Some years ago now, like the Magi, you saw a star and you have come to worship and offer gifts to the Lord. You heard what you perceive to be a call from the Lord Christ, the Infant God, and, after searching in other parts, you set out on this arduous path that led you from Western Australia here to Tasmania. You arrived over nine months ago to test your vocation, and after a number of difficulties, you have asked to be clothed with the habit of St Benedict and begin your formal time as a novice lay brother.
This feast is certainly an auspicious one on which to be clothed with the habit. The star evokes the call to religious life. It is often seen at first from a great distance. A journey is required before one can reach the longed-for goal, and many perils and obstacles lie in the way. Let’s enumerate some of them.
There is first and foremost the difficulty involved in seeing the star. This requires effort, for only those see the stars who are prepared to sacrifice of their sleep to go out into the night and look up. Each night God deploys before the eyes of humanity the marvels of His creation, but most people prefer the comfort of their worldly pleasures, and they never rise to the task of lifting up their minds and hearts to eternity. They do not even see the star.
Second, there is the reading of the sign, for the star is only a sign – it’s meaning is not self-evident. The Magi saw the star, they observed it, they studied the Scriptures to know what it meant, and they came to the conclusion that if God was sending His anointed one to us and showing us the path to get there, then we must go to meet Him right there where He is revealing Himself. They do not calculate the time and expense involved – it probably took a few months and cost them a fortune –, they leave behind families and friends and set out on a journey they know will bring much fatigue. So many refuse the time and effort involved in seeking God like the Magi, and so they never find Him.
Third, the journey itself is long and is sown with dangers: the path has to be discovered, wrong paths avoided, obstacles overcome, precautions must be taken to assure success. Legions of souls, filled with good desires, never follow through with them because of the effort involved.
Fourth, the Magi know that this journey will lead them to a foreign country. Coming to Judea at a time when the local king was not a Jew was not without peril. It demanded courage. How many fail to heed God’s call for fear of what men might say or do to them.
Fifth, when the Magi arrive in Jerusalem, they are subjected to a terrible trial of faith: the beloved star vanishes, leaving them without a guide, opening for them the temptation to think that it was all an illusion. But in that circumstance, they take the means at their disposal: they go and ask the legitimate authority what to do. And God, who blesses humble obedience, provides them with the exact answer they need. So many accept to follow God and obey as long as they can see and understand. If they find themselves in the dark and cannot read events for themselves, they abandon everything and run away.
Finally, as the Magi leave the trouble of Jerusalem, the star reappears, their hearts overflow with ineffable joy, and this is only the prelude to greater joys to come. For when they adore the Divine Babe, we can be sure that He, from His tiny Divine Heart, poured forth into theirs a bliss that only those can know who have experienced it. It is something like what the psalmist referred to when he said: Thou hast made known to me the ways of life, thou shalt fill me with joy with thy countenance: at thy right hand are delights even to the end (Ps 15:11).
Contemplating this mystery a few saints come to mind. There is first of all the Poverello of Assisi, the great St Francis, to whom according to tradition, we owe the tradition of the holy crib in our churches. St Francis’ love for nature and capacity to see God in nature should inspire you in your life as a lay brother. Or again, St Anthony of Padua, a native of Portugal, who was gratified with visions of the Infant Jesus, in reward for his angelic purity. Closer to us, we can consider that God, who became a child, prefers to manifest Himself to children. He did so in particular in Fatima, again Portugal, where Saints Francisco and Jacinta along with their cousin Sr Lucia were privileged to behold the Mother of God in glory. Lucia would write: ”Our Lady opened her hands for the first time, communicating to us a light so intense that, as it streamed from her hands, its rays penetrated our hearts and the innermost depths of our soul, making us see ourselves in God, who was that light, more clearly than we see ourselves in the best of mirrors”. Francisco would later say, referring to the immense joy he experienced in this encounter: “I loved seeing the Angel, but I loved still more seeing Our Lady. What I loved most of all was to see Our Lord in that light from Our Lady which penetrated our hearts. I love God so much! But He is very sad because of so many sins! We must never commit any sins again.” That little boy, at such a tender age, understood the superiority of the contemplative experience, and for the rest of his short life he would be entirely intent on what God wanted him to become.
Coming back to the Magi, after paying their respects to the newborn king, they disappear from Sacred Writ, no more mention is made of them. They take back with them the sweetness of the experience, but they retain it in their hearts to contemplate and adore. Francisco and Jacinto Marto, after having been gratified with the vision of glory made manifest in Mary Immaculate, disappear from this world, going to contemplate the Light of God in its very source in Heaven. In the same way, a contemplative soul receives God’s grace as a lover’s secret; he bears it in his heart, where the Word of God hollows out in him an abyss of silence, leading evermore to intense communion, prelude to eternal life.
Such is my wish for you on this day, my son, that you may ever seek the countenance of the Living God and come to experience more and more the sweetness of the Divine visit. But remember that, like the Magi, you are on a journey, you have not arrived at the goal. This is just the beginning, and many trials lie before you, up hills, down valleys, over crag and torrent. May the kindly light guide your every step and lead you to the longed for vision of His glory.