When I was five years old I got to play one of the wise men in our Church’s nativity play. You can probably guess my costume. I wore a bathrobe and a towel tied around my head. In my hands I held a box covered in gold wrapping paper. Today, on the feast of the Epiphany, we should take a closer look at the wise men. The wise men are not just some nice story that we tell at Christmas or extra characters in a manger scene. In fact, the story of the wise men that we find in today’s Gospel actually presents a model – or paradigm – for our lives as Christians. Their story is our story. Let’s walk through their journey and see how it relates to our own. We will, of course, start at the beginning. How did these men come from a faraway place to meet Jesus?
The wise men were attracted to Jesus by the light of a star. It is very unexpected that the wise men – who were pagans and not part of the people of Israel – would be among the first to meet Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews. This shows that being led to Jesus was God’s pure gift. God wants each and every human being to come to know His Son. In His goodness God has led us to Jesus. What is the star that led you to Christ? How did you come to believe in Jesus? How did you end up being a Catholic? Though we might all answer this question differently, I bet that nobody here received a phone call from Jesus telling us to follow Him and go to Church. Isn't it the case that we are led to Jesus by some intermediary? Usually we are drawn to the beauty and goodness of Jesus through some person or event. For the wise men it was the star. God put people in my life who led me to Jesus: my family, teachers and friends at University. He also had me live through different experiences, some happy and some difficult. I can see that even something as simple as a book that I read at the just the right time helped lead me to Jesus. What are the “stars” in your own life? Give thanks for these people and experiences. They are a free gift which God put in our lives to lead us closer to Jesus.
Detour with Herod
On their journey to Jesus, the wise men got side-tracked along the way and found themselves in the company of Herod. The very same thing can happen to us as we try to follow Jesus: we take detours and get off-track. This can happen without us even being aware of it or making a conscious choice. Perhaps we become too busy with school or work and slowly drift away from Jesus by no longer taking the time to be with Him in prayer and at Mass. Or maybe some crisis in our life, such as an illness or death in the family, can cause us to become discouraged or lose faith for a time. We see this even in the lives of some of the saints. Take, for example, St. Ignatius of Loyola who was born in Spain in the year 1491. Though he was raised as a Catholic, as a young man Ignatius took a serious detour from the path of following Jesus. He was a soldier who was very concerned with gaining honor in battle, keeping up with the latest fashions and chasing women. Ignatius was arrogant and addicted to gambling. On one occasion he was arrested for beating up a rival. Ignatius did eventually get back on the path to following Christ. Though perhaps not as dramatic as St. Ignatius, in different ways we too can get sidetracked as we follow Jesus. The important thing is that when we notice our mistake we repent and get back on the right path.
They meet Jesus and give Him gifts
After their detour with Herod, the wise men finally were able meet the baby Jesus. When they met Christ, the wise men did something very significant: they laid their gifts at His feet. We are called to do the same. In different ways, we have all met Christ and have caught a glimpse of His goodness, beauty and love. After we meet Jesus the only proper response is to lay our gifts at His feet. We give Him the gift of our time, to spend in prayer, and the gift of our love and devotion. We also lay at His feet our talents so that He can use us to serve others. St. Ignatius met Jesus in a striking way, literally. One day while he was defending a fortress, a cannonball struck his leg, badly breaking it. While he was recovering, St. Ignatius asked that books be brought to him. To his dismay, the only available ones were a book on the Life of Christ and one on the lives of the Saints. While reading these books, St. Ignatius met Christ and was drawn to the beauty of a life spent serving Him. He decided to put his whole being at the service of Jesus. Years later he wrote a prayer, called the Suscipe, which expresses well the sentiments in his heart and those of the wise men as well:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
Like St. Ignatius and the wise men, after we meet Christ we are called to lay our gifts at His feet.
They take a different path
After they have met Jesus given Him their gifts, we are told that the wise men went home by a different path. Encountering Jesus should never leave us unchanged. After meeting Christ during his recover, St. Ignatius took a radically different path. He thought to himself, “what if I were to live like these saints I keep reading about?” Ignatius became to devout his life to prayer. In time he became a priest, serving countless people, especially the very poor in Rome. Eventually he started a large religious community called the Society or Jesus, or the Jesuits, of which our current Holy Father, Pope Francis, is a member. From time to time it is helpful to ask ourselves, “in what way has my life changed as I follow Jesus?” In what ways am I trying to live more like Jesus and be of service to others? Like the wise men, meeting Christ should encourage us to take different paths.
When I was five, I dressed up as a wise men for an afternoon. Today let us remember that we are called to imitate the journey of the wise men our entire life. Where are you on this journey? Are you currently following a star to meet Jesus? Are you on a detour? Are you laying your gifts at the feet of Jesus? Are you allowing Him to take you on a new path? This journey is one that we can go through time and time again during our life. Wherever we may find ourselves, let us try to recommit ourselves to following Jesus. Let us pray that we might have the same desire that burned inside the hearts of the wise-men: a desire to always seek Jesus, to lay our gifts at His feet and to follow Him wherever He might lead.