How the Wise Men heard God
Updated: Mar 15
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.” Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
How is it that each of us enters into communion with Christ? We have to be aware of the way that he speaks to us. When the Three Wise Men set out to follow the star, they each felt called by God, but it was probably not the same for each of them. The calling that St. Joan of Arc felt was not the same that St. Thomas Aquinas felt. Even among the disciples, we see a variation, differences in the way each one was called.
Fr. Benedict Groeschel has a theory about the four voices of God that can be very helpful in this regard (Groeschel, 1983/1999). The Western philosophical tradition presents God as One, True, Good, and Beautiful. Fundamentally, each one of us has his own relationship with God based on one of these transcendentals. We relate to God inasmuch as he is One, or True, or Good, or Beautiful. Each transcendental stipulates by its very nature our relationship with us.
When we focus on the Transcendental of One, we are seeking interior unity. We are aware of the contradictions in life and in our very being. We feel how our passions rage against our reason and we struggle to find unity within ourselves. St. Catherine of Genoa was “a person of such powerful and contradictory inclinations that she had but one choice: surrender to the call of God or fall apart” (Groeschel, 1983/1999, p. 7). She was able to overcome chronic neurotic depressions by turning totally to the love of God and neighbor. The love of God healed her soul in a very real way. Her quest for unity led to the healing of her soul.
“A passion for truth often subsumes other passions so that seekers of the truth are usually more calm, methodical, and curious than others” (Groeschel, 1983/1999, p. 8) St. Thomas Aquinas is an example of one who placed his whole life at the service of truth. People who seek God as the True are fascinated by intellectual discussion and love to share their lights with others as they discover new facets of the Mystery of God. These people face a spiritual danger that they can tarry on the way. They can become so fascinated with intellectual pursuits that they scurry down rabbit holes and never make it to Truth Himself.
Those who seek God as Good are “the most beloved and affectionate of human beings” (Groeschel, 1983/1999, p. 8). They are not so given to inner struggle but instead are cheerful, compassionate, and gregarious. But they suffer much in a wounded world. “A danger for such seekers of the good is a kind of stunned disillusionment. They may be tempted, as the Cure of Ars was, to run away from it all” (Groeschel, 1983/1999, p. 9). God does not want us to flee from the world. He wants us to be witnesses of the Gospel truth to a world that is lonely, bored and lost. This is the mission of the great saints. St. Francis was a man drawn to God as the Good. Many people mistreated him. To avoid losing his spiritual anchor, St. Francis of Assisi kept his eyes fixed on the Passion of Christ. He was a deep believer that one must glory only in the Cross of Christ.
Finally, some “seek God under the aspect of Beauty. They are a complicated group, indeed, because beauty can be deceptive” (Groeschel, 1983/1999, p. 9). It is easy to get caught up in ephemeral beauty and lose the sense of Beauty itself. That inner, driving love, can be focused on earthly pleasure and become lost, a weight instead of a driving force.
The quest of the Three Wise Men reminds us all that we are looking for Christ. Each one heard God in his own way. We too can hear God in our hearts if we listen. It can be helpful on this Epiphany Sunday to take some time to reflect on how we are seeking him.
Groeschel, B.J. (1983/1999). Spiritual Passages. The Psychology of Spiritual Development. New York, NY: The Crossroads Publishing Company.