Of Monks And Magi

Of Monks And Magi


We have come to adore.

Such is the motivation the three kings give for their long journey from the East. We have come to adore. With this single phrase, these three brave men unwittingly set the tone for entire history of the Catholic Church and in particular for that part of the Church called the monastic orders. Indeed, if there is one fundamental aspect to true religion, if there is one overarching idea that takes precedence over all others in monastic and religious life, it is indeed the conscientious fulfilment of the first commandment. I am the Lord Thy God, thou shalt have no strange gods before me.

The Magi undertake a long, perilous journey. They spare no efforts. They fear no obstacles. They even put themselves forward in the face of possible persecution from a wicked, perverse, spiteful and vengeful king. They have come to adore. Nothing will stop them. They will accept no half-measures, no half-hearted lip-service. They have come to adore and adore they will.

Their adoration takes two distinct forms. First of all there is their act of prostration. They do not just kneel before the newborn God; they prostrate themselves, lying facing to the ground, in an act which, better than any other, manifests the total submission of self to God, the total oblation of all one’s mind and energies to the Lord. It is an act of latria, that is to say, of worship that is due to God alone. Amazing it is how these men, from a pagan country, were able to recognise God under the guise of a helpless infant, and our contemporaries are unable to recognise Him in the grandeur of 2,000 years of glorious history of the Church, lives of the saints and countless miracles. As St Gregory the Great told us this morning referring to the Jews who refuse to believe: the very stones professed their faith in the Lord Jesus when He rose from the dead, but their hearts are harder than stone! What might we say of our contemporaries who dash their own heads against the Rock, protesting that they need no God, but like their ancestors from every age, creating their own idols to their own liking.

It will soon be a year since our world has been plunged into the disorder of a new form of idolatry, which we might call the worship of good health. It has put together quite an impressive and elaborate ritual with acts of respect for others with specific spaces to stand and sit, ritual purifications and mysterious veils that hide the glow of the human face. This new liturgy is all-pervasive, and spreads its tentacles out over the earth, ever making new converts. We can only muse that such folly is the just chastisement for the rejection of Christ the King, even in the Church. For decades now, Our Lord has been reduced to another god in the modern pantheon. And as happened so often in the Old Testament, the turning away from the one true God entails the running after multiple gods who are not gods and who only make life miserable and inhumane.

In that context, the life of monks is all the more important. Indeed, the entire life of the monk, what is it if it is not adoration? From morning to evening and even during the night, the monk comes continually before the Lord to adore, to testify to the grandeur of the one true God. He comes to adore, to lay down at the feet of the Master his thoughts, words and deeds, his every moment and desire. Tota die benedicent ei, prophesied the great Psalm of the Epiphany, Psalm 71: All day long they shall blessed the Name of the Lord.

And what are the monastic vows if not the very things symbolised by the three gifts of the Magi? The precious gold signifies the love of God above all things. The monk, by his vow of poverty, declares to God that He is enough, that one needs nothing more. The monk declares to the world that nothing is of worth if it is not referred to God and that in the end a life that is not lived for God is the most wretched poverty. The myrrh which is bitter but which preserves what it touches, signifies the purity of chastity which the monk offers to God, professing that His love alone suffices and saying to the world that no attraction can exert its influence over a heart that has been captivated by the Creator. It moves that soul to renounce many things and to embrace many hardships and sacrifices in order to become strong and preserve itself pure as a living sacrifice offered in worship to God. The frankincense which rises to heaven with its fragrant odour and represents the prayer that ascends before the throne of God, symbolises the vow of obedience by which the monk lets his mind and will be captivated by the God Man, handing over to Him all his plans and projects, protesting that nothing could be dearer to him than the fulfilment of God’s plan, which is always better, more fulfilling and gratifying than ours. In this way, every religious continues on earth that beautiful role of the three kings.

On this feast, and in this historical moment, let us pray that the work that has been begun here may continue for ages to come, that many other young men, and possibly one day, young women as well, may see the star, and understand what it means. Indeed, the star can be understood as the sign of a vocation. When the Magi saw it, their hearts were filled with joy and desire; then, to obtain the object of their desire, they had to exert great effort and traverse many perils, and finally they were rewarded in the presence of the Infant God. And oh, what torrents of heavenly joy must the Divine Babe have poured into the hearts of those holy men! In a similar way, in the minds and hearts of many young men and women, a star rises, that leads them on, in spite of obstacles, to the goal they foresaw from the distant land of their lives in the world. Some of them encounter resistance; they are not understood. But how could they be understood by the world when they are called to Heaven? How could they be understood by Babylon, the city of confusion, when they are called to Jerusalem, the vision of peace?

May that star rise today, and may many see it, so that from the rising of the sun its setting, so that from here, in these furthermost parts of the world, the far east where the day begins, here in Jerusalem Estate, to the extremities of our world, there may always be men and women who sing the praises of God, who proclaim to the whole world by their entire life, by what they are what they do: Show us the King who is newly born in our hearts, for nothing else and no one else can satisfy us. We want God, and we have come adore.