the holy longing

“the Magi did not set out
because they had seen the star,
but they saw the star
because they had already set out”

I enjoyed a couple of days this past week at the annual Hearts Aflame gathering of young Catholics, this year held in the small Rangitikei town of Marton. This ten-day live-in event attracts enthusiastic young adults (aged 18-35) from all over the country who make a significant commitment of time and money to take part in this intensive programme of formation in faith. This year just under 100 took part guided by a team of volunteer leaders and teachers with priests and religious sisters.

The event seeks to immerse those who participate in an intensive environment of Catholic faith centred on Jesus Christ, celebrated in the daily liturgy (Mass, and Morning, Evening and Night Prayer of the Church) and communicated in lectures on all aspects of Catholic life and practice.

These young people have already set out on a journey of faith. Their experience of life has taught them that while a Catholic parish or a Catholic school might provide sacraments and offer some other fundamentals for Christian life, the one who seeks to live Catholic life fully will be constantly be searching for more.

This has always been the case and does not necessary reflect badly on existing structures within the church. However the one who truly seeks to grow in faith will look for more nourishment, more challenge, more learning and more formation as s/he seeks to discover a personal and unique vocational way of daily living in relationship with Jesus Christ.

For the mature Christian it is never enough just to fit with the crowd settling for being guided by the agendas and fears of the masses.

The one who seeks will set out on the adventure of life, which is the life of faith.

This weekend (Sunday 7 January) we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. We know it as the commemoration of the arrival of the Magi to visit the child Jesus. The feast is always a great opportunity to reflect on the fact that Jesus did not come just to a select group a long time ago on the other side of the world but to all people of all times and all places. The life-saving life of Jesus Christ is available to all people of every place and in every circumstance.

I was especially aware of this when celebrating Mass a few years ago for this feast on the Chatham Islands – one of the more isolated parts of the world. A few years earlier I had celebrated Mass for the Epiphany at McMurdo Base Antarctica – literally an end of the earth!

Last year in his Epiphany homily Pope Francis quoted St. John Chrysostom (ref. above). I had not considered his point before: the Magi had already left their homeland. They were adventurers, inevitably at times wanderers and sometimes lost, some days without direction and some nights sleepless. But they were really living and seeking the abundance of life that they sensed they were created for.

No doubt some of their travels led them up dead ends and in the midst of their disappointments they would have been often tempted to return to the home securities that most of their family and friends had settled for.

I often feel these feelings: never more so than when I am aware of my sin and failure. The temptation is not to get up, and even to give up. Surely my sin and struggle is the sign that I am not cut out for this life?

But this is where Pope Francis gives us hope leading us back to understanding our sin and failure as an opportunity to wake up to our own reality and turn to Jesus with renewed dependance: “The Magi thus personify all those who believe, those who long for God, who yearn for their home, their heavenly homeland. They reflect the image of all those who in their lives have not let their hearts be anaesthetised. A holy longing for God wells up in the heart of believers because they know that the Gospel is not an event of the past but of the present. A holy longing for God helps us keep alert in the face of every attempt to reduce and impoverish our life. A holy longing for God is the memory of faith, which rebels before all prophets of doom. That longing keeps hope alive in the community of believers, which from week to week continues to plead: “Come, Lord Jesus”.

Full text of Pope Francis’
Epiphany 2017 Homily at this link.

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