The great 20th century theologian Karl Rahner (1904-84) wrote, ‘The Christian of the future will either be a mystic, or will not exist at all.’ We are called to be mystics, that is, to continually seek and be open to what is mysterious. Sometimes I think we can be too inclined to ‘explain away’ everything in our faith, when in fact it is very mysterious and should be. The truth is that God continues to speak to us in unexpected and mystical ways and God will continue to draw us closer to himself, as long as we remain open to that journey. St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), a 16th century mystic, said that the Lord will bring us to the greatest union with him in this life, as long as we remain open to it. She said that the only thing that prevents us from reaching the deepest union with God, is our own fear and unwillingness to go any farther. God wants us to be as united with him as is possible in this life. Why doesn’t that happen to more people? Because we become afraid and want to put the brakes on. It is easier to settle for a basic understanding and practice of our faith and not go any farther.
The feast of the Epiphany is the feast of Christ being revealed to the world. The three wise men, or astrologers/magicians, were led to this place where Christ was. They are supposed to have come from different countries, pagan countries, who did not know the true God. They were astrologers (those who study horoscopes!), which is expressly forbidden in the Scriptures.
Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium, or spiritist, or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord. (Deut 18:10-14)
The Magi (possibly ZoroAstrian priests) represent all the peoples of the world since they were not Jewish, but came from pagan nations who did not know the true God. It is a way of saying that Jesus’ coming is for all peoples of all religions and race. All people will recognise that Jesus is the Son of God. God guided them through what they were involved in, astrology, which was how they were searching for God. It is a reminder to us that God can and does use all and every means to speak to us and draw us closer to himself.
The three gifts are symbolic. Gold is the symbol of a king. Jesus is a king, King of kings and the master of the whole universe. The use of frankincense is a sign of recognising a divinity, a God. Jesus is Son of God, the second person of the Godhead. And myrrh is a perfume that represents the suffering He will go through to win eternal life for the human race.
If you think of most of the figures in the Bible to do with Christmas, they all had mystical experiences which led them closer to God. The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary; he also appeared to Joseph. Angels appeared to the shepherds and a star guided the Magi.
Different events and experiences often open people’s hearts to God. Sometimes it is through a crisis, such as sickness, or the death of a loved one, that gets us thinking differently. Many times I have seen people decide to come back to Church after the death of someone close to them, because it has got them thinking about the more important things and that is always good. Sometimes the death of a loved one causes people to reject God, as they believe that God has been evil in taking their loved one away. But if our destiny is to be with God in heaven, then even though the death of those close to us is very painful, it just means that they have gone on ahead of us sooner than we expected. Sooner or later we will follow after them.
The Spirit keeps calling us to search for God. What is important is that we keep searching and remain open. It is good that we ask questions about what we believe in. I believe and accept that the Scriptures and the teachings of our Church are from God and I submit to them, but I will continue to ask questions. The more searching I do, the more my faith grows.
Each week when we come to the mass, we come to an encounter with God which Jesus revealed to us, which is why we never change it. That’s also why the time before mass is not just the time for a social gathering, but the time for us to prepare for this wonderful encounter with God through the Scriptures and the Eucharist. God wants us to meet him and hear him and this is one of the most wonderful ways that He helps us to do that. That’s also why it is so important that we dress respectfully and modestly in church, because we are coming into the presence of the living God. It deserves the greatest reverence we can give it.
It might seem a bit arrogant of us to say that all people will recognise that Jesus is the Son of God. That seems to imply that we are right and that everyone else is wrong, but that is not the case. People of different religions have very different understandings of God and God speaks to all people through different religions. Even for those who never come to know Jesus in this lifetime, they still have eternal life won for them by the death and resurrection of Christ and eternal life is still offered to them through him, just as it is to us. When they die they will see this at once. They will know immediately who Jesus is and what He has done for us.
Although we lost the possibility of eternal life with God through what we call Original Sin, God regained the possibility of eternal life for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We can accept, or reject this gift individually and we do this through our faith. All people are offered this possibility regardless of whether they come to know of God in this life or not, but it is not as if there is a kind of neutral ground for those who do not believe. We accept life with God when we die which will be our total fulfilment, or we lose it forever and that is the choice we must make.
This is also where our conscience is so important, because even if we never hear of God during our life, God speaks to us through our conscience, giving us a basic understanding of what is right and wrong. Our faith and the teachings of Jesus through the Church give us a better understanding of what is right or wrong. All of the decisions that we make throughout our life are bringing us closer to, or driving us farther away, from God.
We Christians are the people who recognise that Jesus is the Son of God and has done all these things for us. We consider ourselves blessed that God has made himself known to us in this way, but it doesn’t mean that we have a better chance of going to heaven than anyone else. That depends completely on how we live our life. When we die, we will realise that all this is really true. And when other people of different religions die, they will also recognise that Jesus Christ is Lord and that it is only through his death and resurrection that we have eternal life. What is important for them is to live their faith as well as they can, just as it is for us. If they do this, God will also draw them closer to him and bring them to holiness, just as He will with us if we remain open.
Meanwhile we pray that all peoples will come to know that Jesus Christ is Lord, even in this life, because this is the truth which God has revealed to us. All people have a right to hear this, which is why Jesus commanded us to preach to all nations and make him known. No one has to accept it, but they have a right to know what God has done for them. Either way we try to respect people who believe differently to us and remember that they are also children of God.
'Every knee shall bow, in heaven, on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.' (Phil 2:10-11)