Give a few moments to letting the inner self find some quiet
As always it helps to close your eyes and to give a few moments to letting the inner self find some quiet. You are here to receive some new light on your life. Ask to be able to get in touch with your deeper desires. Lord Jesus, you said that you are the light of the world and our “way, truth and life”. Grant me to discover how to journey with you in this Advent time towards newness of light, towards you.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’
Try to recognise the contrast of spirits in your own life and in your times of prayer
- If the Magi were being guided by a star, why did they consult people in Jerusalem and end up being interrogated by Herod? Although the gospel text does not say it explicitly, it seems that the star disappeared from view. What we are told is that when they left Jerusalem the star appeared again and gave them “great joy”. This is fascinating and often overlooked. It also suggests a pendulum of spiritual moods, a contrast which St. Ignatius considered central for discernment, the difference between “desolation” and “consolation”.
- Everyone has experienced this in their own way. There are times when everything is going well, when you are in tune with the Good Spirit and can move forward in faith and hope and love. In other words you are like the Magi when they are confidently guided by the star. But there are other times when the light seems blocked, when you find yourself confused or troubled, and when instead of gently moving forward you can be paralysed and lost. This is a situation of spiritual danger, when deception can easily lead us astray. The invitation here is to recognise this contrast of spirits in your own life and in your times of prayer. The Magi set out on their journey in consolation and that consolation returned after a time of absence. But in this story Jerusalem sums up another spirit and they nearly fell into the trap that Herod set for them.
- A small but significant point emerges here. It was when they lost contact with the true light that the Magi sought help in another and dangerous direction. Notice that the gospel text speaks about Herod and the whole city being troubled or disturbed by the question of the Magi as to where Jesus was born. But the Magi are asking the wrong people. In Jerusalem they find themselves without their star and surrounded by a world of power, envy and violence. Later on in the story, the Magi will be warned in a dream not to return to Herod. Without this special message, they could easily have reported back to the murderous Herod. Remember that St. Ignatius offers a classic piece of wisdom: never make a decision when you are in desolation.
Talk to God
Consolation is characterised by growth and the courage to change
- We are more vulnerable when we are not in touch with the light of the Good Spirit. What do you consider your danger points to be? What are your usual sources of strength or consolation? This whole journey of faith, symbolised by the Magi story, reminds us of the times of difficulty that we can sometimes experience on the Christian journey – so it is healthy to recognise these moments of weakness and important to pray when we experience periods of desolation - as when the star seems to disappear.
- The religious intellectuals of Jerusalem consult their books and give Herod the right answer about the birthplace of the Messiah, Bethlehem of Judea. Saint Augustine commented ironically on these experts: they liked offering other people directions but they would not undertake any quest themselves. They remained stuck and their impersonal knowledge was fruitless in them. Once again this is a form of desolation or non-movement, whereas consolation is characterised by growth and the courage to change. As always the invitation is to recognize this danger in yourself and to ask to be liberated from it.
- It is also possible to widen our horizon and to read this gospel tale of two cities in the light of today’s divided world. Herod and Jerusalem can stand for the closed selfishness of the powerful, those who directly or indirectly oppress the poor of our planet. But Bethlehem, as we will see, stands for another attitude of life, a simplicity open to adoration. Once again we can meditate on a contrast, one that Pope Francis powerfully described in his Laudato Si: “While some people remain are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed superiority”. Faith means taking a stance in our complex world, opting for the spirit of Bethlehem rather than the tyranny of Herod’s Jerusalem.