Sunday, January 5, 2020



In the days of King Herod,  
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,  
"Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled. 
Matthew 2:1-12

I suppose different things might jump out of this story for different people. If you are an immigrant, for instance, you might focus on the inclusion of foreigners from the East in the Christmas story. If you are poor, you might focus on the gifts - what they're worth and what Mary and Joseph did with them. If you are a mental health professional, you might focus on the paranoia of King Herod. If you are a police officer, you might focus on the evasive tactics of the magi. As a spiritual seeker, you might focus on the curiosity and courage of the magi. As a spiritual leader, the curiosity and courage of the magi as spiritual seekers is what always jumps out for me. These guys are certainly not your typical dabblers in religion! As spiritual seekers, these guys are driven!

I was ordained to be a spiritual leader in the Church, and according to the Church, preaching is the primary way I am called to do it. I am to preach conversion to unbelievers and feed the faith within the hearts of believers. I do that in a variety of ways. I preach at Sunday Masses and other celebrations of the Sacraments. I preach Parish Missions. I preach through my extensive writing of columns, articles, books and blog posts.  There is an old Latin saying that every spiritual teacher ought to have tattooed to the back of his hand. I have it memorized! Nemo dat quod not habet. One cannot give what one does not have. I became a designated spiritual teacher several years before I became a serious spiritual seeker. Institutionally, I was "on board," but I was not engaged in a serious personal search for my own ongoing transformation.  It did not take me long, however, to realize that if I wanted to lead people spiritually, I would to have to first be committed to my own intentional spiritual growth. Because I am called to preach, I feel driven to develop a ravenous appetite for my own personal spiritual growth. I understand completely that I cannot give what I do not have! I understand completely that what I give you each Sunday has to come through me and out of me, not just out of some book I read and recycled for you to hear!

Because I am a spiritual seeker, who is serious about doing my seeking within the church, I often attract people who are threatened, for one reason or another, by my choice to do my spiritual seeking within the Catholic Church. Some lash out at me in anger, not only privately, but sometimes even in public! More common than an outright attack is the "humoring" I get from those who are mildly annoyed by my religiosity, but don't want to hurt my feelings. Others are like Herod, afraid of what they may find if they were to get serious themselves about finding God. They want others to do their seeking for them and when they have found it, come back and tell them so that they, too, might come to believe!

No matter where you are on the "spiritual seeker" scale, the magi have something to teach you! These guys didn't just sit around "discussing religion," they were willing to go to great lengths in their asking, seeking and knocking in their search for God. The magi set out from afar, following the path of a star, asking questions of the authorities, reaching dead ends and even exploring alternatives, before they finally found their hearts desire.

Fellow spiritual seekers! Religion has two sides - both important - sides that should never be separated. When they are separated, religion is distorted and can even be dangerous. It has an exoteric side. The exoteric side deals with the things of religion, from the way religion is organized to the religious objects it uses. It has an esoteric side as well. The esoteric side deals with the essence of religion, from the joys of inner transformation to the hardships of daily discipleship.  When the exoteric side is neglected, God's communal religion is distorted into some narcissistic "new age" individualism.  When the esoteric side is neglected, religion becomes idolatry - a worship of the temple instead of the God who lives in it!

My fellow believers! If you are a serious spiritual seeker already - and some of you are - let the magi inspire you to keep working your program and walking your path! If you would like to become a serious spiritual seeker, let the magi inspire you to get up off your spiritual recliners and get your butt to the gym, spiritually speaking! I must warn you that, even though such a search is definitely worth it, it isn't easy! You have to do a lot of asking, seeking and knocking! It is something you have to do personally! No one can do it for you! What you are looking for is an internal transformation. The Church, as a structure, exists to help you and the Church, as the family of God, is there to support you in your search.  The institution needs you to keep it honest and you need the institution to keep you honest on your search.

In short, don't just admire the magi, become a “magi” yourself!  In other words, maybe this will be the year when you become an even more committed Christian and an even more intentional Catholic! It is certainly not going to come looking for you! It is time to trade in your inherited faith for a personal faith - a faith that can sustain you no matter what call in life you answer!            

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