This year, the theme of the Week of Prayer for Unity was chosen by Christians from various churches in the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria, Egypt). It is an opportunity to pray for these brothers and sisters who live in a context full of challenges and suffering. To let also ourselves be inspired by their faith, which is rooted in that of the apostles. (See here the booklet of 2022)
Surprisingly enough, they chose the story of the Magi with the words they said to King Herod. I will develop four parts of it: the vision, the star, the walk and the adoration. (cf Matthew 2:1-12)
"We have seen”
When did the Magi see this star? Was it a few days ago, a few weeks ago, or a few months ago?
Perhaps the magi set out a long time ago. Nothing could stop them because they had received a vision that touched them.
When the Lord visits us, he makes us taste his love, and it remains in our hearts, as if it happened yesterday.
Do you have a moment of light in your faith journey that stays with you and never leaves you? An experience that is forever present in your mind?
The apostle Paul speaks of such an experience when he writes that he entered paradise and heard inexpressible words. Did he ever come out? I think what he saw and heard stayed in his mind forever.
I have met Christian men and women who have had a vision of Christ and who, afterwards, have been inhabited by it. Their words, their behavior, their confidence have been determined by this experience. Even if they must go through dark valleys, deep down there is the assurance that Christ is with them and that nothing can separate them from his love.
Have you ever met this kind of Christian?
I'm sure you have!
In fact, if you open your eyes to your neighbor and to this assembly, you will meet dozens of them, as many as there are people in this assembly!
For the star has visited us one day, too. And if we doubt that Christ lives in us, let us remember our baptism, where God said to us, as he said to Jesus at his baptism: "You are my beloved child. In you I have placed all my love"!
Yes, let us remember that we have been baptized, that we have received the Holy Spirit. Even if we were baptized when we were a little child and we do not remember anything, let us ask the Holy Spirit every day to baptize us with his fire of love! For the true baptism is that of the Spirit. Every Lord's Supper tells us this again when we invoke the Holy Spirit.
As Paul says in one of to-days’ readings, living one's baptism means living in the light and rejecting the darkness. Baptism commits us to 'discern what pleases the Lord', to wake up, to rise up, to resist, to be courageous and vigilant (Ephesians 5:8-14)
"We have seen his star”.
What is this star? How can we understand it?
The Middle Eastern Churches write:
"The Magi reveal to us the unity of all peoples willed by God...Christians are called to be a sign of the unity desired by God for the world...the mission of Christians is to be a sign, like the star, to guide humanity thirsting for God and to lead it to Christ; it is to be God's instruments for achieving the unity of all peoples."
The star is first of all Jesus, God among us, as the prophet Isaiah announces (chap. 9:5-6). He is the "rising sun who will shine on us from on high" (Luke 1:78)
Our vocation is then to be, through Christ who dwells in us, a star to light up the night of our world. But our divisions obscure the brightness of this star!
The Church could be the star. She offers the necessary light to every person seeking to meet Christ. Christians are called to be the bearers of joy and light, reflecting the light of Christ.
But we are not stars by ourselves: we can only reflect the light of Christ. We are rather like the moon reflecting the light of the sun.
"We saw his star and we came”
Like the Magi who represent the plurality of nations, Christians from all churches and cultures are called to walk together towards the truth, under the guidance of the Spirit, in order to worship of the Son of God.
Walking together has great ecumenical significance. Two years ago at this time I was in Jerusalem walking the road to Emmaus with Christians from several churches. It was a wonderful moment of encounter.
We must always remember that we are people on the move, with Jesus in our midst, who enlightens us and leads us to the Father. This is the meaning of the word "Synod", which means walking together on the same path, discerning God's will.
Let us give him the greatest place among us by adoring him!
"We have seen his star and have come to adore him".
What does adoring?
"To adore God is to say to him "you are everything"...but it also means to add "I am nothing".[See the "Word of Life" of January 2022 on that text)
Adoring means putting God first, as Jesus did as Son. He who is the "strong God and Prince of peace" (Isa 9:5) made himself nothing, he gave up himself to be a humble servant; "he emptied himself" to give God all the glory in serving. (Phil 2)
He shows us the way to worship: "He must increase and I must decrease" (John 3:30).
This goes against modernity, which puts work, sport and leisure in the place of God. And it divinizes the welfare state from which everything is expected.
In the Gospel story, King Herod puts himself in God's place. He thinks "I am everything, you are nothing". The consequence is that he lies, he is afraid and he will end up doing terrible violence by slaughtering children.
In contrast to Herod, true leaders are called to exercise their power in humility and service, right and justice.
Humility is the touchstone of any leader. It is humility and service, these two virtues - fully embodied by Jesus - that build unity.
Worshipping God also means rethinking our priorities by putting God first.
Let us take time to reflect on what our priorities are!
By kneeling before Christ and worshipping him, the Magi recognised that he was more valuable than all their wealth and knowledge. That is why they offered him gifts with great generosity.
If we put God first, we will be filled with joy and give generously. Joy and generosity are the signs that we have chosen God as our priority.
Sending: "another road".
At the end of the story, warned by an angel, the Magi return home by another route.
Taking another road is also what the churches are called to do.
All churches today must take a different road. Ours too.
There is not a single church that does not need to repent and be purified.
The Middle East Council of Churches writes: "Walking new paths is an invitation to repentance and renewal of our personal lives, our churches and our societies. Following Christ is our new path, and in an unstable and changing world, Christians must remain as immutable and determined as the constellations and planets that twinkle”.
Above all, it is a path of humility: To seek God through the small and humble paths of love, as the great poet Marie Noël so aptly put it:
"By the little ways we shall pass,
We who are endlessly little people,
By the worn paths of Love,
With our poor feet of each day".
Taking another road is a necessity for tracing new paths to bring Christians together today.
This new path, says the Middle East Council of Churches, "is that of visible unity, which we must seek with courage and daring, at the price of sacrifice..."
Recently, I have walked two of these new paths, it seems to me.
The first led me to the monastery of Anafora in Egypt for a meeting organized by the JC2033 movement, which invites the Churches to prepare together for the 2000 years since the resurrection of Jesus, in 2033. A week of grace lived with Christians from many backgrounds and from four continents in this blessed place. But above all with Egyptian Christians whose faith I discovered.
The second led me to Leysin where I took part in the French-speaking Christian Forum which brought together brothers and sisters from all the churches of French-speaking Switzerland. We shared our faith journeys with Christ, which resulted in a beautiful spiritual friendship between us.
Two new paths that have renewed my hope and love for the One Church of Christ, which is already a reality, but which we have to manifest by meeting each other in His Spirit!
Taking another road
The Magi took another route home.
You know all our roads, Lord,
byways and dead ends,
paths of life and light.
Save us from going astray !
Strengthen us and lead us in your ways!
You also know, Lord, the ways of your Church.
The paths of division, compromise and lukewarmness
that lead nowhere.
Every Church needs repentance and purification.
Ours is not better or superior to others.
Keep us from all pride and in humility!
From now on we want to walk with you, the meek and lowly king,
and with one another in mutual acceptance
and consider others as superior to us.
Reveal to us, as we go along, this other path
and that we do not go home as before!
Give us a new impetus to live the spirit of your Beatitudes:
Blessed are the poor and the meek, blessed are those who thirst for justice and the merciful,
Blessed are the peacemakers and the pure of heart, blessed are those who are persecuted for your sake!