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I HAVE SEEN THE STAR: Epiphany 2021

"They were men with restless hearts, not satisfied with the superficial and the ordinary. They were men in search of the promise, in search of God. And they were watchful men, capable of reading God’s signs, his soft and penetrating language." (Pope Benedict XVI)

Sahara 2020


In the above photo we resemble modern day Magi, trekking through the desert in search of that which God had in store for us. We set out as strangers to each other with our own personal, private pursuit but it was necessary that we travel and arrive together and, like the Magi of the Gospel, we would return to our own country a different way. The route back might look the same but it was we who were different in our returning and our destinations would never be the same again.

All pilgrimage draws our gaze forward and upwards, with little time for looking back. Like St. Paul we leave the past behind, straining forward for the gift to come. The gift and the victory. And even if the past chases us, even when it catches up with us, it is always behind us and can never be our future.

To be Magus or Maga, wise man or woman, involves gazing long and hard at the darkness of night. We only truly become wise when we have the courage to face our own darkness, to pass through the dark night of the senses, the spirit and the soul. Facing it, entering into it, abiding within it for as long as is necessary for true wisdom to dawn for us. It requires patient endurance because the night can last for years and the battle that rages seem hopeless but there is a dawn that will break after many false dawns. The true light will shine for us.

Sailing one night across the Irish Sea I went to the upper deck of the ship and stretched out on a bench so that I could look up at the sky. Alone up there in the bitter midnight wind it seemed that there was only blackness above but slowly, slowly the stars came out for me, stars that were already there all the time. It was I, my eyes that needed to adjust to their presence and what was required of me was that I keep gazing, not turning away, in order to witness the night come to life above me.

It is what prayer does for us, the gift that comes with contemplation, the constant gazing upon reality until we recognize the face of God that is already there to be found. We do not make God appear, we discover Him where He is.

The problem comes when the battle of life is raging within and around us. When it is reducing us to utter nothingness; when it presents us to the world in the worst of lights, making of us a thing of shame. It is then that contemplative gazing can seem impossible and it is then that we are most tempted to avert our gaze, losing sight of the point on the horizon that is our destination. The destination is always God. And our contemplation of Him cannot simply be a Zen-like sea of tranquillity. It can be that at times but it is also a battle and only those who fight the battle win the victory.

One of the most powerfully contemplative moments in the Bible comes to Jacob when he was alone in the night. God entered into his aloneness, into his night. They struggled, wrestled each other the whole night long, an encounter that left Jacob injured, blessed and changed because he said, "I have seen the face of God!" (Genesis 32:22-32)

Looking at some of my battles of the past I am sometimes ashamed of who I was, what I was capable of and still held by strings of my former self but it dawned on me recently that I am now a veteran of a very real personal war and I am a victor. Perhaps this sense of who I am has given me an affinity with the veterans of war whom I have come to know, respect and love. And I think that anyone who has fought in war as we know it, must also have fought with himself and faced his own darkness. 

This I know now of myself that I have fought and I have prevailed and, while I may not have medals to show, I do bear the scars of battle carved upon my soul, wounds transformed like those of Jesus and through these wounds I have seen the star, the light that shines from the face of God. And the more I gaze, the more I realize that the victory is His, not mine. I have been privileged to take part in it.

"There has been much discussion over what kind of star it was that the wise men were following. Some suggest a planetary constellation, or a supernova, that is to say one of those stars that is initially quite weak, in which an inner explosion releases a brilliant light for a certain time, or a comet, etc. This debate we may leave to the experts. The great star, the true supernova that leads us on, is Christ himself. He is as it were the explosion of God’s love, which causes the great white light of his heart to shine upon the world." (Pope Benedict XVI)

Photo of a star that I took in 2009


Comments

  1. Father Eamonn thank you so much for sharing your inner journey with us. It gives us hope and enlightenment when we struggle to make sense of what has passed and what is ahead. Happy New Year.







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