Hidden Among the Stars

Today (1/8/12) is the Feast of the Epiphany. This is from a sermon by Saint Peter Chrysologus, who was a bishop of Ravenna, Italy, who died around the year 450 and was known for his works of charity and dynamic preaching: “Today the Magi find, crying in the manger, the one they have followed as he shone in the sky. Today the Magi see clearly, in swaddling clothes, the one they have long awaited as he lay hidden among the stars. Today the Magi gaze in deep wonder at what they see: heaven on earth, earth in heaven, man in God, God in man, one whom the universe cannot contain now enclosed in a tiny body. As they look, they believe and do not question, as their symbolic gifts bear witness: incense for God, gold for a king, myrrh for one who is to die.”

Of course, the story of the Magi never happened. While the story is not literally true, it is symbolically true because, as William J. O’Malley, SJ points out in his book Help My Unbelief, the underlying message being conveyed by Matthew, whose is the only Gospel to mention the story, is that “Jesus came not just for poor, illiterate, Jewish shepherds but also for rich, learned Gentiles of all races.”

The message for us today is that we must become the light that leads others to Christ by our love for all, rejecting no one because of race, creed or ethnicity. To become the light of Christ requires us to stay focused, as the Magi did, on the Light of Christ. But sadly, it is easy for us to only see the darkness that surrounds us. At times that darkness is so overwhelming it pushes us to think that God does not exist. Even such a saintly person as Mother Teresa succumbed to those deep doubts. Some people were shocked to read these words from her: “So many unanswered questions life within me, afraid to uncover them – because of the blasphemy. If there be a God – please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to heaven – there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my soul.” As I typed those dire words from a real saint, I felt myself on the verge of tears because I understood her agony and doubts. There are days my doubts seem close to crushing my faith to death. Yet Mother Teresa’s honesty gives me the hope and courage to continue to move toward the Light and not allow the darkness to consume me.

I do not know why I’m writing books or this blog. Who am I to write about spiritual things? I am just another sinner struggling to find my way to Jesus. In his Gospel story of the Magi, Matthew writes: “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?” I think he is hidden, not in the stars only, but in the less spectacular events of our daily life, in our mundane struggles to just get through the day, to earn a living and care for our families. He is also hidden on the margins of society where the poor, the lonely, the depressed, the abandoned and the victims of violence in all forms struggle for the daily bread of kindness and hope. We don’t see the “newborn king” because we are not looking for the Light or are distracted by the garish and often tawdry distractions of our consumer-crazed society. In a Christmas-New Year-Epiphany Letter to his friends last year, Fr. Bob Bonnot, who at 70-years-old pastors two parishes in Ohio, writes: “At other times we don’t see because we don’t want the intrusion of Light lest he call us out of darkness. We’d rather live with our illusions and half-truths than struggle with the Truth. Half-truths and illusions, reinforced by whatever tendentious reinforcements we select to surround us, imprison. Only Truth, Light, makes us free. But we have to be willing to look, see and respond honestly to what we see.”

If Christ’s Light shines through us and we become transmitters of that Light, our little corner of the world will be transformed and the darkness will be overcome. In his letter to the Colossians, St Paul says that as followers of Christ we need to be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, in gentleness and patience, and that we need to bear with each and forgive each other. And over all these “clothes” we need to put on love and always be thankful. If in this New Year, we made a sincere effort to follow Paul’s advice, we would slowly change the world that surrounds each of us as we make the Light of Christ more visible to those living in darkness.

“If the whole world were only capable of grasping this principle that true happiness consists only in the freedom of disinterested love – the ability to get away from ourselves, and our limited sphere of interests and appetites and needs, and rejoice in the good that is in others, not because it is also ours, but formally in so far as it is theirs!”
-Thomas Merton
Raids on the Unspeakable

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