On the feast of Epiphany,
which means “manifestation,” the Church remembers the three Magi, who come to Christ as ambassadors from nations of the world. The “Magi” are variously described as kings, wise men, or astronomers. “Magician” comes from the same word. Each culture has its “magi,” its wise men who have great knowledge, who provide answers, and who can achieve marvelous feats. Today we call them the “experts.” Our modern magicians are the scientists and technicians who explore and unravel the mysteries of the universe.
In biblical times, magi looked to the “heavens” for answers. They tracked the movements of stars and planets with painstaking detail, looking for correspondence with terrestrial events. They knew heavenly movements were related to earthly events such as seasons and tides, but was there also a causal connection with human events and history? What did it mean on earth when there was an eclipse of sun or moon, or when a new star suddenly flared up?
We are not too different! It is still “out there” that the modern magi search for answers to the questions of life “down here.” With the resources of an entire space program at their disposal, the modern magi have set up a network of great radio dishes all around the world listening for any signs of life in outer space. They have gone to the moon and back looking for answers, they sent a robot to Mars, and the Voyager spacecraft has gone to Jupiter & beyond. Our modern magi have placed their Hubble telescope into the heavens themselves, in order to study the farthest corners of the universe, and look all the way back to the dawn of time!
We spend billions on these projects; it is serious business, this study of the heavens. What does it accomplish?
Modern man still wants to know the meaning of life, and he thinks if we find life on other planets out there, it will explain what life is down here. Is it all just blind chance and random chaos, or is there a divine intelligence and meaning behind it? Is the earth just an insignificant speck of dust in a lost corner of an unimaginably large and empty black space? Or is man the center of the universe?
It is good to search the heavens as the Magi did. By searching to the limit of the universe, even if you are an atheist, what it really means is you are looking for God. To those magi who search honestly, using their minds and reason, whether in the time of the Bible or today, God will not disappoint. He will respond with a gift of grace, a special light from Heaven to guide them into truth. The magi of the Bible received this “wisdom from above” in the form of a unique star, a special astronomical light to lead them on.
And the light pointed them back down to earth for the answer, to a particular land and city, to a particular time, and to a little child. The unique star which led them to Truth was the “Star of David.” Wherever the quest begins, and however long the journey takes, there is this one light that will bring us what we seek, and it will lead in the end to the one place where Truth can be found: Bethlehem in the land of Judah, during the time of Caesar Augustus and Herod the Great.
All religions try to provide light, but they are not enough to lead to Christ. Only the Old Testament, which is the Bible of the Jews, leads to Christ. Only through the history and culture of the Israelites did God bring the world its Savior.
Whatever one’s background or nationality, the path will eventually converge on a single light, the Star of David. God gives us the Holy Scriptures to guide us, and we must study them the way astronomers study the heavens!
Studying the Bible and religion does not mean we reject science. And studying science doesn’t mean we neglect religion. They are not in contradiction to each other. But we will be forced to acknowledge the limits of reason, and recognize that beyond scientific knowledge there are deeper truths: the miracle of life, which no biology textbook or theory of evolution will ever explain; the mystery of the person created in God’s Trinitarian image and likeness, with a spiritual soul. Truth is bigger than what we can learn through a telescope. Even though the human species seems to be just a tiny speck of dust in the universe, man is actually bigger than the universe. A tiny baby holds the secret to the cosmos!
When the wise men from the ends of the earth found the child, with Mary his mother, in Bethlehem, they found the truth for which they were created, because they found the One through whom the heavens were made! Christ reveals the full truth of man to himself. Here was the fulfillment of their search, the answer to life’s meaning.
In this little house of Bethlehem they could with full assurance give themselves, and give away what was precious to them: “They fell down in worship, and opening their coffers they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
This is such an important part of the story, because it shows how the great search which spans the entire universe and a budget of trillions of dollars, ends in the simplicity of humility and adoration, in the gift of self. The great search for meaning and answers, ends in worship. If we use our human reason correctly, and pursue truth with honesty and humility, it will not lead us away from the Church into atheism. True human intelligence and the study of the heavens will lead us to marvel at the miracle of man, and it will lead us to praise the greatness of God; and it will lead us to the Church where He can be adored in the flesh.
Truth led the magi to Bethlehem. Truth still leads us today to “Beth-lehem,” to the “House of Bread” which is the Church; to the mystery of Christ in the Eucharist, where we can bow down in adoration and submit all the treasures of our lives as gifts in his honor. Here, in this “house of heavenly bread,” we are able to offer our most precious gifts in an act oblation and adoration: gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Gold is life’s hard-earned treasure by which we provide for our needs. It represents all the good we can achieve and accomplish by our effort and ability. No one intentionally squanders hard-earned money, but on what is it truly well-spent? When we find someone worthy of our trust and honor, we express our love by getting them the most expensive gift we can afford. When the Magi found Christ, they found the one who was worthy of all human treasure, and they worshipped him by putting their gold at his feet.
We too, try to imitate the magi by placing our Gold at his feet. Our weekly offering for the support of the Church is a generous and true sacrifice, something holy and meaningful, never just loose change. We want our offering to be a gift worthy of the King. But more than just money, our gifts of gold include our abilities, time, talent, and skills. The sacrifice of time is a precious gift to Christ: through it we honor him and share in his mission.
Frankincense represents prayer, or one’s religious convictions—that most personal and precious allegiance of one’s heart, soul, and mind. Where and to whom do we give that gift? We know what a precious treasure it is when another person becomes a true friend, when they give us their trust and total loyalty. Do we do that with our Lord? Have we given our Lord Jesus the pure Frankincense of our heart and will? Frankincense includes our Sunday Mass attendance, but more than that, it is our daily prayer and the daily oblation of our heart. Our loyalty.
Finally, Myrrh represents life’s sufferings and trials, all the hardships and battles we have to endure. Myrrh is a burial ointment. We often question the meaning of suffering. What is it for? What do we do with it? Is it meaningless or can it actually be offered as a gift? Human suffering is actually very precious, and very personal. Apart from Christ suffering has no meaning. But through Christ and his Cross, our suffering becomes the precious burial ointment of the Messiah. To give Christ our Myrrh, means to give him our life and especially our death. It is probably the most precious gift of all.
Today the Catholic Church, like Mary, presents Jesus to the world for adoration. The Church, imitating Mary, holds him up so that those who seek for the truth may find him, and be able to adore him. Amid all the many confusing lights and voices in the world today, one light continues to shine brightly for those who are astute, and are seeking the Truth. It is the light of our Catholic faith, rooted in the Revelation of the Old Testament. The Star of David continues to guide people to Christ.
Here in this parish, and in every Catholic Church, Jesus can be adored. We can bring open the coffers of our lives and give him our gifts. At our parish, adoration is the heart of our prayer life. Every day, Jesus in the Eucharist is held up on the altar for adoration, and parishioners are invited to come and find him, to adore him and lay their lives before him. In our chapel we find Christ for ourselves every day, and offer him the worship represented by gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Mary, the Queen of Heaven, first introduced the Wise Men to their Savior. Through the Church which she represents, may she also help us come to know her Son today. May she accept our gifts in his name, and help us to worship him as he deserves.