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  • Writer's pictureFr. Austin

Longing for Jesus and the Art of Living

With the death of Pope Benedict last weekend, we in the Church have found ourselves looking back at the wealth of teaching and guidance that this remarkable pope has given us. He was certainly a theological genius. As we observe this Feast of the Epiphany, I want to share something that I found from Cardinal Ratzinger that speaks to the nature of the mystery that we celebrate today. For me, the Epiphany and the appearance of the Wise Men in the Gospel is a mystery that speaks to human longing – a longing to see Jesus, to know Him, to encounter “the newborn king of the Jews.” This is a quest that has vexed many throughout history, and it is a journey that cannot find its end in mere human effort alone. The future pope spoke at a Jubilee for Catechists during the Great Jubilee of 2000, and he said this:

By itself each human life is an open question, an incomplete, not fully realized project, something to be brought to fruition. Each human being faces these questions: How can the full potential of my life be realized? How does one learn the art of living? What is the path to true happiness? To evangelize means to reveal this path – to teach the art of complete living. At the beginning of his public life Jesus says: "I have come to evangelize the poor" (Luke 4:18). This means, "I have come to respond to the fundamental question of your existence. I am here to show you the path of life, the path to happiness. I am, in fact, that path." The deepest poverty is not material poverty but spiritual poverty: the inability to be joyful, the conviction that life is absurd and contradictory. In different forms this poverty is widespread today, both in the materially rich and in the impoverished nations. The inability to grasp joy comes from and leads to the inability to love. It produces jealousy and avarice – devastating the life of individuals and of the world. When the art of living remains unknown, nothing else functions rightly. This art is not the object of a science. It is the art that can only be communicated by Him who has life – He who is the personification of the Gospel.

This is the One whom the Wise Men seek. This search is the heart of the mystery that we celebrate – certainly today, but all the time as a Church, a pilgrim people looking for meaning and joy in our lives. You and I are, as Pope Benedict put it, “open questions … something to be brought to fruition.” And if this is true, for the Christian, we can only find the full answer to that question in Jesus Christ. “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”

The celebration of the Epiphany is an invitation for us to leave our comfort zones – to set aside our preconceived notions and to set out on a journey to encounter the Truth. This is what the Wise Men do – they follow their quest for truth as far as their human arts and sciences can take them; and then they have the humility and courage to ask how they can go farther, because their quest calls them beyond the limits of human reason and understanding.

Some of the attraction of simply ideology and blind faith in some proposition is that it reduces the amount of though that we have to put into life. Things are easy when they are black and white, when people are good or evil, when a choice is yes or no. However, life is not always that way – in fact, it rarely is. But, aligning ourselves with the Truth that is Jesus is a way to open ourselves to the grace that God has shared with us by sending His Son to be born as one of us, to teach us the way to holiness, and to suffer and die for our salvation. This is the longing of the human heart – so much more complex than the easy answers of modern ideologues. This is what the Wise Men sought and, ultimately, what they found.

So, here we are: invited by the Word to see where we are in our journey. God is calling us further than we can imagine because we are made for infinite happiness and beatitude. This requires our willingness to step out of our comfort zones and to pursue Christ boldly. He is looking for you too!

In their encounter with the Lord, the Wise Men are changed. They find their life’s pursuit and offer their wealth to this little child. Certainly, this is an odd sight for those who might have seen. However, in this encounter we see the transformative power of the Gospel, of our faith, of meeting Jesus. Their lives would never be the same, and we hear that they departed for their country by another way.

What is the new way that you will walk? How is your life different, today, having encountered the Lord Jesus Christ here? Perhaps, consider returning home by a different way than normal today. What will God reveal to you on that new path? Who will you tell about your experience here? How will life be different – how are you “wiser”?

Jesus is looking for you, to share His joy with you so that your joy may be complete. This is the “art of living” about which Pope Benedict was speaking; and that art is learned by following Jesus.

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