The story of the Magi, Wise men or Three Kings is one that has always gotten my attention even as an atheist. This story of three men coming from far away guided only by a star to adore a child is one that captures the imagination.
One can literally visualize the night. It is such an event that many cultures treat it like another Christmas day. Latino cultures often hand out gifts to children while reenacting the visit of the Wise Men. This is a great way to evangelize at an early age.
However, the story is much more deeper than three men who are stopping by to visit a baby. They are bringing with them gifts that have specific meanings. I wrote more on this on my 3 Kings Day (Epiphany) post. As a student of science, this story brings to mind the fact that these men were men of science and they searched for God in the stars. Today, we have the Hubble telescope and all these satellites in space that take amazing high definition images of the universe. These images never fail to “wow” scientists and amateur astronomers alike.
The Wise Men represent the “outsiders;” the Gentiles, Pagans and others who were not part of the Chosen People – Israel. God calls out to them as well and they come to Him (John 10:16). God wants all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4).
Unfortunately, many times some Catholics promote Triumphalism instead of Catholicism. Triumphalism in the Catholic sense is the attitude that the Catholic religion is superior to other faiths and/or better. While the Catholic Church does contain the fullness of truth and is necessary for salvation, this does not mean that we are the best or should put others down who are not of our faith.
The story of the Magi shows that God is not prejudice. While He did choose a particular people, He is Father of all. He brings others to the faith by their own means many times. Other faiths are not perfect, but they have the right idea that God does exist and loves us. The Catechism puts it well:
843 The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as “a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.”332
Today’s Mass in Rome touched on this, specifically the Pope’s homily. As usual, Pope Francis broke from his written text briefly to invite those Catholics who are indifferent, left the Church as well as atheists to the faith. He said:
“I would like to tell all those who feel far from God and the church — and I say this respectfully to those who are afraid or indifferent: The Lord calls you and wants you to be part of his people and does so with great respect and love! The Lord doesn’t proselytize, he gives love and this love looks for you, waits for you — for you who don’t believe or have drifted away. This is the love of God.”
The Pope is right. The Lord does not proselytize. He ate and drank with sinners and those who were the pariah of society during His day (Matthew 9:11). Unfortunately, this behavior is often mistaken as Jesus being too open to all that He doesn’t care about their behavior. This of course is not true for He, while accepting and respecting all, called them to repent (John 8:11). God calls out to those who are not in the faith. He has His way of bringing them back. This is why I love Pope Francis’ “meet them where they’re at” philosophy. I have always believed this.
We must be patient with those who left the Church or were never part of it. We must not judge them or treat them as if they are defects in the world. Pope Francis has showed already how by simply respecting others brings them to consider God and Catholicism. Many homosexuals, atheists, protestants and others are opening up more to the Catholic Church even to the point of attending Mass because of this.
We must meet them where they are at on the path to God. Once we meet them there, we can direct them to the right road, so to speak. You can’t given directions from miles away, you have to be close to the lost party. We must go to them. It is no wonder why the image on Pope Francis’ pectoral cross is that of the Good Shepherd that leaves the 99 behind to get the one that wandered off (Matthew 18:12-14).
Regardless of how others pray, have liturgy; or their attitudes on God and faith, we must trust that God will use these to bring them back to Him just like He used nature, astrology and science to bring the Wise Men to the Christ child. Science is not anti-God. Many atheists believe it to be the “killer of God;” however this is not so. The more we learn about the cosmos and our own planet, the more we realize that the only logical explanation for their existence is an intelligent Creator. This part of the story of the Wise Men is what I like to reflect on being that my area of studies are the sciences.
In the story we see how science leads the Wise Men to God. This is exactly what happened to me when I was an atheist (See “From Atheist to Catholic..”). I wasn’t wooed into Catholicism by preachers, Bibles, Catechisms, theological books, EWTN, Popes etc. It was science, specifically the science of physics that opened my mind to the Logos. The popular suggestion “there was a big bang, then processes developed and we came from there.. accept it” did not satisfy my young scientific mind. I need logical answers, not quick assumptions. Saying that we’re here due to processes and that’s how it is does not cut it for me, so to speak. Like the Wise Men, I needed to get closer to “whom the Star pointed to.” In my case, to whom particles and forces that make up the universe pointed to.
The story of the Wise Men shows that God is always in control of Salvation. We are not the one who save others. It is God who brings people to Himself. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI puts so well in his Jesus of Nazareth – The Infancy Narratives:
“The key point is this: the wise men from the east are a new beginning. They represent the journeying of humanity toward Christ. They initiate a procession that continues throughout history. Not only do they represent the people who have found the way to Christ: they represent the inner aspiration of the human spirit, the dynamism of religions and human reason toward Him.” (pg. 97)
May we continue to look for the Christ child and stay focused on the Star which is God’s grace.