by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the Idente Misssionaries
New York/Paris, January 03, 2021.| Epiphany of the Lord
Book of Isaiah 60: 1-6; Letter to the Ephesians 3: 2-3a.5-6; Saint Matthew 2: 1-12.
A few years ago I read a book full of tenderness, La adolescencia de Jesús nunca contada (1997) (The never told Jesus’ adolescence) by Spanish author José María Sanchez-Silva.
It helped me to understand how Jesus, without a doubt, received from his parents many spiritual gifts and also a style of speaking and recounting his experiences.
Probably, the story of the Three Magi, which he heard from Mary, inspired some of his parables. For example, the story of the pilgrimage of the Magi reminds me of the parable of the pearl merchant, where the meaning of the authentic seeking in the spiritual life is shown.
Sometimes people talk about “seeking God”, but the truth is that divine persons do not stop manifesting themselves. It happens that our supposed search is the desire for God to fit exactly into my language, the desires and needs I have at this moment. Rather, if we talk about search, as the Iranian poet Rumi (1207– 1273) said: Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
Sometimes, we have the impression that Providence responds exactly to our plea, as is the case with some healings or conversions of those we accompany, and then we say that a special grace, or even a miracle, has been granted to us.
Even more. At other times, we feel God coming ahead of us and calling us, pushing us, challenging us, and then we understand that He is the true seeker.
What is the meaning of the spiritual search? How can we imitate God himself in this attitude of seeking? I think the answer is in the indication of Christ: Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Mt 6: 33), and in the life of the Magi. Jesus is telling us what is worth seeking and the Three Wise Men are showing us today how to do it.
The disciple of Christ does not seek “truths”, abstract formulations of spiritual life, or solutions to problems that overwhelm him and overcome the strength of his fellowmen. In fact, he looks for the way to give everything in every moment, even if he does not achieve his goal literally. His victory is to be able to give himself to others in the most adverse conditions. Of course, our neighbor perceives this attitude, which in itself has the strength of a powerful testimony, but it is also true that Providence sometimes responds by quickly confirming the expectations of the one who seeks with faith and by setting the good of others as the ultimate goal.
A teenager lost a contact lens while playing basketball in the park. After looking for a few minutes, he came home and informed his mother the lens was nowhere to be found. Mom doesn’t say a word, but walks outside and in a few minutes returns with the lens in her hand. I really looked hard for that, Mom, the young man says How’d you manage to find it so fast? Because, she replies, we weren’t looking for the same thing. You were looking for a small piece of plastic. I was looking for the contact lens of my son.
It is said of a saint, I believe Peter Claver, that one of his assistants, whom he had rescued from misery and tried uselessly to convert to a life of faith, at the moment of the saint’s death confessed his pride and embraced the sincerest repentance, due to the saint’s perseverance in his efforts. Perhaps the saint did not find the “proper method,” surely that method did not exist, but the Holy Spirit is above the plans of the saints and of those of us… who are not completely holy.
Mary and Joseph looked for a warm and safe place for the Child Jesus to come into the world. but apparently their wish was not literally fulfilled. The Magi also began to look for Jesus in the palaces and in the places where a future king was supposed to live… but this search, apparently, did not bear the expected fruit.
The fruit was that for all men of good will, be they simple shepherds or educated Magi, it became clear that God presented himself to us as a God in need, dependent on his parents and also on our collaboration. That would have been difficult to understand if Christ had come into the world in any other way.
Seeking represents, in a word, what every human being does by behaving ecstatically. Consider a trivial example. If I am walking along a mountain path, I will be attentive to where I am going to put my foot, so as not to trip or sprain my ankle. That implies eliminating some possibilities (putting my foot in a puddle, stepping on a stone…) to finally choose the best possibility, a small piece of ground that is flat and dry. Naturally, we do this “automatically”, unless our sight or our legs are limited, but the same process continually occurs in our spiritual life.
There is always, continuously, a search for perfection, for the best. It is not simply a matter of choosing between good and evil, but of discerning the most perfect, in other words, what is God’s will for me at this moment. Examples of this state of searching are the effort to live a continuous recollection and a permanent quietness, which allows us to close the way to the useless or perverse and open the mind and will to the unpredictable, what the Holy Spirit wants to whisper to us.
The Magi, like the pearl merchant in the parable, understood that one had to leave everything to enter the kingdom of heaven. That is precisely to identify with Christ, who emptied himself of his divine condition to reach us. This is the great point of today’s feast in the Gospel according to Matthew. It is not obvious that God would manifest himself in vulnerability and defenselessness and smallness, weakness, but indeed this is the Gospel proclamation…and our personal experience.
This supreme form of ecstasy requires a particular grace; without which it is not possible. We can illustrate this with a little Christmas story.
It was late one Christmas Eve and in spite of his wife’s pleas her husband would not accompany her to church. This whole crazy idea of God becoming a human being made absolutely no sense to his logical mind. After his wife had gone to church, he stood watching the heavy snow at his picture window. He thought of the birds and wondered if they would find the seeds he had put out for them. It was snowing hard enough that the seed holders were quickly covered. He turned on the lights in his backyard, but both the birds and seeds were lost in the falling snow. Putting on his heavy woolen coat, he went outside and opened his big barn door.
Then he spread birdseed just inside the barn, hoping that the birds would see it. They did not. Still hoping to help these little starving creatures, the man tried desperately to shoo the little birds toward the light of the open barn…but they were too frightened. Here they were, only inches away from the food and water they needed, and he was helpless to do more.
If I were only a bird he thought to himself: I would show them the way to that life-giving food. Just then the church bells began to ring announcing Christmas morning. But something also rang inside the man…through the power of his own analogy about showing the birds the way to the life-giving bird seed…a creeping comprehension began to grow within him that perhaps God could indeed appear to us in human form.
Then he thought about what he had said to his wife earlier that evening. “Why would God want to be like us? That’s ridiculous!”
Suddenly it all made perfect sense to him. That is what God had done! We were like the geese–blind, lost, and perishing. God, through Jesus Christ, become like us so He could show us the way, and save us!
As the winds and blinding snow died down, his soul became quiet and pondered this wonderful thought. Suddenly he understood why Jesus Christ had come. Years of doubt and disbelief vanished with the passing storm. He fell to his knees in the snow, and prayed his first prayer.
When Jesus encourages us to seek and affirms that he who seeks, finds, he is not saying that we will find precisely what we expect. A person that I consider spiritually honest was telling me that every time he asks God for more strength, the divine answer is a more complicated situation than the previous one. It is a paradox, but at the same time a way of saying: I know your reality; if I allow you to be there it is because I have already given you the strength I consider necessary.
As the parable of the pearl merchant teaches us, it is about choosing between several possibilities of doing good, discovering the best option, which is hidden from the eyes too busy crying… or looking at the world. This is the law of perfection, which is continuously active in us. The choice between good and evil, of course, is often made, but it is not the essential law that drives us to seek the most perfect. If we decide to disobey this law, the first fruit is sadness. This is the case of Herod, who, according to many researchers was depressive and paranoid, and today’s Gospel tells us that at the news of Jesus’ birth, he was greatly troubled.
It is true that seeking the meaning and purpose of our existence is important, but even if we do not understand many things, we can do like the Holy Family, living the domestic virtues, as Pope Francis reminded us. These virtues are not called domestic just because they can be lived in the bosom of the family, but because they are always within our reach: tenderness, gratitude, service, affection… We can seek and find those occasions immediately. Other dreams or spiritual and apostolic ambitions can become a reality in a non-immediate way, but God does not hide himself, he only asks us to do as the Magi did: to go beyond our obligations, beyond the tasks we know how to do well and to seek the presence of God where the strong, the powerful or the wise of the world do not seek it.
It is often said that on important journeys, the trip is as relevant as the destination. And, in fact, the day before the Magi go back to their homeland, something very significant happens.
God warns them in a dream not to return to Jerusalem, but to go another way. And this is a very important verse because it shows us a couple of changes in the lives of these Wise Men.
First of all, God’s revelation becomes more personal to them. They travel to Israel because they see a star, maybe read some scrolls. But now God speaks to them personally in a dream.
Secondly, they obey the voice of the Lord. That is remarkable because their return journey will be much more difficult and hazardous than the first. It will not only involve more mileage, but also avoiding any of Herod’s men. Yet they are willing to obey the voice of God.
Their seeking has changed the way they see the world, how they see God, how they see themselves. Their experience with this child will make it very hard to be at home with an idol-worshipping superstitious culture.
They represent all those who ever have or ever will rise above the boundaries that culture accepts, which defines the universal dominion of the one true God revealed in Jesus. That is the meaning of their journey. And again, this causes us to wonder: Have I really listened like the Magi beyond the boundaries of my own culture, my habits, my daily and well-organized routine?