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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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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The Church really is my mother, too. She isn’t a vague maternal force for a generic collection of anonymous people. This Mother truly nurtures us—each one of us. And for those of us who are baptized Christians, the Church has actually given birth to us on a spiritual level.

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CATHOLIC GREETINGS
St. Monica
The tears of this fourth-century mother contributed to her son's conversion to Christ.

Religious Profession
Lord of the harvest, thank you for all those Men and Women Religious who have answered your call to service.

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The love of husband and wife is the wellspring of love for the entire family.

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