They have been called Wise Men, Magi, Kings, and Astrologers and, for all we know, they may have been all these things. That they were astrologers (precursors of our modern astronomers) seems likely given their fascination with the star whose mysterious presence and course they resolutely followed until it led them to the newborn King of the Jews. Contrast this with the shepherds who came to find the newborn Jesus not by the guidance of a star, but by the dramatic appearance of angels announcing the birth and urging them to see this wonder for themselves.
In this we learn something fundamental about God’s dealing with each one of us in the process of leading us to himself. Spiritual writers point out that although the spiritual journey admits of many similarities there is also much that is unique and expressive of the individual Christian. This uniqueness reflects the uniqueness God bestowed on each one of us in creating us. Added to this uniqueness are the multiple factors and influences that have both formed and deformed us in the process of growing from birth to adulthood, and we realize that a one-size-fits-all approach to spirituality is not feasible or desirable.
This is a something that we need to keep in mind when reading various spiritual writers and undertaking certain spiritual practices and even prayer methods—these cannot simply be adopted without some adaptation to the persons we are. It is also something to be mindful of in our judgments of others and their spiritual state so that we neither misjudge them nor envy the spiritual gifts that they have received and that we seem to be deprived of. We have to believe that provided we are striving for holiness by seeking a deeper union with God, then what God’s grace provides is perfectly tuned to the unique persons we are and best suited to our true and deepest needs, desires, and eternal destiny. Accordingly, desiring a star when God sends a host of angels or wishing for angels when God sends a star betrays both deficits in our faith and a lack of gratitude for God’s wise and all-knowing grace.
This is no less true when there is neither a host of angels nor a bright star, but only the surrounding darkness of a spiritual path that rarely seems to emerge from the gloom and shadows of spiritual trials and the seeming absence of God. Provided that these are not the direct consequence of willful sin and a hardened heart, this path of darkness is also to be trusted as best suited to our peculiar needs and in the wisdom of God will lead us unfailingly to the safe harbor of salvation and eternal union with him. This is, of course, difficult to do and yet there is no viable alternative as we learn the hard lesson that we are not in control of grace or the God who bestows his blessings on us in accordance with what is best suited to our ultimate good.
Now although I isolate this latter experience from that of the Magi and the shepherds, it is rarely (if ever) that the Christian pilgrim’s journey doesn’t take him or her through this darkness and the night of obscurity. After seeing the newborn King the shepherds return to their hard and monotonous shepherding on the cold and barren hillsides of Judah unaccompanied by the glorious heavenly host who perhaps became an increasingly dim memory. So too the Magi return by a different way to their homeland—a way with no star to guide them and only the happy memory of it.
Therefore, let us imitate them in their faith and trust in the One who will lead us safely to himself if we will but trust his hidden guiding hand and press forward into the darkened night. In doing so we will experience the great truth captured in those famous words of Saint John of the Cross who speaks of that happy night, in secret, when none saw me, without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart. This light guided me more surely than the light of noonday. That light is, of course, the pure light of faith that is your and my possession given at baptism and that will unfailingly carry us home.