by Father Mark Goldasich
Aesop has a fable about an astronomer who went out each night to observe the stars.
One evening, as he wandered on the edge of town, the astronomer fell into a well. A neighbor heard his loud cries of anguish and rushed to his rescue. He found the poor astronomer bruised and sore.
“Why do such terrible things happen to me?” wailed the astronomer.
“Good friend,” the neighbor replied, “rather than placing all your attention on the mysteries of heaven, perhaps you ought to pay a little more attention to things here on earth.” (Adapted from “Stories for the Gathering,” by William R. White.)
Well, with the celebration of Epiphany this past weekend and the baptism of the Lord on Monday, the Christmas season is officially closed out. I hate to let Christmas go. I enjoy all the nostalgia, the classic movies, and the jovial atmosphere. I especially relish the lights that shine brightly in the darkness from decorated Christmas trees and homes. They are a comfort in this darkest time of the year. Those lights seem to bring some warmth to the winter frigidness. I’m saddened when the decorations are packed up and the lights extinguished. (I suppose that’s why I still have my tabletop Christmas tree out, with its multicolored, fiber-optic, blinking lights.)
Although not officially recognized by liturgists in the church, these next few weeks constitute not Ordinary Time for me, but “Blah Time,” followed by the equally “festive” season of Lent. Kinda makes you just want to stay in bed, doesn’t it?
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why we celebrate Epiphany, to give us a boost as we prepare to endure the rigors of winter. One of the lessons of the Magi is to do something that Aesop’s astronomer didn’t: Find balance in life. Although these travelers from the East noticed and followed the special star — one of the “mysteries of heaven” — their attention came down to earth once they saw the Christ Child. Not only did they prostrate themselves and do homage to this special child, but they also were thoughtful enough to present gifts to him. Maybe we refer to the Magi as “wise men” because they had this balance in their lives: They appreciated the wonders of the heavens, but did not neglect the things of this earth.
And isn’t that what all of God’s people are called to do? Although we direct our attention to heaven through our celebration of the sacraments and our personal prayer, its intention is never to exclude awareness of things here on earth. In fact, the closer we come to God, the more we notice our world. Not only do we see with the eyes of faith the many blessings that God showers on us, but we become conscious as well of the needs of all God’s children and how we can respond to them. For the Christian, a balanced life means a lived faith.
To incorporate some of the wisdom of the Magi in our lives this year, why not bring a little bit of heaven down to earth? A tradition on, or near, Epiphany is to bless our homes. This is done very simply by taking a piece of chalk and marking the lintel (the beam above the front door) with the following: 20 + C + M + B + 12.
Obviously, the “split” 2012 refers to the new year, and we ask that God bless us from the beginning of this year to its end. The C, M and B stand for the traditional names given to the Magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. Those initials can also stand for the first letters in the Latin phrase “Christus mansionem benedicat,” which means “Christ bless this house.” As the wise men found Christ, so may all who come into our homes experience Christ in the welcome and hospitality they receive.
We can also imitate the Magi by giving gifts to one another, by using their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh as models.
Gold is precious and valuable. In this coming year, we can make an effort to respond financially to one charity each month.
Frankincense was sweet smelling and, in ancient times, seen as a help to ease depression. In 2012, we might concentrate on being sweeter and more patient to others and look for opportunities to bring hope and light by a smile or an encouraging word to those mired in the “blahs.”
Finally, myrrh was used as a medicinal herb. We are called to be healers, perhaps by forgiving others, asking for forgiveness, or having the courage to be a peacemaker or to work for justice for the wronged and oppressed.
How often should we give these gifts to others? Well, a hint is contained in “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” (Epiphany, you know, is the 12th day.) I’m told that if you add up all of the gifts mentioned in that song, it comes to 364. In other words, we should be a gift to others just about every day of the year.
May God bless us in 2012, helping us to balance our reflection on the mysteries of heaven with daily, compassionate action here on earth.