Fourteen years ago I was spiritual director on a pilgrimage to Germany to “walk in the footsteps” of the foundress of a religious community of sisters who I have been closed to since childhood. In addition to seeing firsthand the various sites their foundress is connected with, we also spent time in the city of Cologne. The spires of the magnificent cathedral tower over the city. But the real magnificence is within the Cathedral. It is big, long, wide and high, and one stands within the entrance it lifts the soul to the heaven.
Why am I writing about a German Cathedral on the Feast of Epiphany? To my surprise I discovered that this cathedral contains the relics of the three magi. Legend has it that the Magi were buried in India, St. Helena had their remains moved to Constantinople, later they were moved to Milan, and finally in the 12th century they were brought to Cologne. The massive cathedral was built so as to provide a fitting resting place for the remains of the Magi. The large reliquary in which the remains of the Wise Men rest is on the rear of the high altar.
The Magi made two long journeys, one to Bethlehem to give homage to the baby Jesus, the second to Cologne after their deaths, to give inspiration to pilgrims to make their own lives journey to give glory to Jesus. The brief account of the three kings in Matthew’s Gospel is rich in insight and lessons for us as we make our journey.
The Kings saw a star and understood it as a sign that something special was taking place. They were able to read the sign that led them to Jesus. It wasn’t that long ago that we heard a Gospel in which Jesus told the listeners that just as we can read signs about weather, so we should “stay awake” so as to see the signs that point to his Second Coming. Like the magi we should be aware of what is happening in the world around us and how it is reflecting the presence of Christ.
The Kings had the faith to act on the sign. They left home and country, to make a journey East. Even though they were Wise men or kings, it was probably a journey that was difficult and at times uncomfortable. Our journey in faith can be like that. We are sometimes given the opportunity to move in our faith to a place that might involve some sacrifice or discomfort. During this past Year of mercy we may have gotten involved in some corporal work of mercy that wasn’t too easy for us at first, but proved rewarding to us. If we have the faith to move forward we find ourselves richly blessed.
Finally, the kings had the humility to give homage to the baby who looked far from kingly. A baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, with a manger as a crib, inside the barn. These did not deter the Kings from showing that they truly were Wise Men. The looked beyond the unlikely circumstances and saw the King. They gave him gifts fit for a King, and did so while giving him homage. It is a lesson for us not to confine ourselves to one particular way in which Christ may manifest himself to us. May we have the humility to recognize Christ in the way he desires to come to us, and to give him the best, not holding back, but freely humbling ourselves by offering ourselves totally to him.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.