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Prepare the Way

2nd Sunday of Advent Cycle C
8 December 2018
Prepare the Way by Deacon Les

We are already into the second week of Advent.

Was the past week any different in our hearts from the week before? Did we spend time thinking about the meaning and relevance of Advent in our lives as we prepare for the celebration of Christmas? The answer for many of us is ‘Probably not’.

It’s very difficult to make Advent meaningful in a society that is focused on the synthetic glitter of commercialism and the anticipation of the holiday season.

All the more reason why our liturgy during Advent should be noticeably different from other seasons to remind us, if only once a week in our worship, that Advent is a time of quiet reflection in anticipation of Christmas; no flowers, no “Gloria”, purple vestments, and music kept to a minimum and noticeably subdued.

It’s quite likely that our time and energy over the next few weeks will be consumed by a sense of nervous anxiety; gifts to buy, preparing for Christmas lunch, a list of things to be done before the holidays start, concerns about money, perhaps some apprehension about spending time with difficult family, in-laws or friends, etc.

If we want this Advent and Christmas to be more meaningful, we are going to have to make that happen. If we do nothing, Advent will fly past without notice and Christmas will mean little more than an expensive meal and an exchange of gifts.

We could use today’s Gospel as a guide for some action to make Advent and Christmas more meaningful.

Luke tells us that “the word of God came to John (the Baptist) in the desert.” And John’s message was:

  • Repent and
  • Prepare the way for the Lord:
    • Make crooked roads straight
    • Fill in the valleys
    • Level the hills
    • And smooth out the rough paths

Let’s look at John’s urgent call in terms of our lives today.

Repent.

Repentance as we’ve heard many times before is not about being sorry; it’s about a determination to change.

I’ve recently read Tara Westover’s astounding memoir “Educated.”

She was born in rural Idaho in the northwest of the Unites States in 1986 to radical survivalist Mormon parents. She didn’t get a birth certificate until she was nine. She never went to school and she was seventeen the first time she entered a classroom. Remarkably within 10 years she’d earned a PhD from Cambridge.

As a girl and young woman she was repeated beaten and abused viciously by an older brother who was always really apologetic and sorry afterwards. He was always sorry but he never repented; he never changed his behaviour.

In our relationship with God and with our friends and family, where do we need to repent? What are the behaviours that we need to change?  Is it the words we use or perhaps the words we don’t use? Is it something we repeatedly do or fail to do?

When we are ready to say ‘I’m sorry” and are determined to change, we should seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation to give us the grace to do better in all our relationships.

How do we make the crooked road straight?

There’s a delightful animated movie called ‘The Star’ which tells the story of the nine months leading up to the birth of Jesus through the eyes of a donkey. A telling of the Nativity that is as appealing to adults as it is to children. I’ve been cajoled by my two Grandchildren (3 and 6 years old) into watching this movie with them umpteen times in the last few weeks.

We’re more likely to walk in a straighter line if we keep our eyes on “the star” that leads to Bethlehem.

When we take our eyes off the Star, we’re easily side-tracked and soon find ourselves wandering in the wilderness rather than kneeling at the manger.

How do we fill the valleys and level the hills?

Perhaps our valleys would be the times when we are discouraged or unwell or facing hardship or spiritual drought. We could try and fill these valleys with hope and trust; trust in God. Focus on our blessings rather than our burdens.

The hills might be those times when everything is going well and we feel on top of the world. We need some temperance here as well and again to give thanks for our blessings rather than bask in our accomplishments.

And finally, how do we smooth out the rough paths?

We could start by identifying the bumps in the road; the spiritual potholes.

What are the obstacles in our relationship with God and other people? When we look into our hearts, what do we see there? Are we honestly able to see the potholes?

Is it selfishness; wrapped up in our own world of needs and desires? Is it fear of commitment; perhaps a fear of putting our trust in God and giving up some control? Is it laziness or lack of self-disciple; perhaps inertia or apathy? Is it a cold heart that can’t forgive or get over past hurts?

Without conscious effort, nothing will change, nothing will get repaired. If anything, the potholes will multiply and the path to God will become bumpier.

We could try and fill a few potholes over the next 2 weeks of Advent:

  • Talk to God; frequently every day about everything
  • Do a frank examination of conscience and commit to making a good confession
  • Share some time and bring some joy into the life of someone who is lonely or depressed or seriously ill
  • We could share some of our things; raid the wardrobe and generously give away clothes that are in excess to our needs. Children could raid their toy baskets and give away toys that they no longer use. Donate generously to the Advent Appeal, buy vouchers for the poor, buy a gift for an underprivileged child.

There are many ways to smooth the rough path.

The only thing that is holding us back from repentance is ourselves.

If we choose to, over the next two weeks of Advent, we can bring about small but meaningful changes in our lives that will bring us closer to the Lord whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

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Words

 

33rd Sunday
Ordinary Time
Cycle B
18th November 2018
Deacon Tony van Vuuren

When biblical writers want to get our attention, shake us out of our lethargy and give us hope, they write in the apocalyptic literary genre. We see evidence of this literature in today’s readings from the book of Daniel and from Mark’s gospel. The word “Apocalypse” comes from the Greek and means “to lift the veil.”

Apocalyptic literature suggests what we think we see as true and as reality, in fact, may be obscured by veils. We think we see — we don’t. We think we know the truth and the
way things are — but we don’t. We need vision; we need the veil over our own eyes lifted so we can clearly perceive God’s presence and God’s future coming into our world.

This literature has often been misunderstood by fundamentalist interpreters and preachers. Its startling images of the passing away of the present world were not intended to describe how the end will come; its essential message was an assurance that God’s designs will be fulfilled, despite all appearances to the contrary.

Jesus preached on the coming of the final reign of God; so it’s not surprising, therefore, that He used some of the images and expression of this literature – as He does in today’s Gospel; the final section of a long passage that gathers together recollections of this teaching of Jesus.

Thanks to the writers of the Gospels, the words of our Lord remain with us to this very day. Still with us to teach us, to guide us, to inspire us, to comfort us and to challenge us. It is up to each one of us as to how well we listen to His words; and how hard we try to practice them in our lives.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

Words of Jesus that we hear in today’s Gospel.

In the course of a lifetime we hear a lot of words, and also speak a lot of words. Though we may forget most of the words we hear, some do remain with us. In fact, certain words can burn themselves into our memory, so much so that we will probably remember them to our dying day.

We will hear words that comfort us, and remain to inspire us.

Unfortunately words are said that can be very hurtful and inflict deep and lasting wounds. However, sometimes it’s not the words themselves, but the way that they are said that does the damage.

Words are very important and very powerful. Once uttered, they can take on a life of their own, for good or for bad! They can bring a blessing or a curse, healing or wounding, life or death. Words can continue to harm us or help us for many years after they have been spoken. Hence, we should be careful how we use words.

I am sure you are all familiar with the saying, “you cannot put the toothpaste back into the tube once you have squeezed it out.”

When we are angry, it is better to remain silent. Words spoken in anger can cause deep hurt and make reconciliation very difficult. Choosing a blessing instead of a curse often starts by choosing to remain silent, or being careful to choose words that open the way to healing. Sometimes loving someone means keeping quiet and letting them be! Adopt the philosophy of the salesman, which is “the customer is always right!”

The world in which we live is a very uncertain one. It seems to lurch from one crisis to another; causing great fear and anxiety. In the midst of this uncertain and changing world we need something solid to rely on. For a Christian that can only mean one thing: faith in God. Today’s psalm simply says: “I keep the Lord before me always; with Him at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” And of course we have the words of Jesus:  “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

This is all we have and all we need; but for all that, they will benefit us little unless we act on them.

In comparison with faith, there is nothing sure or lasting in the world. The Gospel is the handbook of every Christian. Our opinions are rooted in appearances and can change from day to day; but the words of Jesus do not change or pass away.

We would do well to build the house of our life on His words.

JESUS HIMSELF IS OUR SPIRITUAL FOOD

18th SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME
CYCLE B
5th AUGUST 2018.
(John 6:24-35)
Deacon Tony van Vuuren

The First reading telling how God fed His people in the desert with manna is regarded as the classic example of God’s care for His people.

Jesus too fed people who were hungry as we heard about last Sunday. But the Gospel makes it clear that the Son of Man did not come down from above merely to satisfy physical hunger. He came to give heavenly bread that people will eat and never become hungry. The bread in question at this time is primarily the teaching given by Jesus. Only at a later point does it refer to the Eucharist.

Often in his preaching Christ uses images of food, particularly bread, to emphasise our need for spiritual as well as physical nourishment. He warned his listeners about having too much of a preoccupation with their material needs – or what they imagined to be their needs – and he criticised them for not being attentive enough to their more crucial need to be well-fed spiritually.

“Do not work for food that cannot last,” he says here, “but work for food that endures to eternal life – the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you”.
He spoke in a similar way at the outset of his ministry when he rejected the devil’s temptations and said that man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

There are two conclusions that I would like to draw from these kinds of statements made by Jesus.

Firstly; not to exaggerate what he said. Jesus never made out that our ordinary physical or material needs are irrelevant, or that they’re not real needs.
It’s not being unspiritual to acknowledge that we all need to eat. And it’s not being selfish to try to gain a certain minimum of security and stability in our material circumstances.

For most of us, if we’re caught up in great anxiety or upheaval in the outward circumstances of our lives, it’s much more difficult to pray and to concentrate on God in any sense, and at those times we often have to be content with whatever brief, distracted prayers we can manage.

What Jesus tended to warn his listeners against wasn’t the idea of maintaining a certain minimum level of stability in their material circumstances. More often he warned against the temptation to make the material side of life the whole of life; making it an end in itself; getting over-concerned about money, possessions, or about the level of comfort that we have; hankering after a luxurious style of living; that might exclude any time or thought for our spiritual needs.

According to Christ’s way of seeing things those sorts of total preoccupation alienate us from God. They stifle the spiritual side of our nature and they erode the bonds of care and compassion that we’re supposed to have towards other people and their needs.

And then there’s a second aspect of this Sunday’s gospel reading we can look at, because Jesus does more here than stick up for spirituality in some vague sense. When they ask him how they can get this bread that he’s talking about; bread that endures to eternal life, Jesus answers: I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst.

To enter into friendship with Christ, to grow in knowledge of Christ, is like a path we have to walk along if we want to come to a full, truthful knowledge of God.

Finding God – the way we understand it – isn’t just a product of our human imagination or capacity for creativity. We find the true God revealed in the person of Christ, and faith is the attitude of acceptance of what’s revealed by Christ.
And it’s through this attitude of acceptance towards the person and work of Christ – acknowledging him for who he says he is – that we’re led into a life of closer communion with God. Without Christ’s ministry and preaching, without his Passion and death, we would know a certain amount about God, but we would still be waiting for the most important facets of God’s nature to be revealed to us.

We must distinguish between faith and trust. Though they are closely linked they are not the same thing. The person, who firmly believes with strong faith, trusts completely. But if one does not have perfect trust in God, their faith will be faint as well.
Faith and trust in God will nourish us at all times, but especially during times of trial. It’s not we who keep the faith; it’s the faith that keeps us.

John wrote his gospel in the first place because he was convinced that in Jesus, God has been revealed to us in a final, full and unsurpassable way. He wrote in the hope that as many of his readers as possible would be led to the same conclusion.

So these are just a couple of the lessons we can draw from this part of Jesus’ discussion with the people who are questioning him about the “bread of life”.
Jesus repeats what is a frequent theme of his, trying to persuade people not to become mired in the preoccupations of material life. And at the same time he goes further, insisting on his own unique vocation to lead humanity towards knowledge of, and communion with, the true God.

OUR FRAGILE FAITH

3rd SUNDAY OF EASTER
CYCLE B
15th APRIL 2018
Deacon Tony van Vuuren

 

When Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room for the first time after His resurrection they are frightened and alarmed and their first reaction is to think that they’re seeing a ghost. Jesus responds by going out of his way to show that he has very definitely risen from death in his physical body; “flesh and bones” as he says of himself. Then he eats some food to accentuate the point.

St. Luke is emphasising that in his risen body Jesus is the same as before. As the disciples made more sense of the events God had pulled them into, they discovered aspects of faith and reached conclusions about God’s character and God’s plan of salvation which are just as valuable for us today.

On our part, as present-day followers of Christ, we don’t have the proofs that we can produce of Jesus’ Resurrection, scientific studies of what his risen body was like. Someone who insists on that kind of information today is unlikely to become a believer.

What we do have through the scriptures is the testimony of the disciples: their descriptions of their meetings with Christ and the evidence of the transformation these meeting worked in them. Those are the experiences that the Church is founded on; based on Jesus’ resurrection, which is the central reality of the Christian faith.

St. Luke’s message to us in these final lines of his gospel is that although Christ isn’t directly present to us the way he was to his first followers, he is present, and remains present, to us in the “breaking of the bread” – not just in the bread and wine that become his Body and Blood during the Eucharist, but in the whole spirit of prayer and solidarity in Christ that the Eucharist creates in us, if we approach it and take part in it in the right spirit.

I know that God calls people in all kinds of circumstances and make his presence felt in our lives in whatever way he wants. God might be able to work more effectively in an atheist who actually practices the commandment of love in regard to other people than he might be in a person who calls them self a Christian but refuses to dedicate them self in any way to serving the needs of others.

But it’s also true I think, in the context of our own Catholic faith, that when people are earnest about their spiritual life and their whole relationship with Christ and with God, they come to value the Eucharist more and more as a support and a means of progress in holiness, and a source of contact with Christ. St. John’s advice might be particularly valuable to the many people today who find faith in God difficult.

Every Christian, at one point or another, will have an experience of the “absence” of God: the sense that he has somehow departed, is no longer providing support, or simply doesn’t exist. When this happens many believers gradually drift away from faith altogether.

Attending Mass every day or each weekend; we may show up being able to speak of the story of Jesus, but we do not feel that we are part of the story. We are able to simply recount the events, but we do not see how we fit inside the story ourselves.

Our faith can be very fragile. We are presented with readings from Sacred Scripture to which we listen for inspiration, for encouragement, for challenge, for the voice of God speaking to us in intimate ways. Finally, we ask to be intimately united to Jesus in the eating of his body and the drinking of his blood in the Blessed Sacrament. We pray to have our ears and eyes open to what is true and holy.

Perhaps what happened to the disciples is what we want to happen to ourselves. We want to have that burning feeling in our hearts. We want to hear the voice of God speak to us intimately through Sacred Scripture. We want to recognize Jesus in the Eucharist. We want to have the enthusiasm, hope and courage to make an about-face and return to Jesus — to return to a deeper faith.

So I would finish by suggesting that perhaps this Sunday we could pray for the whole Church community, but especially for ourselves here today, that we’ll take Luke’s point and appreciate the Eucharist more as a real meeting-point with Christ and that we’ll be able to “recognise him in the breaking of bread” as readily as his first followers did.

Do not be afraid

12th Sunday
Year A
2017 (25 June)
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

In the liturgical calendar, the two great Solemnities of Christmas and Easter are followed by a season of special celebration. The birth of Jesus is followed by the traditional 12 days of Christmas and Christ’s Resurrection is followed by the Easter season; 50 days of celebration concluding with Pentecost. After Pentecost, we enter into what is known as Ordinary Time which I like to think of as the season of Pentecost. We are living in Pentecostal time; the time of the Holy Spirit. We live as a community, as a Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit poured out on us.

And what happened on that first Pentecost Sunday? The Holy Spirit empowered those who were living in fear to come out of hiding and spread the good news throughout the world. The Holy Spirit gives us the courage to step out of the shadows into the light. The courage to conquer our fears and witness to Jesus Christ.

In day’s Gospel Jesus says three times “Have no fear” and those words can only be a reality in our lives when we embrace the Spirit of Pentecost; embrace the Holy Spirit; embrace the gifts of the Spirit given to us in the Sacraments.

Fear is an emotion that we all experience. Many times, it can be a healthy reaction to situations in which we could be harmed; physically, spiritually or emotionally. When our fears are rational, they can motivate us to avoid people or places or situations that could threaten our wellbeing or safety.

However, when our fears hold us back from experiencing the abundance of God’s love in our lives, then they no longer protect us but rather imprison us. Some of those fears could be concerns about what other people think of us; the fear of being criticized, judged or ostracized; particularly about our faith. While it is natural that we want to be liked, loved and accepted by others, we should not let other people’s expectations and our fears have the strongest voice in directing our lives and our relationship with God.

Our greatest fear, says Jesus, should be of doing anything that would separate us from the Father. Anytime we shy away from professing our faith, our love and our trust in Our Lord Jesus Christ, we are moving to separate ourselves from the Father.

Jesus says “Everyone who acknowledges me to the world, I will also acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me to the world, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”

I’m reminded of an incident in a book that I read as a boy called “Tom Brown’s Schooldays.”

The book recounts Tom’s experiences as a boarder at an all boy’s school called Rugby, in Warwickshire in England (and which incidentally is the birthplace of rugby football).

Tom shared a dormitory with about a dozen other boys and was the undisputed leader of his gang of friends. One day a new boy came to the school. When it came to bedtime the new boy innocently knelt down by his bed to say his prayers. Some of the boys began to snicker and laugh and make jokes and one even threw a shoe at the kneeling boy.

That night Tom lay awake thinking about what had happened to the new boy. He also began to think about his mother and the prayers she had taught him to say each night before going to bed, prayers he had not said since he came to school.

The next night several of the boys were looking forward to poking fun again at the new boy but something totally unexpected happened. When the new boy knelt down to say his prayers, Tom knelt down next to him. And the whole atmosphere of the dormitory changed and quite soon many of the other boys followed their example.

Bearing witness to Jesus, or not bearing witness to him, can have a profound effect on those around us.

Perhaps the most important area in which this happens is in the home. Tom Brown was influenced by his mother’s example and he, in turn, gave witness to the other boys and influenced their behaviour.

We are called to bear witness to our faith without fear; in and out of our homes in everything we do.

The example of our lives may be the only Gospel that some people will ever read.

Ash Wednesday

Today we start a new journey; a new Lent, journeying towards the great climax of the Easter Tridiuum. Although many of us have journeyed through Lent many times before, each year presents new opportunities and new challenges. Things have changed over the last 12 months; we have changed. New people have come into our lives and some have left us; new opportunities have materialised and some have disappeared. Perhaps the status of our health has changed; some have improved and some are struggling. Perhaps our relationship with God has changed; for some of us it’s improved and for some we’re struggling.

This Lent is not a repeat of previous Lents; it’s a brand new journey.

At its heart Lent is a journey to wholeness; wholeness of self and wholeness as a beloved child of God. But that journey begins with an acceptance of our brokenness – we must first confront the brokenness in our own lives and in the world around us. We confront the barriers that keep us from loving God and the barriers that keep us from loving each other.

This is not a onetime act. We don’t overcome these barriers in a day or even in 40 days but each year as we go through this Lenten process we hope to find ourselves closer at the end of it than we were when we started…closer to the goal of wholeness; a wholeness in our relationship with God and with each other.

The ashes traced on our foreheads today are a reminded of our brokenness and our human mortality and a sign of humility. A reminder that we are striving for sainthood through our imperfection.

If we journey faithfully and try diligently over the next 6 weeks to draw closer to God, the celebration of the Easter Tridiuum will be a new experience; renewed joy and wonder at the miracle of our salvation.

The Easter Tridiuum, the three days starting with the Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday and concluding with the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday are the holiest and most sacred days in the year. The Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord celebrated in the Tridiuum are not separate and isolate events; it’s one event that takes place over three days and we are called and expected to participate fully over all three days not just Easter Sunday.

Lent has been part of the Church’s liturgical calendar for close on 1700 years and traditionally the emphasis has always been on fasting, almsgiving and prayer. Through these disciplines we consciously acknowledge our failings and weaknesses, our struggles and temptations and deliberately focus on being more loving, generous and tolerant through spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

There are many ways to practice these disciplines during Lent and it is important for each of us to search our hearts and figure out what works best to connect us more closely with Jesus in his Passion and Resurrection and with each other in our shared mission to know, love and serve God.

These sacrifices in themselves are not the focus; they are there to serve as prompts and constant reminds to us that we are in a time of penitential reflection, preparation and renewal.

Here are a few ideas we could consider and practice over the next 6 weeks:

  • Carry  a pocket size cross , or pocket rosary or a religious medal with you throughout lent as a reminder of the season
  • Participate in the various liturgies at St Michael’s during Lent:
    • Stations of the Cross on a Friday
    • Adoration for 30 minutes with Benediction on the first Tuesday
    • Spend some time in the Adoration Chapel that’s open throughout the day ever day
    • Mass during the week; we’re privileged to have Mass every day in our parish
    • The Ecclesia program on Thursday evenings
  • Keep a daily journal as a means for self-examination and prayer
  • Abstain from something:
    • perhaps a favorite food, or smoking or alcohol or a favourite TV series
    • Give up sugar and all things sweet
    • No eating or snacking after dinner or between meals
    • Remember that every Friday is a day of abstinence from meat
    • Consider some form of fasting every day; perhaps miss one meal or eat smaller portions at every meal
  • No gossiping. If someone says something negative about another person, either say something nice or say nothing. Make a note in your journal every time you slip up. We could memorize and repeat every day verse 29 from chapter 4 of the Letter to the Ephesians: :  “Do not use harmful words but only helpful words; only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who hear you.”
  • Read completely one of the Gospels (perhaps read Luke together with Luke’s Acts of the Apostles)
  • Pray every day for the poor, the brokenhearted, the hungry, the sick and the dying
  • If you are busy and can’t find time – make time by saying no to some activities and commitments and say yes to spending time with God
  • Clean out the house and the cupboards and donate things you don’t need to those who do need; or perhaps find one thing every day for 40 days to give away
  • Donate generously to the Archbishops Lenten appeal and in this way materially assist the poor and needy
  • Don’t buy anything during Lent that you don’t need and put the money that you save into the Lenten Appeal.
  • Pay your spouse or loved one, your parents and children a compliment every day
  • Replace 30 minutes of TV time with some devotional reading and prayer
    • We could use the book of daily Devotions prepared by the Youth of our Archdiocese including some written by the youth of St Michael’s
  • Replace some of your favourite music with Christian and sacred music and song
  • Keep your activity of all social media platforms to a bare minimum …. And if you really must post something let it always be kind and charitable; less about ourselves and more concern for others

Lent is really about going through a process that should change us, that should bring us closer to being fully the people God has called and created us to be.

Lent is not a means and end in itself… today is the beginning of a journey to Easter; the journey of the rest of our lives; our journey home to God.

People of Inner Unrest

Epiphany of the Lord
Cycle A
8th January 2017
Matthew 2. 1-12
Rev Tony van Vuuren

Those of us of a certain age will remember the TV detective Columbo, the guy wearing the shabby raincoat, who was the master of the parting question. He would finish questioning someone and, as he was going out of the door and their guard was down, he would turn back with a ‘Oh, just one other thing.’ and ask that crucial question.

The Magi are like that final question. Christmas has been well and truly celebrated, the Boney M CD has been packed away together with the decorations, and the New Year is here, life is getting back to its normal routine; but then at the last minute Christmas turns back and throws us one last question, throws us the story of the Magi. The Magi are like that final question.

It seems to us like the Magi just appear at the end of the Christmas story, but for these foreign travellers the journey has been a long one. We don’t really know exactly where they come from, probably Persia, in which case they have travelled a great distance to get to Bethlehem.

We are misled by the fact that they appear, stay briefly, then depart, into thinking that this journey of theirs is a brief one, but nothing could be further from the truth. This is a long journey of extortionate cost, fraught with danger. Whatever possessed them to set out on such a mission, just to spend a few moments in Bethlehem?

This question brings us to the heart of the Epiphany Feast. If we can understand why the Magi travel all this way, we will be able to see what this feast is really about. We are rather misled by the romance of the three exotic gifts.

Our focus tends to be on the Gold and Frankincense and Myrrh, so that we come to think of the Magi as little more than gift bearers to transmit these beautiful gifts into the presence of Christ.

But this is not what they themselves say they are doing. Addressing Herod they ask ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews…we have come to worship him?’ and then when they arrive in Bethlehem they first throw themselves to the ground in homage before the Christ child; and only then do they reach into their bags and bring out the gifts. The wise men have not travelled all this way just to bring Jesus gifts; they have travelled all this way to worship him.

If we lose sight of that, we lose sight of the real spiritual significance of this feast. The giving of gifts is very potent; it is a prophetic act, because as we know, these are gifts with a spiritual significance, but this is nothing like as important as the Epiphany as a moment of worship.

The wise men have come all this way, have faced all that danger and discomfort, in order to worship the divine Son of God.

Still, though, we are left asking ‘why?’ Why would they travel so far in search of a God who is outside their culture, outside their territory, outside their experience? Pope Emeritus Benedict, in his book (Jesus of Nazareth Vol 3.
The Infancy Narratives p.95), has a beautiful expression that he uses to describe the Magi. He says that they would never have set out on such a journey unless they were people of “inner unrest”, that is “people of hope, people on the lookout for the true star of salvation” They travel all that way, they take all those risks including the great risk of entering Herod’s presence, because they are people of “inner unrest”.

They are not satisfied with their lives, they are driven to seek some deeper meaning, some sense of truths beyond their grasp, some sense that there is a world outside their control which they cannot master, but which they can begin to comprehend. Their minds, their souls, are restless and unable to settle, and this translates into the need to travel, to journey in search of something that will draw them upwards, up towards the truth. They are in a sense disturbed souls, but they feel very at home with that sense of incompleteness, of challenge, because for them it is the doorway to growth.

Contrast them, in this, with Herod. By the time the Magi arrive he is very definitely disturbed.
But whereas the Wise Men are at home with this inner unrest, and are able to feed off the spiritual energy that it brings, Herod does not cope with disturbance. It is at about this time that Herod has three of his sons murdered because he fears they may be a threat to his security, so he is clearly not a man who thrives on challenge and the unknown. The Magi arrive in serenity and ask their questions, throwing Jerusalem into turmoil.

Herod doesn’t just ask about where the Christ is to be born, his enquiries are frantic with evil intent. So he stands as a contrast to the Magi. They are men of inner unrest, certain that there is much they do not know, nor understand, and are anxious to open themselves to a new and deeper vision of reality; Herod already has his own vision of the World, with him firmly at the centre, and he will do anything he can to protect that set up, to make sure it is preserved at all costs.

Now, at last, we are able to understand what the final ‘Columbo question’ is that the Magi ask of us. It is perfectly timed, coming as it does just as we close off the Christmas season but also at the start of the New Year and Ordinary time.

As Christ is presented to us once again through the Gospels in the coming year, will we react like Herod, or like the Magi? Will we insist on bending and twisting and warping Christ so that he fits in with our way of doing things, with what I want to do, with what I want to be, will we try and force him to fit into our plans for the future?

Or will we allow him to challenge us and to change us; will we allow his words and his actions to disturb and unsettle us, even to make us change course, to turn life around, to do things differently? Will we allow ourselves to be led on a journey far from the place of comfort, so that we can take our place in God’s plan?

The Magi had to travel a long way on their journey, but most of us can make the journey within, because the real journey takes place in our minds, in our souls. It begins with a change of heart, with a decision to allow the Holy Spirit to help us find God’s presence.

If we can face each situation with confidence and with an open heart, fear and doubt will begin to melt away. We will find Jesus in unexpected, unlikely places; just as the Magi did.