During the last century, many great writers converted to the Catholic faith. Some of them are quite well known including G.K. Chesterton, Thomas Merton and Graham Greene. Others were lesser known. Nonetheless, these literary luminaries helped inspire not only the Church but the entire world with their compelling and thought provoking essays, novels and poetry.
One of the lesser known writers who converted to Catholicism was Louis de Wohl. He was born in Hungary in 1903 of a Catholic father and Jewish mother. When Hitler came into power in Germany, Louis fled to England. During that time he became interested in astrology, the attempt to foretell the future by studying the stars. Many influential people came to him to have their stars read. With three books published on the subject, his prominence as an expert grew and won him the attention of England’s intelligence service, MI5. Since Hitler was believed to rely heavily on astrology, they hoped de Wohl could provide them with useful information. However, they soon learned, as many others have since, that looking to the stars to predict the future was a fool’s errand.
Despite the fame it had gained for him, de Wohl was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with astrology. Deep in his heart, he became haunted by Jesus’ parable of the talents. He reflected on the account he would have to give to God one day for the use he made of his special talents and abilities. Eventually, he repudiated astrology and turned his efforts to writing books Catholic history. From the time of his conversion around 1945 to his death in 1961, he had written some twenty books on Catholic saints. To his mind, they were more reliable guides than the soulless stars in the sky.
Who were the Magi who come to visit Jesus in today’s gospel? They were basically astrologers. Though more knowledgeable and sophisticated than the astrologers who write horoscopes in the newspaper, they preoccupied themselves with the same question - What do the stars have to say about my future? Because of their talents, they became very rich and powerful. It is clear how wealthy and influential they were because of the very valuable gifts they brought to Jesus and because of how quickly they were able to get an audience with King Herod.
Nonetheless, like Louis de Wohl, they must have been growing dissatisfied with the knowledge they gained through the stars. They must have wanted more. Nothing else can explain why they would have made such a dangerous trip from their homeland in modern Iran to Jerusalem and then on to Bethlehem. A journey like that would have required months of planning to hire people to accompany them, to put together all the supplies needed and to arrange the security. Then the journey itself would have taken many months if not a full year through what was still then some of the most barren and dangerous areas of the Middle East. Seeing the star and predicting His birth were not enough for them. They had to see the child for themselves, so strong was the longing that burned within them.
We do not know what happened to the Magi once they visited with Jesus in Bethlehem. All Saint Matthew tells us is that “...they departed for their country by another way.” They did not go back the way they came not only to avoid Herod but because they were changed persons. They had devoted their lives to studying the stars but they had now encountered the Light of the World. They had sought to know the future but they had seen for themselves the Lord of all History. They had looked for power over others but they held in their arms the One who created all things and sustains them in being. How could they go back the way they came? How could they continue to follow any other star than Jesus, King of the Jews?
Like the Magi, we have been on a journey that began on the First Sunday of Advent when we lit the first candle on our Advent Wreath and heard Jesus warn us to keep watch. Since then we have burned the candles down, decorated our trees, set up our mangers and exchanged presents. In this month long journey, have we met Jesus, the star which enlightens all hearts? In His light, have we learned how unreliable are the other stars which have led us whether they be comfort, pleasure, wealth or power? Can we abandon our desire to know the future and to have power over others, even over our own lives, so that we can place all our faith in the God who loves us? Like the Magi, are we prepared to go back to our homes “a different way” because we are no longer the same?
There are many people out there who promise us security, happiness and peace. They tell us it comes from money and possessions. They tell us that it comes from consuming drugs and alcohol. They tell us that it can be found in crystals, exotic mysticism or by studying the stars. At one time or another, we have all fallen into their trap. Though it seemed alluring for a time and maybe even liberating, in the end we found ourselves depleted, confused and lost. We asked ourselves, “Is this all that there is?” Maybe there are some here today who are still asking that question.
There is no need to keep on searching. The truth has been revealed. He was revealed to shepherds tending their sheep at night. He was revealed to Magi who traveled hundreds of miles to see Him with their own eyes. He was revealed to fishermen who left everything to follow Him. He has been revealed to women and men of wisdom down through the ages. And He is revealed to us in the Scriptures and in His Body and Blood. Here, in this place, is to be found the One your heart has been aching to encounter. Here is to be found the One who can change our lives. All we need to do is welcome Him into our hearts and our homes. Then the real journey can begin.