Dear Parishioners of the Sandusky Catholic Communities,
This weekend we have the Magi on the scene with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They came from the East and followed a star. They saw the child and they realized that this child made all the difference in the world and that he was the Savior of everyone, not just the Jewish people. I love the Feast and I love the Magi because of their simple belief and ability to wonder. They seemed to be steeped in the mystery of it all.
This Feast contrasts for me the superstitions that sometimes permeate religion. It is like in New Mexico in 1978, the face of Jesus arose in a tortilla. “I was just rolling out my husband’s burrito…” the witness gave her account. An auto parts store in Progresso, Texas attracted crowds when an oil stain on its floor resembled the Virgin Mary. Another virgin appeared in 1998 in Vilma, California, in hardened sap on a pine trunk. At a Nashville coffee shop named Bongo Java, a cinnamon bun came out of the oven looking like Mother Theresa, the nun bun, the papers called it. There was some years back something that looked like Mary in Findlay. I could go on and on but as Thomas Merton wrote, “Suddenly there is a point where religion becomes laughable, then you decide that you are nonetheless, religious.”
The Magi had that wonder. They didn’t think every star was the same but they saw one star and decided to risk comfort and convenience and follow that star. Isn’t that what each of us needs if we are to strengthen our relationship with God? We don’t need a picture of Jesus on a tortilla but to leave home for a weekend to do an ACTS retreat. Another wonderful experience would be to spend eleven weeks with a group of people searching in their faith and discussing Christ. The Alpha program which starts the middle of January helps in this regard.
A novelist I like who went to Bethlehem to see the Church of the Nativity. There she saw and went through stone doorways and went to levels of dark rooms and saw the floors of black stone. She touched the place where Jesus was born. What was more touching to her were the Europeans there. She did not know their language and she heard distant music that sounded deep as if it was within her, but it was in fact people in the upper chambers singing harmonies in their various tongues. Norwegians were singing together Christmas Carols. What struck her powerfully was that there were people converging from all over the world, people of every color and in every costume, singing and rubbing their hands over the place where Jesus was born.
Any patch of ground can smack of God’s presence. What is important is that we are open and let ourselves be caught up in wonder and awe like children at Christmas. We do not develop this ability by ourselves. Speaking to monks, Thomas Merton once wrote, “Living with other people and learning to lose ourselves in the understanding of their weaknesses and deficiencies can help us to be true contemplatives. For there is no better means of getting rid of our rigidity and harshness and coarseness of our ingrained egotism, which is the one insuperable obstacle to the infused light and action of the Spirit of God.”
In other words, God is found most often in the ordinary and we find God most often in loving each other. It takes a religious practice to develop it and that may be our New Year’s resolution…to get to Mass with the folks and to pray and to help the poor and the needy. Merton would say you then have a deep sense of spiritual realities. It is better that putting faith in a tortilla. Have a blessed 2018.