by Fr. Tommy Lane
If you ever visit Cologne (Köln) Cathedral in Germany you can walk around the sanctuary and behind the main altar there is a large reliquary said to contain the bones or at least the skulls of the three wise men. “How did they get to Cologne?” you might ask. Ireland has been privileged to have been visited by the relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (2001) and St. Anthony of Padua (2003) so that makes it easier for us to understand the explanation. The wise men’s bones are said to have been located in Persia and then brought to Constantinople by St. Helena. St. Helena was the mother of the emperor Constantine who was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. The bones were transferred from Constantinople to Milan in the fifth century and to Cologne in 1163. So not only did the wise men journey during the lives but even after deaths their relics went on a journey. Although Matthew does not tell us the names of the wise men, in the West they have traditionally been given the names Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar. Matthew does not tell us the number of wise men, he simply states that they offered three gifts.
The journey the wise made to Bethlehem was not the only journey they made. They also made a journey in their hearts from paganism to worshipping Jesus. They were not Jews; scholars tell us they were priests of an Eastern religion who consulted the stars (Zoroastrian priests). One of them may have been a king (there is speculation that one of them was Azes II of Bactria who reigned from 35 BC to 10 AD). Therefore we could say they were followers of some kind of pagan religion. Before they set out on their journey to Bethlehem to worship Jesus they were star-readers but they went on an interior journey from reading stars to worshipping Jesus as Savior. Their old way of life as astrologers when they consulted the stars before they came to belief in Jesus reminds us of those who look to horoscopes for guidance. Those who follow horoscopes are called to journey like the wise men from reading stars to worshiping Jesus. Horoscope readers need to ask themselves who is in charge of their life, the stars or God? Believing that the stars control our lives contradicts believing that God is in charge of our lives. Remember that the first commandment asks us not to have any strange gods. Indeed the fact that God has sometimes revealed the future to prophets or saints (Catechism of the Catholic Church §2115) shows that it is God and not the stars that control our destiny. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states,
“Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate power. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.” (§2116)
The wise men journeyed from that kind of life to worshiping Jesus as the Savior. (true story of someone who converted from that life to faith in Jesus)
The wise men’s journey of a thousand miles or more westwards from Persia which could have taken three months is really a symbol of the inward journey they made in their hearts, a journey from paganism to belief in Jesus as the Savior of the world. Indeed not just the wise men but all of us are on a journey to get closer to Jesus our Savior. Our journey may not be from reading stars and consulting horoscopes but we each are called to allow Jesus be Lord of each part of our lives, not just when it suits us. We each have a journey to make to Jesus because none of us is yet fully converted and each of us has corners in our hearts and lives in need of Jesus’ healing and redemption. Like the wise men we too are relying on the grace of God to lead us to the light of Jesus our Savior.
The wise men through the grace of God came to faith in Jesus. What about those who do not yet know that Jesus is the Savior? What about those who have not yet made that journey to Jesus? Can those who are not Christian get to heaven? Yes, they can. I think we can see part of the answer in the account of the wise men. By the grace of God the wise men were led to Jesus. Even though they did not know Jesus they had a desire to meet Jesus. In their own way, with their beliefs, they lived as best they could and this eventually led them to Jesus. Vatican II says,
“Those who, through no fault of
their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless
seek God with a sincere heart, and moved by grace, try in their actions to do
his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too
may achieve eternal salvation.”
Of course this does not mean that the Church does not have to spread the Gospel and can sit back and be lazy. The Church’s mission and vocation is to help people make the journey to Jesus, to come to know that Jesus is the one Savior of the world worth journeying towards. Jesus’ last command before his ascension was to baptize all nations, so we have the duty to preach the Gospel to those who have not yet heard of Jesus. Again we remember that the wise men were not members of the Chosen People, the Jews. Yet God revealed to them that Jesus was born. This is to show us that Jesus came not just for the Chosen People, the Jews, but Jesus came to save all people, Gentiles as well as the Jews.
The wise men went on a journey to Jesus, a journey from star reading to worshiping Jesus. We each are called to allow Jesus be Lord of each part of our lives, not just when it suits us. We each have a journey to make to Jesus because none of us is yet fully converted and each of us has corners in our hearts and lives in need of Jesus’ healing and redemption. We pray that God may lead us like them ever closer to his Son Jesus. We pray that all nations may come to know that Jesus is the one Savior, that all nations may fall prostrate before Jesus.
More homilies for January 6th - The Epiphany of Our Lord
stories for Christmas