SUNDAY HOMILY: The Happy Priest - The Journey of the Magi
Obviously, the Magi were not part of the chosen people. They were not Jews. They were part of the vast populace of people extended throughout the known world at that time who were called pagans, or gentiles.
The Three Kings of this Sunday's gospel narrative are men who are left unsatisfied by their possessions of wealth, fame and power. They search for the only one who can satisfy the deepest aspirations of the human heart. They longed to find the very meaning of their existence.
After a long and difficult quest, they discover the place where he lays, and they encounter the One who has come to redeem us and fulfill our intense longings. They know who he is because they bring him the most appropriate gifts: gold for a king, frankincense for a priest, and myrrh for a victim. They know that he is the Messiah, Jesus the Christ, the only one through whom salvation can be found.
Because the Three Kings were open, they were given the gift of faith. Through this gift they searched, they found and they believed.
Certainly today, one of the most blinding obstacles to the search for meaning and truth is secularism.
Secularism only concerns itself with the here and now. It has no use for matters regarding the existence of God, the immortality of soul, or the eternal destiny of man.
The secularist passionately seeks human progress without any reference to the spiritual dimension of the human person. The secularist is only concerned with this life and has no concern with religion. In fact, the secularist attempts to experience human satisfaction through involvement in seemingly noble enterprises that are in essence missing the total picture of man's true needs.
Secularism keeps us from searching for God; it keeps us from finding true meaning in life. Historically, the Catholic Church has never had to deal with secularism until the arrival of our modern age. Secularism and paganism are very different indeed.
The pagan believes in the transcendent. The pagan has an understanding that there is an afterlife and the soul is immortal. The pagan also lives by a moral code that has its roots in divine law. Nevertheless, for the secularist, there is no God, no eternal life, and morality is arbitrarily contrived without any reference to God.
The mission of the Church in the secularist world is very difficult indeed simply because the pagan is much more open to truth and can be easily converted, whereas the secularist is usually as hard as a rock.
Catholics need to be aware of secularism and not allow it to affect their lives. However, many Catholics have been poisoned by this pervasive system of thought.
Sometimes the secularist opens up to the true meaning of life through some terrible tragedy such as a dreadful sickness or even death itself. However, many times the secularist is so closed off to the transcendent that no movement toward God is even possible.
Interestingly, it is noteworthy to observe the pervasive apathy among so many people, even Catholics who attend church on a regular basis. Could apathy be a practical fruit of secularism?
If our focus is only on the here and now, it is very easy to look upon anything spiritual with a big "so what."
USA TODAY addressed this problem around Christmas time last year with a very interesting article about the spirit of apathy in our modern society.
According to the article, "44% told the 2011 Baylor University Religion Survey they spend no time seeking 'eternal wisdom,' and 19% said 'it's useless to search for meaning.'
46% told a 2011 survey by Nashville-based evangelical research agency, LifeWay Research, they never wonder whether they will go to heaven.
28% told LifeWay 'it's not a major priority in my life to find my deeper purpose.' And 18% scoffed at the idea that God has a purpose or plan for everyone.
6.3% of Americans turned up on Pew Forum's 2007 Religious Landscape Survey as totally secular - unconnected to God or a higher power or any religious identity and willing to say religion is not important in their lives."
When Jewish psychiatrist Victor Frankl was arrested by the Nazis in World War II, he was stripped of all of his personal possessions. He had spent years researching and writing a book on the importance of finding meaning in life--concepts that would later become known as logotherapy. When he arrived in Auschwitz, the infamous death camp, even the manuscript hidden in the lining of his coat was taken away.
"I had to undergo and overcome the loss of my spiritual child," Frankl wrote. "Now it seemed as if nothing and no one would survive me; neither a physical nor a spiritual child of my own! I found myself confronted with the question of whether under such circumstances my life was ultimately void of any meaning."
He was still wrestling with that question a few days later when the Nazis forced the prisoners to give up their clothes.
"I had to surrender my clothes and in turn inherited the worn-out rags of an inmate who had been sent to the gas chamber," said Frankl. "Instead of the many pages of my manuscript, I found in the pocket of the newly acquired coat a single page torn out of a Hebrew prayer book, which contained the main Jewish prayer, Shema Yisrael (Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one God. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.)
"How should I have interpreted such a 'coincidence' other than as a challenge to live my thoughts instead of merely putting them on paper?"
Later, as Frankl reflected on his ordeal, he wrote in his book, Man's Search for Meaning, "There is nothing in the world that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions, as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one's life . . .'He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.'"
Thornton Wilder's famous novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, ends with these words: "There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."
Love is the why.
"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. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother" (Matthew 2: 10-11).
The quest of the Magi reminds us that God is truly with us. Sometimes during our journey, clarity disappears and we begin to doubt. Let us remember that Jesus is always with us. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He is present in the tabernacle, just as he was present in the manger of Bethlehem.
The Solemnity of the Epiphany is not only about three wise men that visited the manger. Instead, this Biblical event speaks to us about the plan of God for the entire human race. "Lord, every nation on earth will adore you."
Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives by Benedict XVI
The Star of Bethlehem by Donald DeMarco
Father James Farfaglia is a
contributing writer for Catholic Online and author of Get Serious! - A Survival Guide for Serious Catholics. You can visit him on the web at www.fatherjames.org
and listen to the audio podcast of this Sunday homily.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
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