A blessed and happy New Year! Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany or the Feast of the Three Kings in olden days. We celebrate the manifestation of the Son, God made flesh, to the world.
In the persona of the Three Kings, it is a manifestation of God to the gentiles and thus a prefiguring of the universal character of the Church.
The narrative weaves for us several symbols: Primary among them are the Three Kings and the Star of Bethlehem, then the offerings, and what ties them all together is the Child Jesus in the manger.
The kings and the star are closely associated. Pope Benedict XVI wrote that “the magi set out because of a deep desire which prompted them to leave everything behind to begin a journey. It was as though they had always been waiting for that star.”
These are our springboards for reflection: What is the deep desire in our life that prompts us “to leave everything behind to begin a journey”?
Dreams and visions
I think it is not common to associate the star with our deepest desires. The image of the star is often linked to dreams and visions, the guiding light and the horizon in which we pursue our lofty ambitions, noble mission and sense of purpose. But the connection to our deepest desires is something that needs getting used to.
Ignatius of Loyola and Frederick Buechner help much in this regard. Ignatius placed a lot of premium on desires. His famous prescription in the Constitutions of the Jesuits is that if someone desires to be a Jesuit, he must be asked if he has holy desires, and if he does not, then he must be asked if he wants to have these holy desires.
One of the processes of Ignatian spiritual formation is the reorientation of desires and passions in a person toward God’s will or his/her discerned mission. Once discovered, everything is reoriented toward one’s mission from God.
This is why Ignatius was emphatic that we must give ourselves totally to the work, “totus ad laborem.”
Buechner’s “classic” definition of vocation—or God’s will and mission—is the meeting point between our deep gladness and a deep hunger of the world.
I think the inability to link one’s deepest desire and the star is a bias that we have acquired. In one of our retreats as seminarians, Belgian Fr. Jean Louis Ska, SJ, a scripture scholar, explained that one untapped Christian symbol is the empty tomb of the Risen Lord.
He referred to the empty tomb as representative of our subconscious—the depths of our person that can be compared to the depths of the sea or ocean waters where much is unknown.
In the 20th century, the whole concept of the subconscious was very much influenced by Sigmund Freud. Combined with desire, it takes on a “negative” connotation as this further linked another taboo, sex or sexuality.
Yet Ignatius and Buechner redeem our sense of deep desire and elevate it to the noble and sublime mission that comes from God. For Ignatius, it was all about holy desires and reorienting all desires and passions toward God’s will and mission. For Buechner, it is our deepest gladness, the deepest desire that gives us joy. This is the only way to know and live out God’s call and mission for us.
The Three Kings are symbols of our deep desire that inspire us to take a journey—leave home, leave our comfort zone and pursue what gives us inspiration, hope and passion.
This moment is captured in the gifts, the offerings that the magi bring to the Child Jesus in the manger. It is in the offering of everything to the Child Jesus that the journey moves into a reintegration.
We reintegrate when we give back in deep gratitude. Our deepest desires and everything that we are and do, we give back to Christ. As St. Augustine put it, “My heart is restless until it rests in Thee alone.”
The Feast of the Epiphany, the divine manifestation of Christ, reminds us of our deep desire which prompts us to leave everything to begin a journey that will always lead us home.
We will always go back home—transformed, renewed, reintegrated because we come to know Christ as the beginning and the end of it all.