Sunday, January 8, 2017



Behold, magi from the east arrived.
Matthew 2

…and bringing up the rear, we have the “magi!”  Just when you thought it was all over, and the tree has been taken down, we are presented these strange out-of-town stragglers! The angels have all returned to heaven. The shepherds have all returned to the fields. The oxen and the donkey have all gone back to work. Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus have left their emergency stable/nursery in Bethlehem and traveled back to their home in Nazareth. And just as the party is about over, this mysterious band of foreign visitors show up asking for a peak at the new baby, completing Matthew’s picture of Jesus’ birth in which the poor and the rich, the dumb and the smart, the Jew and the Gentile are all part of welcoming the savior of the world.

I like these guys, these driven spiritual seekers from the east, these men on a mission! And, yes, they’re from present-day Iraq of all places! They are part of a tribe of priest-teachers to the ancient kings of Persia. They were men with an eye out for God. Their job was to watch the heavens for any unusual activity. Unusual activity among the stars was a sign to them that God was up to something. An unusually bright star, combined with a feverish search for God, meant they had to check it out. The star they followed even had a name. It was called “the birth of a prince.” Astronomers today believe there actually was a dramatic star-event about this time in history.  They left everything that was comfortable and familiar to them and set out for new lands, for new insight and for new understanding.  Their search led them to Jesus.

These brave souls stand in contrast to that woman in eastern Kentucky that I saw interviewed on KET a few years back. She had never been more than two miles from the mountain cabin she was born in. When asked why, she answered the reporter, “I just don’t believe in goin’ places!” These brave souls, these strange magi, did believe in going places, in having new insights, in expanding their understanding. They are my kind of people.

My friends, these strange spiritual seekers invite us today to go, not on some exotic vacation, but on our own serious spiritual quest. Personal and spiritual suicide is the result of saying “no” to opportunities to grow and to change and to expand our spiritual horizons.

The opportunities to grow, to change and to expand our spiritual horizons come to us in two ways: by accident and by choice. How they come is not as important and how we respond to those opportunities.

Sometimes things happen to us. We have no choice, except in how we respond to them. Maybe we have lost a job. Maybe we have just been through an unwanted divorce. Maybe we have been diagnosed with cancer. I have found, and observed in others, that when we deliberately reach out and embrace the unwanted situation and see it as an opportunity to develop on the inside, to go on a spiritual quest, it can transform a disaster into an opportunity.  This cannot be done easily or often. It takes great spiritual fortitude and courage. I think I have been able to do it only four or five times, but when I could look at a supposed disaster from another angle, I always came out of that situation in an even better place. The result of saying “no” to these opportunities is to live in the past in a constant state of desperation, thinking that if you just don’t like it enough, it will go away. In the end, people like this just “don’t believe in going places.” Unconsciously, they choose to stay stuck in “what might have been.”

Sometimes a tragedies can trigger spiritual adventures. We can wait and embrace them as they come to us or we can deliberately set up situations where we are forced to grow.  I call this “inducing labor.”  Maybe we decide to leave an abusive relationship, resign a job that is killing our spirits, go back to school, enter a treatment program or decide against an abortion. It’s scary. You have to leave the security of where you have been and enter a time of great turmoil and chaos.  That’s why so many people resist change or turn away from it in a panic: the path to a new life is scary and painful. That’s why some people sign themselves out of treatment programs, why some young people never leave home, why some abused women return to their abusers: the fear of the known is not as scary as the fear of the unknown.  As much as they say they want things to be different, as much as they whine and revile, in the end, they give into their cowardice, they choose the status quo. In the end, they “don’t really believe in going places.”      

My friends, these magi, these ancient spiritual seekers have a lot to teach us about the spiritual life.  In a world of people obsessed with working on their outsides, these men teach us about passionately working on our insides: pursuing the truth, stretching ourselves and our potential, being people in charge of their own passions, hungering and thirsting for holiness. They also teach us that spiritual growth is always a risk, always dangerous, always requiring great personal courage, but always worth it.

This year, the magi have just as much significance for me as ever, even in my second year of retirement. I am signed up to continue my priest retreats in Canada, the United States and the island country of St. Lucia. I have parish mission scheduled here, Marion County and Naples, Florida. I am in my 15th year of writing my column in the Record. I am now a regular fill-in here on Sundays and Mondays. I have many things to accomplish in the island missions. I am doing short videos for Caribbean Catholic TV in Barbados and want to do more. I plan to finish the renovation the Pastoral Center in St. Vincent and the Grenadines so we can start receiving retired professional volunteers to go down with me to do ministry projects in my new organization for retired priests, bishops and professional lay people called CATHOLIC SECOND WIND GUILD. My headquarters is part of that renovation. I have a chapter in the country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and another one in the country of Barbados. In time, I hope to open another one in the missions of Alaska.

Maybe this is your year as well, the year to begin that spiritual journey you have been thinking about for years. If so, let me share one of my favorite quotes with you, one that has guided my life for many, many years. It is by a Scottish mountain climber by the name of W. H. Murray, "Until one os committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way."

Henry Ford, another hero of mine, put it more simply. “Those who think they can and those who think they can’t are both right!”  

If you are not one now, be a Magi yourself in 2017!


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