All things lead to Christ
Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

The message of this gospel reading is very simple, and I believe it is this: Christ is everything that the religions of the world have been searching for. The history of religion is nothing other than the history of man’s search for God; the Incarnation of the Son of God, or the story of Christmas, is the story of God’s search for man. Hide and seek, as you all know, is the favorite game of every child, and there’s never been any doubt in my mind that it is God’s favorite game as well; and that’s what the history of religion is: a game of hide and seek. God provides clues to his whereabouts, and these clues, first of all, are in his creation. They are symbols that all aboriginal peoples regarded as theophanies that manifest God in some way: the rock, the sky, the storm, the sea, and the tree, just to name a few. These all have very personal and religious meaning in the religions of the aborigines, no matter where they are on the globe. In this gospel, a star in the sky leads the Magi to Christ. What this means for us is that the Person of Christ is the final meaning of creation. All things lead to Christ. And because all things came to be through the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, everything in creation will contain within itself some signature of Christ. Irish poet and novelist Joseph Plunkett saw this signature everywhere. He writes:

I see His blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of His eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.

I see His face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but His voice—and carven by His power
Rocks are His written words.

All pathways by His feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,

His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.

Now it was Socrates of Athens who said that all human beings seek happiness as their ultimate end, and he said there is no more important question than the question of what it is that constitutes happiness. And that’s what Socrates set out to discover: “What is the chief end in life that is alone worthy of desire?” And Socrates divided humanity into three groups on the basis of what each group regarded as the ultimate end that constitutes the happiness that all people seek. The majority of human beings identify happiness with pleasure. Next to them are those who regard fame and honors as the chief end in life that alone brings happiness. And then there is a small minority who seek wisdom above all things. And of course, Socrates is to be found in this group.

This gospel includes all these. The first two groups, the pleasure seekers and those who pursue fame and honor as their chief end are symbolized in the person of Herod. His son, Herod the Tetrarch, questioned Jesus at the time of his Passion, and if you recall, Jesus did not respond to him. He did not reply to him because Jesus saw he was drunk, and there is no point in trying to reason with a drunk. Herod the Great, who is featured in this gospel, was a paranoid murderer and a liar. If he suspected anyone as a threat to his power, he or she was quickly eliminated. He murdered his wife and his mother in law, as well as three of his sons. When his own death approached, he gave orders that a collection of the most distinguished citizens of Jerusalem should be arrested and imprisoned on false charges. His orders were that the moment he died, they should all be killed; for he was aware that no one would mourn his passing, yet he was determined that some tears would be shed when he died.

In this gospel, Herod does not go looking for Christ; he gets others to do that. Those who pursue pleasure and honors as their god do not go searching for the true God; besides, they don’t have the eyes to recognize him. Such people have stopped searching in life, and that’s the one reason why people are bored in life: they have stopped searching, they have stopped playing hide and seek with God. When that happens, life quickly gets boring, and the result is a need for greater and greater stimulation and amusements. Herod only wishes to know where the Christ child is so that he may destroy him. His character is so twisted that he cannot properly interpret the divine gestures; he sees the birth of Christ as a threat to the environment he has worked to create for himself. And it is for the same reason that the Church, which is Christ’s body, will always be misunderstood and persecuted by the lovers of pleasure and power in this world, and so there’s never any need to be scandalized by this.

The Magi represent those in the third group that Socrates distinguishes from the other two: those who pursue wisdom. The Magi represent the wisdom of the east. There is tremendous wisdom in the east, and anyone who has studied the history of religion is aware of this. The Magi represent everything that is best in the east; their eyes are so pure and unstained by the disordered desire for pleasure, honor, and power, that they find the God who has come in search for us. They find him in a cave; they find him as a child; for he came among us to show us what it means to be man; and the first lesson in this is that we are to change and become as little children. We are to reject the mind of Adam who sought to be his own God, sufficient unto himself, independent of God, and we are to choose to accept our status as “child”, utterly dependent upon God at every moment of our existence, to know fully our own utter insufficiency in order to strive to possess God Himself, to gradually come to know Him from within as our complete and total happiness.

The Magi have found everything that religious man has been searching for. All that these religions and schools of thought were able to provide us with were a great many truths, far more valuable than the greatest pleasures and honors, but what the Magi found was not a collection of eternal truths, but an eternal Person who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Eternal truths are the food of the intellect, but the human heart longs for a Person, to join to a Person, and not just any person, but the Person of Christ, who is God in the flesh. He is everything that the human heart longs for, and he has given himself to us as the Bread of Life. He is the Eucharist, and we can consume him whenever we want to attend an ordinary Mass. And it is only when we choose to lay down everything we have at his feet and worship and adore him in his humility, and follow him and consume him that we find the peace we long for. Without him we remain restless.