Sunday, January 6, 2013

Three men who traced out our journey

Cardinal Charles Journet, in his book, The Church of the Word Incarnate, wrote that Jesus Christ heals in two ways: 1. From afar. 2. And by contact. At times, like with the Roman Centurion who wanted his servant healed, our Lord chose to heal from afar. It just so happened that the ailing servant was, in that case, healed without Christ’s human touch. Rather, it was his invisible power, that is, his unseen grace that was at work. At other times, however, our Lord was emphatic on touching those whom he healed. In fact, on one occasion, he spit on the ground forming clay only to have it rubbed on the eyes of the blind man.

In the same way, God, during the Old Testament era, revealed himself directly to the Hebrews through angels and theophanies (i.e. through a cloudy mist or fire created by God). And as we proceed from the Old Testament to the Gospels, he follows the same pattern. For instance, to the Hebrew shepherds, angels appeared proclaiming glad tidings. Yet, to the Magi, who were believed to come from Gentile-pagan lands, God revealed himself to through the Star of Bethlehem. The Lord of the universe could have just as easily sent his angels to these Wise Men (or Three Kings). But just as with those who were healed by the Son of God from afar or as one might say, healed indirectly, the Magi too were led indirectly through the a bright shining star.

God never abandons even those who wander outside of his religion. And to be sure, he did not disappoint the Magi from East who hungered for spiritual truth; so much so that they traveled many miles to adore the Christ-child in the arms of Mary.

No one knows precisely how the Magi knew that this particular bright star was to herald the birth of the Messiah. But we do know that during the times of Moses, about 1400 years before Christ, a Gentle-pagan named Balaam, believed to be an Arabian by St. Jerome, uttered this Messianic prophecy: “I see him, though not now; I behold him, though not near: A star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel…” (Numbers 24:17) Regardless of how the Magi knew the star’s significance, these three wise men did not have a lot to go on. A star is not an angel; it doesn’t speak or give directions. Yet, they were inspired by its appearance and off they went to a foreign land. Moreover, they ventured and hazard the dangers of a long travel. As to their destiny, only God knew.

Thirty years later, Jesus would candidly tell a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well that the Jews knew who they worshiped; as if to imply that Judaism, up to that time, was the true religion from which the Messiah would arise. The Jews, who were Jacob’s descendents, is where the knowledge of the true God was to be found. And it was to them, in Jerusalem, where the star would lead the Magi. It was there where they were given specific directives by the chief priests and scribes of the Temple where the Magi discovered that the little town of Bethlehem would be their final destination. Through a direct contact with the people of God and from hearing the words of the prophet Micah, their journey became clearer to them. “But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, From you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times. Therefore the Lord will give them up, until the time when she who is to give birth has borne, and the rest of his brethren shall return to the children of Israel.” (Micah 5:1-2)

However, the early Church Fathers point out a problem the Magi encountered as they arrived near Jerusalem. When we venture and take risks for Christ’s sake, there will be detours and setbacks. Implicit in the Gospel narrative is that the star disappeared. This is why they had to consult with the religious elders in Jerusalem. But then when they set out for Bethlehem, the star reappeared and they were exceedingly glad because of it. And finally, the light that was cast by the star was so precise that the Three Wise Men were able to determine the whereabouts of the Christ-child.

When they found Jesus with Mary, no longer did they, the Gentile-pagan kings, have to indirectly rely on divine inspiration through God’s creation. But alas, they touched the Word Incarnate in infant form, they adored him and learned many things from his Mother. Not only did their quest for knowledge meet a happy end, but more importantly, their hearts were satisfied. They returned home to await the proclamation of the kingdom by the Apostles. And interestingly, tradition has it that St. Thomas the Apostle found them some thirty years later and baptized them into the Faith.

God used the Star of Bethlehem to summon three Magi from afar. And on their journey towards the Christ-child, like with all Christ-seekers, the assurance of the star’s light receded for a time. Faith and trust in Divine Providence was tested in the absence of that light. They had to ask other people for help. But with assistance from the Jews, their hearts were reassured. Their destiny eventually became clearer to them. And that bright star reappeared as if to reward their faith and perseverance.

It would seem their journey to Bethlehem traced out our journey to heaven. God’s light, however indirect, shines brightly at times, making our path more clear. But there are times when that light recedes and gives way to darkness. Our faith, like the Magi, is put to the test. When we seem to flounder and even lost, it is then, contrary to what we may believe at the time, that we grow spiritually and advance in the maturity of Christ.

So that we not go astray and lose heart, our Lord gives us the Catholic Church. Indeed, it is through his direct touch as it comes to us in the Sacraments and as it comes to us through the prophetic voice of the Church that our destiny is made more clear and our hearts are reassured. Like the Magi, we too will eventually find ourselves in the House of God.