A Star & the Search For Home
I don’t like asking for directions. I know it’s not just me. And I know it’s not all men, or even men in general. And it’s not because of some inherent psychological need to prove anything to anyone—that I know where I’m going (sometimes I don’t, and I’m willing to admit it), that I don’t get lost (I still do on occasion), or that I have everything under control (because I don’t, and I would agree with Tim Russert that the older I get, the smarter my dad seems to get). I don’t like asking directions because it means I have to stop and interact. Unless I have to, I prefer not to interrupt people doing their own thing, walking down the street caught up in conversation with each other or immersed in their music or deep in thought. So when I’m driving, I like to keep moving, especially when I’m not in a hurry to get wherever I’m going. Movement of any kind gives the illusion I’m actively engaged in the journey, that I have options. I’m convinced there’s definitely more than one way to get from point A to point B. And when someone insists I take their way, unless I actually asked for directions, I might take another way just for the fun of it. When I’m taking my time, I don’t mind doing some exploring or even getting lost—as long as there’s daylight and I don’t run out of gas.
Now when I’m serious about arriving on time and can’t afford to get lost, I will look up directions online in advance. Most places I go, I can find online. I will use my GPS, and also get directions on my smartphone. Digital technology is usually accurate. Well, most of the time. My GPS is not willing to learn. I will sometimes take a different route even as I am told to “make a legal U-turn.” So when I’m sure I know better than my GPS, I will not hesitate to ignore the directions it gives me. And when I know where I’m going, I don’t really consider myself lost.
When I was younger, I was afraid I wouldn’t know where my life was going, that I would miss God’s plan for me, and that I would spend my life wandering aimlessly searching for direction and not ever finding it. I was eager for the opportunity to do something of consequence finally, that I would know I had reached my destination, that I was done searching. I felt terrible hearing of people change the direction of their lives, sometimes quite painfully, and I was afraid I would end up like them. That would be admitting the search long ago concluded, sometimes many years back, was not really over, that I was once again searching, and once again not yet where I was supposed to be. For me, arriving at my destination means not living out of a suitcase anymore. It means staying a while, a long while. For instance, I can’t imagine being anything but Catholic, especially since all my family is Catholic and I’m a priest. And for that matter, I can’t imagine being anything but a priest. Yet I’ve known Catholics and priests who no longer are. I would very much prefer the certainty of knowing the search is over, and I am home. I don’t want to imagine what it’s like if home didn’t feel like home anymore. I suppose if you’re not home yet, it makes sense to keep looking until you find it.
I imagine the wise men in the gospel were comfortable at home, until they felt the need to venture out, leaving behind their comforts, braving discomfort, hardship, and inconvenience to get someplace even better than home. It could have been a purely intellectual search, after studying the literature and prophecies of ancient civilizations. It could have been a spiritual search as well. This new born king they were seeking was no mere descendant of some earthly royal house. They were convinced this child was more. But they wouldn’t know until they met him. First, they had to find him.
St. Paul tells us that it was God’s intention from the start to bring about salvation for everyone, “that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” It makes little difference in God’s plan whether one is of the chosen people—the children of Abraham, or a foreigner; a newcomer or a convert, as we like to call them; male or female; rich or poor. Jesus was born for all. Jesus came to save all. We might better understand God’s perspective if we shared the universality of Jesus’ mission, and shed the distinctions we create to put some people ahead of others. We were once outsiders ourselves. But now we have been given a share of the inheritance belonging to natural heirs. How can we justify calling other people outsiders, as though our status as heirs was not bestowed on us as a gift?
The truth of the feast of the Epiphany is that God choses to make himself known to us to bring about our reconciliation and our redemption. We are not always eager to acknowledge God’s efforts. Still, God does not give up. Still, God tries to reach us.
To some, God’s invitation to reconciliation and redemption is a low hum at the edge of consciousness, like mom or dad’s voice telling us to help out around the house. I know. I was a teenager once. We tune out the sound until it forces its way rudely into our consciousness. So we either give it a fair hearing, or we get annoyed and resist even more. Even God doesn’t control how we respond when he calls. But God keeps calling.
To others, God’s invitation is a curiosity, like an accident on the side of the road, or a billboard, or a UFO sighting. We pause, we gawk, but we don’t get out of the car. Soon we are speeding off somewhere else. Perhaps we will recall the experience at another time, and then we might give it a second look. Or not. But the seed is planted. How long it takes to germinate will depend on when we decide to water the seed, and let the sun’s warmth wake it up from sleep.
To others, God’s invitation is an occasion to inquire and explore and discover. At this point, we may be willing to engage because we believe the experience can be good for us. We allow God’s Word and the values of the gospel to question our deeply-rooted convictions, to possibly even change our hearts and minds. We might not be willing to surrender so quickly, but the seed has began to take root. Whether or not it survives the process depends on our willingness to trust and to listen more intently to God speak.
Finally, to others God’s invitation provokes a surrender to transformation. This is when the heart and mind have come home, and nothing else matters, not the memory of past comforts and assurances, not the hope of some future place of rest. The star that leads us to surrender at long last makes every sense, though not necessarily to anyone else. And when we respond to God’s call with full confidence, we can never go back. The struggle might continue, but there is no going back.
The star in the night sky was God’s invitation to the wise men to find a home in Jesus. Herod and the Jewish leaders knew the prophecies, but didn’t see the star. God invites us using other signs, that we too might finally come home. Come home.
Rolo B Castillo © 2015