the right and safe path. The Spirit of God will disturb us when we need to be disturbed for our own good, for the good of our families and even for the good of the Church and the world. Of course, God does not cause or will that evil befall upon us, but sometimes He allows these things for a purpose. Thus, we need to recognize God’s hidden blessings and invitations in these.
Again, this journey is from God, with God and to God. Yesterday, the remains of the venerable Fr. James Reuter, SJ were laid to rest after a blessed journey on earth as God’s faithful and holy servant. Fr. Reuter’s journey has entered a new phase –into the realm of God’s presence for all eternity.
On May 31, 2008 at 3:00 AM, Fr. Reuter wrote a reflection entitled “The Pre-Departure Area.” Let me quote some of its portions to end our reflection on the search for God on this Solemnity of the Epiphany. Fr. Reuter said:
“Of course I am in the pre-departure area. . . . Of course my flight will be called soon. . . . Death may come at any moment. . . I know that. . . .but when it comes it will be the greatest of all adventures — a journey into the unknown.
I have been blessed by my studies as a religious, as a Jesuit. I have been constantly exposed to the Gospel. . . . The word of God leads you to the fullness of life. . . . to peace of soul, to the joy of living, to happiness, to love, to everything that is beautiful and good.
Even if there were no heaven or hell, no last judgment — I would never regret having tried to live by the word of God. . . . . If I had my life to live all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
I have made a thousand mistakes . . . . . But with the grace of God I hope to make it to Purgatory. . . .Because, then I know that someday I will be safe with God, forever.
And I believe that: ‘Eye hath not seen, nor hath ear heard nor hath it entered into the mind of man to conceive the joy that God has prepared for those who love him.’
What does it feel like to be 92? You feel that you are standing on the threshold of a great, beautiful adventure. . . . Life will begin when God calls you home.”
The magi found their destiny in the presence of the Messiah in Bethlehem. Fr. Reuter has reached his final destiny. May we also reach this final destiny of being home with God forever after a long and well-spent journey guided by God’s bright stars, transforming words and even loving warnings.