Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
An offering of gold, frankincense and myrrh
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By Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
January 4, 2014

The Magi, seekers of the truth, their number we will not know until the last judgment, the mysterious men who came "from the East" to find the Christ. They brought, we know, gold, frankincense and myrrh, gifts for a king. But we do not know their number. Their search led to Judea, a foreign country where they sought the help of the king of Judea who until their arrival knew nothing of the great revelation they had discovered in the chronicles of their own country or in the prophetic writing of the Jews which spoke about the birth of a great Messiah and king. All the sacred writings of the prophets were regularly read in the temple and their synagogues. One wonders why King Herod . . . and all of Jerusalem were "greatly troubled" when asked, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? . . .We have come to do him homage" (Matthew 2: 1-6). What had become of their nation's hope for a Messiah? ( Have any of us not heard that Jesus will return a second time, and we will all be there alive or rising from our graves? Yet many of us may be surprised and troubled at Jesus' second coming and final judgement which I can not explain.) Herold obviously feared Jesus' arrival as prophesied, heir to the throne of David to be born in Bethlehem. (Micah 5: 2-5). Out of fear and dread Herod had every child two years old and younger in the vicinity of Bethlehem slaughtered. It would not be the only time. Over the course of his life he murdered three of his own sons fearing their threat to him. Three kinds of kings so different: a man of fear, men of wisdom and a child of humble origin.

Possibly the worst of human habits is stubbornness, comfort derived from our status, resistance to change even if the outcome is better. Call it inertia? Difficult to fathom, especially fear. ( Once I was told, Father, we've always been doing this, and then I found out that "it" started the year before.) Control – don't argue with me – preserves a certain false peace and calm we may believe we have while all the world and God may see things differently. Pull that one post or beam out of our mental or emotional construct and the entire framework of our thinking may come apart like a hanging tread pulled off a garment. Better to keep things as they are. Those who do change for good reasons surprisingly often change for the better. Explains why Jesus, John the Baptist and all the prophets incessantly preached, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand." I think, I can safely say that converts are happier Catholics than "cradle Catholics." What distinguished the early Church from today's Church were her converts. In the beginning they were all converts. We may be, however, like the Jews in Herod's Jerusalem in the pocket of the culture not really distinguishable from our overseers. Did you know that the high priests had to pay their Roman prefects for their appointments to the Jewish hierarchy? How are we dealing with the Health and Human Services mandate? If things can't be solved in the courts what will we do? Or what haven't we done, too comfortable where we are? That was exactly the problem all the great prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, had before Jesus' birth. When Jesus disrupted the buying and selling in the temple he upset the temple authorities. "Take these things out of here," he shouted. "Stop making my Father's house a marketplace." Then "his disciples remembered it was written, 'Zeal for your house will consume me.'" (John 1-17). It was enough, however, to convert two of the ruling authorities of the temple, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who years later retrieved the body of Jesus for burial after his crucifixion.

Today we hardly distinguish ourselves from the secular culture we inhabit unless we are wary of the existing cultural bias even inside our families. Take, for instance, the religious education of our children in the context of a typical grade school curriculum. When religion is one of several disciples in a curriculum where mastery of information, questions asked and answers given, is primary then religion may settle on 'do's and don'ts' like spelling, getting words spelled correctly and less on understanding the meaning of words or memorizing religious text book answers and less on understanding the meaning of religion, the virtue which supports our relationship with God and our neighbors. Even the most highly 'educated' can suffer ignorance as the scribe and scholar of the law had, asking Jesus, "Which is the greatest commandment in the law," choosing one statute out of more than six hundred tenets of the law broadly based on the Ten Commandments. (Matthew 22: 36). Jesus, however, dismissed the validity of the question and replied, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." (Ibid.). Jesus knew that the basis of law is relationship and the strongest form of human and divine relationship is love. Not that Moses who formulated the Law did not understand. Jesus repeated Moses' summation of God's law recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy, "The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength." Note especially the verses which follow, "Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest." (Deuteronomy 6: 4- 7). Essentially, if we were not drilled by our parents or our children are not being drilled by us what personal value is attached to the commandment of God's love if it is not taught by a child's parents as invitations to love and to be loved by God? It is not a matter of right answers but of right minds and hearts. Our grades when we were children and our children's grades on a report card explain nothing. Saint John Vianney who failed his seminary courses several times before he was ordained knew his religion, his relationship to God better than I.

Our religion by its very origin is counter-cultural. We do not fit in, here. We should not fit in, here. We are all here in a passing world on pilgrimage with a specific and conscious goal in mind and heart – God and his world. The Wise Men left their homeland to find the Christ while we have more to know and love of God than they could obtain. The wise men did not fit in the culture of Jerusalem and left. If the Wise Men had the opportunity they would rather have been here with us in the fullness of God's love in the treasury of the body of Jesus in his One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, who offers us more than all the gold, frankincense and myrrh in the world.

Summary

Our religion by its very origin is counter-cultural. We are all here in a passing world on pilgrimage with a specific and conscious goal in mind and heart – God and his world. The Wise Men left their homeland to find the Christ while we have more to know and love of God than they could obtain. The wise men did not fit in the culture of Jerusalem and left. If the Wise Men had the opportunity they would rather have been here with us in the fullness of God's love in the treasury of the body of Jesus in his One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, who offers us more than all the gold, frankincense and myrrh in the world.

© Fr. Tom Bartolomeo

 

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Fr. Tom Bartolomeo

I am the founder and director of the Families For Families Retreat House, a refuge for anyone who wants to rethink his or her life in a quiet non-demanding environment in an historic house c.1709 when life was less complicated. I am also and primarily a Catholic priest having been a college and university teacher, business-owner and executive among other things. I received my Bachelor's and Master's degrees in English literature from Saint John's University, Jamaica, New York and completed post-graduate studies at Kansas State University. Contact me at FatherTomSays@gmail.com.

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