We are just a few days into 2020, and perhaps some of your New Year’s resolutions have already fallen by the wayside. It may take more than a solemn pre-midnight declaration to change the course of your life!
Our desire for change and a better future as we leave one year behind and start a new one is perfectly understandable, especially if the year we have left behind has been disappointing or painful in some way. St. Augustine once wrote: ‘You must always be displeased by what you are. Keep adding, keep walking, keep advancing.’ Without the urge for growth and development, what would our lives be like?
Even so, we should be aware about the consequences of how and what we resolve to do. Do our goals and paths speak of the faith that we proclaim? What does it say to others if what we as Christians aspire to is worldly or vain, or driven by greed or wrong ambition? And what does it say to others if our way of reaching our goals is self-sufficient and self-centered? Anyone can have goals, targets and ambitions, but surely as Christians these should be more than just a self-directed attempt for self-improvement.
The story of the Wise Man which is at the heart of this great solemnity of the Epiphany is a story of a life changing revelation and encounter with the Word Incarnate, the Christ child. The Magi, who lived their lives as ones who sought the truth, find the very source of truth in Jesus Christ. I can think of no possible better resolution for this year, for any year, than to seek that revelation and that source of truth in my life. The Magi were ultimately successful in their quest- are there any lessons we can learn from these wise men of ancient times?
One thing that everyone knows about the three Wise Man, that even the smallest child knows, is that they were following a star. They followed a star that called them out of their own lands and old ways of life. They were in search of the true light that could point out the path to take in life. The star led them to Jesus. What can the star have been but truth itself? The truth, the star that the Magi pursued led them to the source of all truth who is Jesus. Recall that near the end of Jesus’ ministry another ruler, one not so wise, is to mockingly ask Jesus- ‘What is truth? ‘. The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. The truth about God and the truth about humanity, our purpose, and our destiny which Jesus was sent to reveal. The Magi did not know the fullness of truth, because God had not yet revealed himself to them in Christ. But they knew to follow the star. Once they found the Christ child, and having done him homage and offered him gifts they returned to their place of origin by another way, a different path, transformed and changed by what they have seen, taking a message of salvation with them.
As Christians we have access to God’s grace in a more direct way than the Magi ever could have. We for instance have the Sacraments and the liturgy. So perhaps it is much easier for us to follow the star to the truth of Christ than it was for the Magi.
Or perhaps not.
This New Year I resolve to ask for the grace to follow the star, to do the child homage, and then return by a different path.
Another thing we know about the Magi is that they were learned men. They had books that taught them many things about the world and creation, and perhaps a strong culture of searching for truth. They did not have the scriptures and they did not have the history of the covenant that God had with the Jews. But still they knew to follow the star, the star that led them to Jesus, the encounter with truth that transformed and changed them. And they were overjoyed at seeing the star, entered the house and encountered the child with Mary his mother.
As Christians, we have the scriptures, the inspired word of the Holy Spirit. We have centuries of study, and a strong culture of seeking God. We have over two thousand years of learnings recorded for us by theologians and in the lives of the Saints. So perhaps it is much easier for us than it was for the Magi to use our knowledge of God to follow the star, to find truth, so that and we also can be overjoyed.
Or perhaps not.
This New Year I resolve to ask for the grace to know God in the scriptures so that I also will return by a different path.
One thing that is unusual about these resolutions is that they do not depend upon our own efforts. They are not like dieting or learning a new language. The Gospel is not a self-help book. Success depends entirely upon God and on our openness to seek his truth, to be open to his graces. These resolutions depend upon using the helps that God has already given us as Christians-such as the Sacraments, the Liturgy, the Church, and the Scriptures- and all the graces God grants us each day. And because they do not depend on us, they are so much more likely to be fulfilled than a typical New Year’s resolution. They are in fact sure to come to fruition unless I go out of my way to frustrate them.
I wish you all a happy and healthy New Year. I wish us all peace and success. I hope that you fulfill every one-or, more realistically, at least one of your New Year’s resolutions. On this Epiphany I wish all of us the grace to follow the star to find the child in the manger. And having encountered him again, enter into his house and worship him, as the Magi did. Go on your way by a different path, transformed and changed taking the message of salvation with you.
Thank you, Alan! A beautiful homily indeed. I am reminded of a dear and charismatic man from my childhood; after an excursion, he always drove us back by a different route so we could appreciate a new vista. Seems like you are both on to something…