They departed to their own country by another way

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The Solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, made me really reflect. Most of all what hit the nail on its head was the concluding verse taken from the Matthean Gospel pericope that the Church purposely chose for this great feast. They (the Magi) departed to their own country by another way (Matt 2:12).

Thanks to a dream (Matt 2:12) they had, the Magi, or the wise men from the East (Matt 12:1), as they are referred to in some of the Bible translations, were warned not to go to Herod. We know precisely the reason why. Herod was so jealous and full of ambition to maintain his power, even if relatively little since he was a puppet king at the hands of the Romans. As the story tragically unravels, he was ready to do everything in his capacity to destroy whoever tries to challenge, even minutely, his authority or perceived control.

The Bible squarely shows us the barbarity and horror of ambition at its best! In just four verses down, in verse 16, we come to know that Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men (Matt 2:16). This is the reaction of those who cling to power at all costs! They are ready to swipe everyone who happen to be on their way, including innocent male children, to safeguard their unbridled ambition. Let us not forget that, for Pope Francis, as he pointed out in his midnight mass homily of Sunday, 24 December 2017, “the Herods of today [are those that] impose their power and increase their wealth, [and] see no problem in shedding innocent blood”. Whatever that innocent blood is or may be.

We know that Herod’s way leads to utter destruction. His is a philosophy of death and not of life. The root of Herod’s problem lies in being obsessed by himself and by what he wanted and felt. To paraphrase what Pope Benedict XVI said in his first encyclical which, incidentally, was issued on the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord on December 25, 2005, Deus Caritas Est, On Christian love, the problem with Herod was that of seeking himself all the time. Poor Herod was intoxicated by his own perceived way of being happy (see no. 6). Herod was a prisoner of his whims and impulses. He was like a boat in the middle of the turbulent ocean of all kinds of imaginable and unimaginable emotions under the sun. In other words, Herod, rather than living what his name Ηρωιδης (Heroides), actually means, “song of the hero”, through his fearful actions became a song of fear and insecurity.

On the other hand, the wise men became an ode or a song of true love! In their selfless love they chose to focus on the star. By following it unselfishly, they followed what Pope Benedict XVI describes as authentic love. That is, that love which “seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice”. For them the child became the object of their love. And, in order to find him, they underwent all kinds of sacrifices and challenges. These, in fact, counted nothing when compared with the joy of adoring him.

The life-changing example of the Magi led the Church to exhort us to emulate their Christlike way of seeing and doing things. In the prayer over the offerings for the Epiphany we pray: “Look with favor, Lord, we pray, on these gifts of your Church, in which are offered now not gold or frankincense or myrrh, but he who by them is proclaimed, sacrificed and received, Jesus Christ”. In simple words, you and I, are exhorted by the Church we love to pray to be changed through, in and with Jesus, to become true gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Father.

Let us depart to Heaven, our own country, by taking the way St Leo the Great shows us in Epiphania Domini, 1-3, “faith and good works” in order that we shine “as children of the light”.

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