657 I love the fact that the magi struggled to find their way on their pilgrimage
Day 657 Sunday, January 2, 2022
This story is about the birth of the Messiah. But since it is a story about a pilgrimage, Matthew’s story is about the Church as well. I love the fact that the magi struggled to find their way on their pilgrimage. Once they get to Jerusalem, they don’t know the rest of the way.
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. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
Reflection on the Epiphany by Jim Fredericks
Today is the feast of the Epiphany and I am thinking about pilgrimages.
Some of you have made pilgrimages to the basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. Some of you have hiked the Camino de Santiago in Spain. I’m sure some of you have been to visit the Santo Niño de Cebu, in the Philippines.
If you stop and think about it, Matthew is telling us the story of the very first Christian pilgrimage. Wise men from the east have made an arduous journey to pay homage to the newborn king of the Jews.
Matthew is certainly telling us a splendid story about the birth of the Messiah. There are mysterious visitors from the east. There is a sign in the heavens. There is treachery on the part of Herod (that will end in “the death of the Holy Innocents”). There is even a warning delivered in a dream.
This story is about the birth of the Messiah. But since it is a story about a pilgrimage, Matthew’s story is about the Church as well.
The magi have set off on their pilgrimage because they looked up into the heavens and wondered about the meaning of the star. Once they had discerned the truth of what they were seeing, the magi acted: they set out in search of the newborn king of the Jews.
I love the fact that the magi struggled to find their way on their pilgrimage. Once they get to Jerusalem, they don’t know the rest of the way. They have to make inquiries.
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”
Even after they are told that the king of the Jews is to be born in Bethlehem, they continue to look up into the heavens for guidance:
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.
The first Christian pilgrimage did not take the magi down a well-marked path. They had to make decisions about the way forward to find their way to the Christ Child.
Their journey home was eventful as well. Herod had his own plans for the child and the magi must figure out how to get back home without being further entangled in his schemes.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
Here’s my point: Matthew’s story tells us a lot about the Church. At this time in its history, the Church needs to be more aware that it has always been a pilgrim. And like the first Christian pilgrimage, the path forward for us is not entirely clear; the journey is far from uneventful.
Above all else, like the magi of old, God has given us a star to follow as we make our way along our path.
There are quite a few people who don’t like to think of the Church as a pilgrim. They tell us that the Church has no need to set off on journeys. The Church is an island of light in a sea of darkness. The Church’s should be busy defending the truth it has been given. We have no need for a star.
I respectfully disagree. The Church, at its best at least, has always been a pilgrim. We are a people on the road and, like the magi of old, we have been given a star to follow. Our faith calls us to look into the heavens together and find the star that the Lord has given to us. Then we need to give ourselves to one another in loving service as we follow that star.
The way forward will not always be clear. Which star to follow will not always be easy to discern. We will not always agree about where the star is leading us. There has been and will be treachery along the way. We will have to ask for advice as well.
But most of all, like the magi, we need to be overjoyed when we see our star.
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,
Pope Francis is reminding us that we are a pilgrim Church. He is calling for the local churches around the world to hold synods. He wants us to discern the way forward. He wants us to recognize that we are “on the way together.”
In ancient Greek, the word for “on the way together” is syn-hodos. We get the word “synod” from this. Pope Francis wants us to remember that we are a synodal Church: we are on the road together and we have been given a star to follow. This means that we must listen to one another.
We must be humble enough to confess our sins to one another, recognize our mistakes and receive instruction from one another. We are not always going to agree about the way forward. But we must also recognize that standing still is not an option. Our star – the Holy Spirit – urges us on.
When the magi saw the Star of Bethlehem, they did not fully understand where it would lead them. And yet, they had the faith to set off in search of the Christ Child. Synhodos - they were on the road together, and that was enough for these wise men.
If we are to be a synodal Church, in a vital dialogue about the way forward, we need a spiritual life that is deep and disciplined. There is a paradox in this pilgrim spirituality. We need to have a sense that, even though we are not sure of the way, the Christ Child awaits us in Bethlehem. The paradox is that we are constantly discovering that God is with us every time we summon the faith to take a difficult step on the path.
Above all else, we must become very skilled in sharing our faith with one another. We need to be a sign in the heavens for one another – like the star that guided the magi.
In doing this, let the Church become a sign of hope for the world. All around the world, let them say of us what Matthew said of the magi:
They were overjoyed at seeing the star.
James Taylor: "Home by Another Way" with a charming video