Sunday, January 8, 2012

How Far Would You Go?

Guess what!” your best friend calls to say. “I’ve received a clear sign from the heavens that the one who will someday bring freedom, justice, and prosperity to China has finally been born. Terry [another friend] and I are going to see him, and we have room for you! We don’t know exactly where he is, and it’s a big country, so it’ll take some time and searching—we think at least six months, maybe a year. It will probably cost several thousand dollars, plus we’re bringing some gifts. I’m bringing the jeweled chalice my uncle the bishop left me; Terry’s bringing a golden casket for his burial (whenever that might be). Maybe you could bring the family jewels you inherited. Whaddye say?”
      Would you go?
     Somehow, I seriously doubt it—even if you had a intense interest in the welfare of China. Who could spare the time and expense of such a trip?
     Yet the journey of the Magi doesn’t strike us as surprising. Those of us who are idealistic and adventurous might even imagine that in their place, of course we’d do the same. But when one considers all that was involved versus the apparently minor motivation, it’s really quite astounding.
      We actually don’t know much about the Magi, other than that they came from the east. Wherever they were from, why would they care if a new king was born to the Jews—even the best king the Jews would ever have? They must have known that He was something special, otherwise their trip doesn’t seem worth all the trouble. Some think the magi were themselves Jews (for many lived outside the Holy Land), and that they realized that this was the Messiah.
      Even so, they must have had great generosity and devotion for such an undertaking: leaving home, family and friends, their work, for a round-trip at least four months long, if not a year, that was difficult, dangerous, and expensive.
      If we knew that Jesus was visitable, would we do the same? Would we make such a long and difficult journey?
      Most of us simply couldn't, even if we wanted to.

      The wonderful thing is that Jesus is visitable in both senses of the word. Jesus can be visited, and the visit is much more doable than going halfway around the world. He is still present in our world—in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. (No, his appearance is not that of the Godhead in glory, but then neither did He appear that way in Bethlehem. Either manifestation requires faith on our part.) And not only that, but He's not all that far off—but in numerous churches and chapels within easy reach.
      He’s also even more available than that, in a spiritual sense. He said, “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto Me.” We may not be able to give Him gifts like the magi or a cup of water like the Samaritan woman, or a feast like Matthew, or wipe His bloody face like Veronica, but whenever we help or serve someone else, He will take it as service also to Himself.
      At Christmas, children sometimes give their parents “coupons” promising to do certain helpful tasks around the house. Also at this time of year, many people make New Year’s resolutions. Our family has a different tradition that involves something of both. Every Epiphany we play a game we call the “Quest of the Magi”, in which each of us presents Jesus a gift. We can’t place gold at his visible little feet, anymore than most children can buy a gift for their parents. So we spend a little time beforehand thinking of something we could do that would please Him. It could be a one-time thing or a new habit or goal for a longer period, even for the year. We write it down and lay it in the crèche.
If one were to try to imitate the Magi today, one could decide to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament once a week. A year of weekly half-hour visits would amount to a little over one day in the Magi’s journey. Surely we could do that much.
Maybe after a while, we’d get hooked and want to spend more time. (Sixty years of weekly hour-long visits would get us close, equaling a four months’ journey.)
If nothing else, let us pray that we can have even a portion of the fervor that drove those Magi to make such sacrifices in quest of a God that then they could have known so much less than we can now.