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When the Magi scanned the heavens they saw this extraordinary star and followed it confidently, knowing that it would lead them to the new and wonderful new-born king and who would do something quite extraordinary. Otherwise, why would these men have risked life and limb to travel hundreds of miles, if not more, over some of the most dangerous terrain. They tell Herod, (that dreadful tyrant, of whom Augustus Caesar said “It would be better to be Herod’s pig than his son”), this most unwelcome news. The older tyrants become the more paranoid they become, especially when they find themselves being visited by highly gifted, highly spiritual, and high ranking individuals. I suspect that the very exotic representations of the Magi over the centuries, have possibly been nearer the truth, than our dreary scripture scholars would paint them.
“For we have seen his star in the East, and we have come to worship him” say the wise men. The star which the Magi had seen in the East, Persia being the most likely place of their residence, leads them to Jerusalem which would be for them in the West. For the early Christians, most of whom were living west of Jerusalem especially after the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, Jerusalem was in the East, and it was towards the East that the altars in the great basilicas in Rome were placed, except in St. Peter’s whose apse faced West, where, just before the Offertory the deacon would say to the congregation “Face the East”, and the great eastern doors of the Church would be thrown open, the sun’s rays would flood the great basilica and the Preface would begin.
The Roman Catholic missionary expansion starting in the 16th century sent missionaries to the Americas and the Far East. This continued until the 1960’s. This Church mission that had produced such stunning missionaries as St. Francis Xavier, St. Peter Claver, St. Isaac Jogues and companions, St. Junipero Serra, manages nowadays almost nothing but envoys who bring bread but not the word of God. Unlike St. Teresa of Calcutta, who as I heard back in the 70’s from my old spiritual director, founded the Missionary Brothers of the Gospel because, when she asked the poor of Mexico what they really wanted, they replied “The Gospel”. The reason why so many people are becoming Evangelical Christians is because they want to know about God. It is of the greatest importance that Catholics read Scripture for themselves, without the interference of so many priests who have been taught the faith-destroying method known as Higher Criticism. Quite why it has that name beggars belief; it should be called Lower Criticism. This method of reading the Bible is based on a rationalist perception of the World, namely that miracles do not happen, and so if they do not happen, then Scripture must be wrong! Christ said that his followers would do even greater works than he did in his lifetime. We can only think of the miracles of St. Martin de Porres, St. Vincent Ferrer, and St. Francis of Paolo to realize that these scholars who are influenced by 19th century German Scripture scholars are talking rubbish. And they having been teaching this dreadful nonsense in seminaries for the last 50 years and more. Not only is it dreadful, it is exceedingly boring, and does nothing other than destroy the faith of seminarians, which leads to the destruction of their morals as well.
Seminaries and religious orders have been all but destroyed by:
1) Heretical scripture scholars
2) 18th century and 19th century German philosophers, namely Kant, Hegel, Heidigger, and others. Had it not been for the great Kierkegard from Denmark, Christianity would be really and truly sunk in those Northern European lands.
3) Modern Psychology starting with Freud.
4) The spirit and unproven theory of Evolution that proposes that we are all getting better and better, which is rather odd as the gene pool of humanity is lessening all the time, and the Universal Law or Entropy rather goes against this very airy fairy philosophy, as well as the terrible wars, famines, and natural disasters that we see all around us.
5) Added to all this the terrible moral degradation in the West, which has had a catastrophic effect on the Catholic Church.
Seminaries which were almost monastic in the days of Pius XII are more like colleges and universities and not very good ones at that. The Catholic Academic world in the main, is a very dull dog these days, and remorseless in its self-advertisement as the very acme of professionalism. These institutions could not attract Bible hungry Christians or true Catholics on fire with the love of God.
How do we swim against the tide? Well the answer is quite simple. We begin a wonderful adventure in searching for Jesus, and here the Evangelical Christians, and especially those Christians who belong to the House Church movement can help us. We must long for a true and loving relationship with Jesus. We must long for him as the bride in the Song of Songs longs for him. If we do not have this immense thirst for Jesus, our frequenting of the sacraments will do us no good. We will find ourselves eating and drinking to our own damnation. The Christian life is so wonderful and so exciting. For too long the priesthood and religious life became routine and mundane.
The Chaos did not just start in the 1960’s. It had been a long time brewing. Yes the horrors of the Industrial Revolution did make people realize that the social aspect of the Gospel could not be ignored. But there is an important thing to take account of, and it is this; unless we wish to totally give our lives to Jesus and set out on a great adventure to find him, then we are wasting our time. And that is why so many ardent seminarians have almost fallen at the first jump, and that is not including the ones who should never have entered in the first place.
Had these young, and not so young men ever met Christ as we meet him in the Gospels? Were their hearts stirred when they saw him prophesied in the Old Testament by the prophets and in the lives of Abel, Isaac, Joseph and so many others? Did they not want to relive the life of the Apostles and early disciples of Jesus? Did they not want to walk the dusty roads of Palestine in the company of Jesus? They should have been able to say with the disciples on the road to Emmaus when they realized that they had been walking and eating with Jesus “Did not our hearts burn within us?” Our hearts and minds should be filled with Jesus, and how best we can find him. Let us return to our dear friends the Magi.
The Magi did not know anything about Jesus, but they knew that the new and strange star in the Heavens told of a new and wonderful King, not the dreadful tyrant kings so perfectly exemplified in the person of Herod the Great and some of his equally odious sons, and that is not forgetting the many dreadful Caesars, Nero being the most infamous of them.
The Magi saw this new star in the Heavens and realized that it told of a wonderful new King. They may well have known of him from their own prophecies. One is of course, only told the bare minimum in the Gospels unless it is to do with revelation. All that we need to know is that the Magi saw a star, and it was a call to them to go and adore this great new King who was to be born. They had no idea where the star would take them, but they must follow it for they knew that it would lead them to this extraordinary new King. The tradition for so long is that there were only three Magi and names have been given to them, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. However in early representations of the Magi there were sometimes quite a few. I think in one ancient representation there were seventeen!
It is so important that we Catholics discover the wonder and excitement that took hold of the Magi. It is hardly surprising that in our present world, not so very different from the Roman Empire, that the thrill of a great King coming is so absent. The Roman Emperors sprung from a Republic. Early on they did not have the crowns and robes of the ancient kings from the Orient. The crown was simply the band of golden laurel leaves. Whatever the Roman Empire was, it was not a fairy tale. If you turn to Medieval Russia, even when later on that benighted country was suffering from tyrant Tsars, that fairy tale quality was not lost. In fact in Eastern Europe there was always that fairy tale culture because these lands still had a peasantry, unlike the West which was overcome with the Industrial Revolution, Germany being the exception whose dark forests are the perfect habitat for Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Little Red Riding Hood.
Since the 60’s anything suggestive of a fairy tale in Catholicism has all but been destroyed by dreadful modern lifeless churches, or beautiful churches destroyed within. Worse still is the re-writing of Saints’ lives and taking out anything of the miraculous, or even episodes deemed impossible, and so according to one Capuchin I know, St. Francis did not have the stigmata, and according to a Vincentian, St. Vincent de Paul was never captured by Barbary Pirates, and never sold into slavery. As regards the destruction of beauty in the Catholic Church, it was left to The St. Pius X Society to keep the beauty of the Church alive, like some sacred fire. Orthodoxy in her timeless grandeur imitating the eternal liturgy in Heaven has never betrayed beauty in her churches or her liturgies. Nothing so excites the religious imagination than the journey of the Magi to the manger at Bethlehem, and in that beautiful film The Nativity Story, we see to perfection the Magi discovering the star, and then making the arduous journey to the infant King.
Early on in the film we see the three Magi: Melchior, Balthasar, and Caspar, discussing the finding of a new star in the Heavens. We see them in this almost fortress like building pouring over maps of the Heavens and maps of countries. In a room filled to overflowing with scrolls, the three Magi are gathered around a circular pool of water that is directly beneath a round hole in the ceiling. The pool reflects the heavens and the paths of the stars. The three men are discussing the meeting of three stars in the Heavens that will soon take place, one is Jupiter “The Shining Father”, the other is Venus “The Mother Planet”, and the third is a star proper, “The King”. Melchior is determined to set out as soon as possible, for he is convinced that this star heralds the birth of the Great King. Caspar and Balthasar are in complete theoretical agreement, but they do not want to make the daunting journey. They will have to go across “barren desert, inhospitable terrain, and mountains”. Balthasar suggests that this could be a spiritual journey instead, and after all, he needs his cushions, and pillows, his food, and his wine. Caspar says such a journey would be months wasted - he is not going. Balthasar is won over when Melchior finally agrees to supply an extra camel to carry Balthasar’s creature comforts. The two quickly set off with great enthusiasm, while leaving a somewhat sceptical Caspar behind.
Melchior and Balthasar, not long into the journey are suddenly are surprised with the arrival of Caspar. “You forgot the map, you could not survive without me, for I am the wisest” he says somewhat boastfully, and of course the other two are jubilant at his joining them. When they finally arrive at the stable in Bethlehem, Melchior movingly reflects on the Infant King, “The Greatest of Kings, born in the most humble of places.”
We might say that in the Church today, the most humble of Kings does not appear to be welcome in hearts that refuse to set out on the great adventure of Faith to truly find him. Because so many of the clergy live in the most palatial of spaces, and many of the laity are avid for comfort which often means contraception. I know a parish in London which has the most sumptuous of drawing rooms, and all the appointments of the rectory are expensive and in the best taste. Far too many Christians in the West want only a comfortable life, a life compatible with the life of the World, with its culture, arts, sport, and very dubious and dangerous entertainments. What they do not want is the narrow path that leads to Heaven. One is not asking these Christians to do extraordinary penances, but one is asking them to follow Christ whatever the cost. Not for them the danger of the Magi’s marvellous journey. Christians of the West want a kind of vicarious Christianity rather akin to Medieval “blood thirsty nobles” endowing chantry chapels and churches and monasteries to pray for their souls; quite how they thought that they would even get to Purgatory beggars belief.
In the visions of Christ’s life given to Anna Catherine Emmerich, The Magi are evoked beautifully. They appear to be like petty kings or chieftans with quite large retinues, and their homes are very large, resplendent tents with low stone walls to which the great tent roofs are attached. When going on their great journey to find Jesus they sing beautiful songs as they and their caravans meander magnificently over the desert. Their attitude to their dependents is like that of fathers to their sons. The narrative almost shimmers as these magical figures glide across the desert by day under the brilliant white light of the desert Sun, and by night under a black velvet sky studied with a blaze of stars amidst which the great star of Bethlehem ever beckoning on these seekers of the truth.
In Zefferelli’s Jesus of Nazareth, now over forty years old, even though the actors playing the Magi are almost melodramatic in their roles, it still does not diminish the wonder and the mystery. In “The Nativity Story” the Magi are very much to the fore, which you would expect as the story is only about the nativity and the flight into Egypt. Here the magic is potent, almost tangible.
Not surprisingly Persia, which gave us the Magi, is now giving us wonderful Christians, and also giving us magnificent martyrs.
The renaissance of Christianity in Islam (It was a very ancient Church, but never very big.) came about due to one man, an Armenian, Seth Yeghnazar (1911-1989), who founded the Iranian House Church movement. This had come about because of Seth coming to Faith through the ministry of “The Brethren”. One would have thought it might have come through the Armenian, or Assyrian Churches, but such are the extraordinary ways of Divine Providence. Seth had an extraordinary experience of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon him after a period of fasting and prayer, which lasted 42 days. He and his wife Vartouhi began a prayer meeting and Bible study group which met every day for four years. In 1959 they began one of the first Jama’t-e Rabbani (Assembly of God Churches) in Iran. Over the years these have blossomed especially since the Iranian Revolution under the implacable Ayatollah Khomeini who seemed interminably at war with Iraq, and ironically Saddam Hussein who tried but failed 9 times to make peace, and the war finally ending in a stalemate. In this maelstrom of violence and terror the house churches blossomed. It was very much the case of “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Certainly in Mehdi Dibaj, and in Haik Hovespian Mehr we have two Christian pastors, who can stand with the greatest martyrs in the history of the Church. This, from a group of Muslim background believers, which numbered only 500 in 1979 on the eve of the Iranian Revolution and is now considered to be between 100,000 and 1,000,000 or even higher and is still growing fast.
These Iranian Christians, who according to a member of MOIS (Ministry of Intelligence and Security) are too many to send to prison. Please God, there will soon be even more Christians in Iran, when the Back to Jerusalem movement from China realizes its goal.
The original Back to Jerusalem movement, or more accurately movements, began in the 1920’s and continued through until the 40’s. With the coming of Communism to China it all but disappeared, but was revived in 2003 by Brother Yun, the extraordinary Chinese House Church pastor and confessor of the faith. This wonderful Christian, whose sufferings for the Faith you can read about in the book ‘The Heavenly Man’, is now legendary throughout the Evangelical Christian world, and has given impetus to this great vision.
The Back to Jerusalem Movement’s mission is to preach the Gospel to all those lands between China and Jerusalem that the Silk Routes traverse. The aim is to bring Christ to the Buddhists, the Hindus, and the Moslems who live in these lands. It is done by ordinary Christians (Brother Yun hopes to have 100,000 missionaries), who like the Apostles and early Franciscans, take nothing for the journey.
And so while the great Christian Churches of the West are riven with heresy and immorality, and this is tragically true of the present Catholic Church, we see light coming from the East, and in particular from Iran, the land of the Magi, and China, the land of Wisdom. At this time when the Vatican has abandoned the underground Church in China and given its sanction to the Catholic Patriotic Church in China, the light will not be dimmed. That light that led the Magi to the Truth, God Incarnate as Christ in the manger, is shining in the hearts of these Iranian and Chinese Christians and brings great joy to the darkened lands of the West, be it Western Europe, North America, and Australasia, and now sadly South America. The light shines out in the hearts of these truly Christian people, who put us Catholics, in the main, to shame. We have become the Pharisees and the Sadducees of New Testament Times, and we know it not. We are not little children, we are too learned, and too proud. Let us be inspired by the example of these exemplary Christians and seek to imitate them.