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Bible Reflections View Comments

Journey of a Lifetime
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, January 5, 2014
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Literature is filled with tales of people traveling halfway around the world only to discover that the heart of what they sought was in the home they left behind. In some cases, we discover we can’t escape ourselves—for good or ill. In other cases, we discover that we had missed what we already possessed in seeking something else. Fewer but no less dramatic are tragic tales of people who refuse to leave their comfort zone and thus miss discoveries they might have made.

Our Gospel for the feast of Epiphany takes place in two different worlds. One is the far-reaching journey of the visitors from the east, the distant Orient. The other is the tightly controlled palace of King Herod the Great.

The visitors from the East are traditionally three in number and referred to as kings. These men, more likely sages and astronomers than kings, were following a star, but it wasn’t some romantic flight of fancy. Their field of study had led them to an awareness of a great event taking place in a distant land, one that was worth a long and arduous journey, the journey of a lifetime. They worked hard at their profession, devoting time to study and calculation. They undertook the journey to which their studies led them. But who’s to say God wasn’t calling them through their life’s efforts?

Matthew tells us the magi arrived at the palace in Jerusalem to ask where the newborn king would be found. King Herod, threatened by the idea of a new ruler supplanting him, sought only to hold on to his own power and missed the message of the Messiah. We know from the story of the slaughter of the innocents that even though the travelers from the east refused to be part of his scheming, Herod still attempted to find and murder the child on his own. Most likely he stayed behind his palace walls while soldiers carried out his orders.

The Magi found the child because they sought him. They knew the signs they had seen and they knew what they sought. They heard the words of the sages and Torah scholars as simple directions, confirmation of their own vision. And they continued on their journey. Our Gospel reading concludes with a telling sentence: “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.” They didn’t stay in Bethlehem—or Jerusalem—but rather returned to their own country changed by the realization of their vision. We can only guess at the stories they told when they arrived home!

We need to be willing to take a risk, to look for something new and to let ourselves be changed by the experience. We might not immediately see how we fit into God’s plan for the world. We might mistakenly see our ordinary lives as insignificant. In reality, however, we are called to be little signs of God’s life and love in a world that would perhaps be blinded by too great a light—or threatened by the dramatic changes God can bring to the world.

While we may have moments of startling insight and divine inspiration, most likely the effort we put into the work to which we have been called will allow us to grow into our work for God. Whether we undertake an actual journey or simply let our imaginations roam, being open to God’s call is all that’s required. We can be sure we will have gifts to offer and stories to tell.


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Joan of Arc: 
		<p>Burned at the stake as a heretic after a politically-motivated trial, Joan was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920.</p>
		<p>Born of a fairly well-to-do peasant couple in Domremy-Greux (southeast of Paris), Joan was only 12 when she experienced a vision and heard voices that she later identified as Sts. Michael the Archangel, Catherine of Alexandria, and Margaret of Antioch.</p>
		<p>During the Hundred Years War, she led French troops against the English and recaptured the cities of Orléans and Troyes. This enabled Charles VII to be crowned as king in Reims in 1429. Captured near Compiegne the following year, she was sold to the English and placed on trial for heresy and witchcraft. Professors at the University of Paris supported Bishop Pierre Cauchon of Beauvis, the judge at her trial; Cardinal Henry Beaufort of Winchester, England, participated in the questioning of Joan in prison. In the end, she was condemned for wearing men's clothes. The English resented France's military success–to which Joan contributed. </p>
		<p>On this day in 1431, she was burned at the stake in Rouen, and her ashes were scattered in the Seine River. A second Church trial 25 years later nullified the earlier verdict, which was reached under political pressure.</p>
		<p>Remembered by most people for her military exploits, Joan had a great love for the sacraments, which strengthened her compassion toward the poor. Popular devotion to her increased greatly in 19th-century France and later among French soldiers during World War I. Theologian George Tavard writes that her life "offers a perfect example of the conjunction of contemplation and action" because her spiritual insight is that there should be a "unity of heaven and earth."</p>
		<p>Joan of Arc has been the subject of many books, plays, operas, and movies. </p>
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