Mystery of the Vocation of the Magi
A reflection each day during the Octave of the Epiphany
by Dom Prosper Gueranger, 1870
January 9th: The Fourth Day
Within the Octave of the Epiphany
The Star foretold by Balaam having risen in the East, the three Magi, whose hearts were full of the expectation of the promised Redeemer, are immediately inflamed with the desire of going in search of Him. The announcement of the glad coming of the King of the Jews is made to these holy Kings in a mysterious and silent manner; and hereby it differs from that made to the Shepherds of Bethlehem, who were invited to Jesus’ Crib by the voice of an Angel. But the mute language of the Star was explained to them by God Himself, for He revealed His Son to them; and this made their Vocation superior in dignity to that of the Jewish Shepherds, who, according to the dispensation of the Old Law, could know nothing save by the ministry of Angels.
The divine grace, which spoke, directly and by itself, to the souls of the Magi, met with a faithful and unhesitating correspondence. St. Luke says of the Shepherds, that they came with haste to Bethlehem (St. Luke, ii. 16); and the Magi show their simple and fervent eagerness by the words they addressed to Herod: We have seen His Star in the East, they say, and we are come to adore him (St. Matth. ii. 2).
When Abraham received the command from God to go out of the land of Chaldea, which was the land of his fathers and kindred, and go into a strange country, he obeyed with such faithful promptitude, as to merit the being made the Father of all them that believe (Rom. iv. 11): so, likewise, the Magi, by reason of their equally docile and admirable faith, have been judged worthy to be called the Fathers of the Gentile Church.
They, too, or at least one or more of them, went out from Chaldea, if we are to believe St. Justin and Tertullian. Several of the Fathers, among whom are the two just mentioned, assert that one, if not two, of these holy Kings was from Arabia. A popular tradition, now for centuries admitted into Christian Art, tells us that one of the three was from Ethiopia; and certainly, as regards this last opinion, we have David and other Prophets telling us that the coloured inhabitants of the banks of the Nile were to be objects of God’s special mercy.
The term Magi implies that they gave themselves to the study of the heavenly bodies, and that, too, for the special intention of finding that glorious Star, whose rising had been prophesied. They were of the number of those Gentiles who, like the centurion Cornelius, feared God, had not been defiled by the worship of idols, and maintained, in spite of all the ignorance which surrounded them, the sacred traditions of the religion that was practised by Abraham and the Patriarchs.
The Gospel does not say that they were Kings; but the Church applies to them those verses of the Psalm, where David speaks of the Kings of Arabia and Saba, that should hereafter come to the Messias, bringing their offerings of gold. The tradition of their being Kings rests on the testimony of St. Hilary of Poitiers, of St. Jerome, of the Poet Juvencus, of St. Leo, and several others; and it would be impossible to controvert it by any well-grounded arguments. Of course, we are not to suppose them to have been Monarchs, whose kingdoms were as great as those of the Roman Empire; but we know, that the Scripture frequently applies this name of King to petty princes, and even to mere governors of provinces. The Magi, therefore, would be called Kings, if they exercised authority over a considerable number of people; and, that they were persons of great importance, we have a strong proof in the consideration and attention showed them by Herod, into whose palace they enter, telling him that they are come to pay their homage to the new-born King of the Jews. The city of Jerusalem is thrown into a state of excitement by their arrival, which would scarce have occurred had not the three strangers, who came for a purpose which few heeded, been attended by a numerous retinue, or had not attracted attention by their imposing appearance.
These Kings, then, docile to the divine inspiration, suddenly leave their country, their riches, their quiet, in order to follow a Star: the power of that God, who had called them, unites them in the same path, as they were, already, one in faith. The Star goes on before them, marking out the route they were to follow: the dangers of such a journey, the fatigues of a pilgrimage which might last for weeks or months, the fear of awakening suspicions in the Roman Empire towards which they were evidently tending–all this was nothing to them; they were told to go, and they went.
Their first stay is at Jerusalem, for the Star halts there. They, Gentiles, come into this Holy City, (which is soon to have God’s curse upon it,) and they come to announce that Jesus Christ is come! With all the simple courage, and all the calm conviction of Apostles and Martyrs, they declare their firm resolution of going to Him, and of adoring Him. Their earnest inquiries constrain Israel, who was the guardian of the divine prophecies, to confess one of the chief marks of the Messias–his Birth in Bethlehem. The Jewish Priesthood fulfils, though with a sinful ignorance, its sacred ministry, and Herod sits restlessly on his throne, plotting murder. The Magi leave the faithless City, which has turned the presence of the Magi into a mark of its own reprobation. The Star reappears in the heavens, and invites them to resume their journey. Yet a few hours, and they will be at Bethlehem, at the feet of the King they are in search of.
O dear Jesus! we, also, are following Thee; we are walking in Thy light, for Thou hast said, in the Prophecy of Thy beloved Disciple: I am the bright and morning Star (Apoc. xxii. 16). The meteor that guides the Magi is but Thy symbol, O divine Star! Thou art the morning Star; for Thy Birth proclaims that the darkness of error and sin is at an end. Thou art the morning Star; for, after submitting to death and the tomb, thou wilt suddenly arise from that night of humiliation to the bright morning of Thy glorious Resurrection. Thou art the morning Star; for, by Thy Birth and the Mysteries which are to follow, Thou announcest unto us the cloudless day of eternity. May Thy light ever beam upon us! May we, like the Magi, be obedient to its guidance, and ready to leave all things in order to follow it! We were sitting in darkness when thou didst call us to Thy grace, by making this Thy light shine upon us. We were fond of our darkness, and Thou gavest us a love for the Light! Dear Jesus! keep up this love within us. Let not sin, which is darkness, ever approach us. Preserve us from the delusion of a false conscience. Avert from us that blindness into which fell the City of Jerusalem and her king, and which prevented them from seeing the Star. May Thy Star guide us through life, and bring us to Thee, our King, our Peace, our Love!
We salute thee, too, O Mary, thou Star of the Sea, that shinest on the waters of this life, giving calm and protection to thy tempest-tossed children who invoke thee! Thou didst pray for the Magi as they traversed the desert; guide also our steps, and bring us to Him who is Thy Child and Thy Light eternal. Amen
Hymn: O Sola Magnarum
O Bethlehem! greater than the greatest of cities! ‘Twas thy happy lot to give birth to the Prince of our salvation, who had become incarnate by the heavenly mystery.
‘Twas thou didst nurse Him who is the Only begotten Son and Heir of the eternal Father; He was made Man by the power of the Spirit of the God who darts the thunder-bolts; and this same Jesus is God under human flesh.
His eternal Father, who bears witness to Him, bids Him enter on His kingdom, and inherit it. The Prophets, who are His witnesses and vouchers, were the proclaimers of the Father’s will.
This kingdom of Jesus includes all things–the firmament, the sea, the earth, from where the sun rises to where he sets, and hell, and heaven.
He is the King of those ancient judges, who ruled the race of Jacob: He is the King of the Church, (the Mistress of the earth): He is King of both temples, the new and old.
The children of Ephralm and the holy family of Manasses worship Him; the tribes of the twelve Brethren, sons of Jacob, also receive Him as their God.
The degenerate race, too, which, observing the rites of idolatrous worship, had framed in hot furnaces the statute of the cruel Baal,
Now turns to worship Christ, leaving for His sake the smoke-grimed gods of their fathers, stones, and metals, and stocks, planed, hewn, and chiselled by the hands of man.
Rejoice, all ye nations of the earth! Judea, Rome, and Greece, Egypt, Thrace, Persia, Scythia! Ye are now all under the one same King!
Praise your King, O all ye people! just and sinners, living, weak, and dead, give him praise. None must die henceforth!