What can we do to see as wise men saw?

Living the Word l Tim Irwin

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord l Jan. 8

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,10-11,12-13; Ephesians 3:2-3a,5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

When my 3-year-old grandson, Nicholas, first saw the statues of the three wise men, he asked his mother, “Are those papas bringing prizes?” In a word, yes. The website Healthline reports on various health benefits resulting from the use of frankincense and myrrh. The value of gold requires little explanation as it functions today as it did in biblical times. The Magi were the ancient equivalent of the Prize Patrol.

The word Magi refers to a priestly caste of people living in Persia. They were likely practitioners of Zoroastrianism and their job was to study the stars. Astrology can be found everywhere in the ancient world. No artificial light meant the night sky dominated, much to the fascination of the ancients.

Astrology likely began because people realized that the annual path of the sun could reveal when the crops should be planted in order to maximize the potential for a good harvest. So maybe, they reasoned, the position of a star might suggest a good time to honor a god, attack an enemy, or announce the coming of a king.

The ancients assigned various constellations to areas in the known world. Aries represented Judea. They didn’t realize the planets reflect rather than create light, they thought the planets were stars that wandered more freely through the sky. In the year 6 B.C., Jupiter entered Aries. This may have been the sign that triggered the Magi to make the trip to Bethlehem in search of a newborn king.

It begs the question: Did the Magi make the journey just to see the heir of Herod or were they hoping for something more?


The Church teaches that God has placed in the hearts of all people a desire for happiness. The wise hope for happiness in its fullest. They do not settle for pleasure and gratification, the happiness resulting from being self-centered; they strive for joy and contentment, the happiness resulting from being other-centered.

Jesus invites us to join him in the Holy Faith, the ultimate guide to joy and contentment. His invitation calls us to love more fully in the context of the eucharistic covenant that is the Catholic Church by committing to the good of others for the sake of others. When we gather as Catholics to love the Father as Jesus does with our whole heart, mind, soul, and self, and others as Jesus loves them, we reveal the Kingdom of God. We see what the wise men saw.

Bishop Louis Tylka has invited us to grow disciples. To succeed, we must make Christ present in a culture that too often choses pleasure and gratification over joy and contentment. When we offer others a place in a community that focuses on Christ through prayer, sacrament, and service, we invite them to experience the Kingdom of God.

The wisdom of the Magi gave them hope, a disposition affirmed when they beheld the Christ Child. Surely, other people noticed Baby Jesus, but most failed to see what the wise men saw — the dawning of the Kingdom of God, perhaps because they lacked hope. Now, as then, the invitation is lost on those who have little hope, but now, as then, the wise will respond to Jesus revealed in the Holy Faith. To become a disciple is to experience an epiphany.

Those “papas bringing prizes” got far more than they expected — they witnessed the dawning of the Kingdom of God. They remind us that the wise will find the happiness of joy and contentment experienced in their commitment to the good of others lived in the context of the eucharistic covenant that is the holy Catholic Church.

TIM IRWIN teaches theology and philosophy at Notre Dame High School in Peoria. He is a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Morton.

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