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Archive for January, 2019

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They Went Home by Another Way

Last week’s post on the Epiphany generated quite a lot of comments, and I was grateful to know that it had resonated with so many.  Most of those who emailed did so to say that they too had wondered what had become of the gifts that the magi had delivered.  One, however, speculated that Mary and Joseph had politely thanked the magi for their thoughtfulness but had then refused the gifts.  Gold, frankincense and myrrh were just a bit over the top for people like them, and they knew it.

Two friends of mine shared a different approach to the story, and their comments gave me pause.  One wrote to say that every time he hears the story of the Epiphany he thinks of a song about the magi by James Taylor:  They Went Home by Another Way.  I could not recall that song, so I googled it, listened and immediately recognized the tune.  That’s also when I realized I’d never paid much attention to the lyrics.  Now that hauntingly lovely song is firmly fixed in my mind, and the next time I hear the story of the Epiphany I’ll access my mental link to the song.

a7794815-6bf6-4490-9cca-f689c8e22122A second friend, Eddie from New Mexico, wrote in the same vein, but with a nod to the Holy Family.  After the Epiphany Joseph and Mary also had a change of travel plans.  It was no longer safe for them and their child, and tradition says that they went into exile in Egypt.  There they stayed put until Herod died and it was okay to return.  And so Eddie offered this meditation:  “I wondered where they must have gone and how that must have been such an unexpected twist for them.  Yet, it was necessary.  So it is with us in so many ways.  Twists and turns in life, and some of them so unexpected.  Some good and some bad.  Through it all God is there.”

That’s a great take-away to draw from the Epiphany.  We don’t know how it impacted the shepherds, but it changed the lives of everyone else involved.  “They went home by another way” is just a more poetic way to say that after Bethlehem the lives of the magi, Joseph and Mary were never the same again.  For them the encounter with Jesus was life-changing.  They could not nor would not go on with life as it had been.  The circumstances demanded something new, and they rose to meet the challenge.

That, I think, is what can happen to us in the Epiphany.  When we encounter the Lord, be it in a conversion experience or in the daily twists and turns of life, we can never be the same.  Certainly we have to go back to our routines, but the routines demand something better of us.  Happily, that’s what the Lord likely had in mind for us all along.

7d2e1e6c-da40-4524-8eeb-822ecbfc8010NOTES

+On 7-9 January I participated in the annual community workshop of the monks of Saint John’s Abbey.

+On January 9th I gave a presentation on The Saint John’s Bible to faculty and staff from Saint Edward’s University in Austin, TX, who were visiting as part of a program entitled “A Year With The Saint John’s Bible.”  Following lunch and my talk they visited the new Bible Gallery in Alcuin Library.

+Not quite worthy of inclusion in my post today is a reference to a scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian.  Anyone who’s seen the movie can never forget the moment when the magi mistakenly present the gifts to the parents of the newly-born Brian.  The mom greedily grabs for the gold, and in a parting comment she thanks them for the gold.  “But next time just leave off the frankincense and myrrh.”

+The photos in today’s post are of medieval mosaics in the baptistery of the duomo in Florence.  At top the magi present their gifts to Jesus.  The second photo shows the magi being warned in a dream, and in the third photo they return home “by another way.”  Below is a scene in which the Holy Family goes into exile in Egypt.

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Jesus:  His Kingdom is not of this World

I find it curious that the gospels begin and end the story of Jesus with references to kingship.  The visit of the magi and their presentation of royal gifts clearly allude to the hopes of many who looked for a messiah who would be king.  Later, in the course of his ministry, Jesus consistently brushed aside those who would make him king.  Then, as Jesus endured the worst of his agony, Pilate mocked those aspirations with the sign he had fixed to the cross:  Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews.

For those who still try to leverage Jesus into power over others, the words of Jesus serve as a timely reminder:  “My kingdom is not of this world.”  On the contrary, his is a message of love, which after nearly 2,000 years is still capable of inspiring some people and disappointing others.

4d845af6-5ae1-4386-928f-48256b4ef549Every now and again I’ve wondered what in the world Mary and Joseph decided to do with the gold, frankincense and myrrh that the magi dropped off.  Regardless of what became of those royal gifts, however, they were symbols of what Jesus chose to reject.  They disappear from the narrative, never to reappear.

The story of Epiphany has one other important element that provides a good takeaway for us.  The magi came looking for a king, but they ended up finding the object of their quest in a very unkingly place.  Bethlehem was not the setting for royal births, then or now.  Bethlehem was definitely no Jerusalem.  But if it was no place for the birth of a king, it was suitable enough for the birth of a messiah.

Bethlehem then serves as a reminder that there are simply no excuses for backing away from doing the work of the Lord.  We may think we were born in the wrong place, that we are too poor, too young, too old, that we don’t speak well, or that we have no influence.  But the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem dismisses all that with a wave of the hand.

That’s the way the Lord does business.  Consistently the Lord still chooses to do great things through the least likely of people who hail from the least likely of places.  Given that, why would the infant of Bethlehem pass over the chance to do great things through us too?  For that I have no answer.  And so I pray that the Lord, who could turn water into wine, can work a similar transformation in us.

32886ef3-ca8b-49d0-b98a-14fccfc8f3eeNOTES

+At Saint John’s we only had a dusting of snow for Christmas, and so it was a stretch to call it a white Christmas.  However, we more than made up for it by New Year’s.  In fact, we got several inches, along with bitterly cold weather for a couple of days.  So it was that I celebrated New Year’s afternoon by clearing the snow off of my car.  It took twenty minutes, and by the end of it my fingers were stinging from the cold.  The photos in today’s post illustrate the beauty of the landscape that day.

+On January 3rd I flew to Phoenix for a short trip to visit with several alumni of Saint John’s University.  I also celebrated Mass on the Feast of the Epiphany for a small group, and today’s post is the sermon I delivered that day.

+On January 5th we celebrated the Mass of Christian Burial for our confrere, Fr. Kieran Nolan.  Fr. Kieran was born and grew up in the Bronx, New York, and among other things he served as rector of the seminary at Saint John’s and pastor of Saint John the Baptist Parish in Collegeville.  For several years he served at our priory in Fujimi, Japan, and he nobly endured a long illness before his passing.  Fr. Kieran was one of those larger than life characters whose mind was always churning with ideas, and some of them were even practical!  I and my confreres will miss him dearly.

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