Celebrating the Epiphany of the Lord this year on Jan. 6, 2019 brings back special memories of some of my experiences as a father and as a journalist in the Catholic press.
During Advent in 2009 when our youngest son Matt was almost three years old, he and I began a special routine in preparation for Christmas. When I would return home from work, he would be waiting for me at the front door, asking, “Daddy, do you want to play gentlemen with me?” He didn’t know how to pronounce magi or wise men, so he called the three kings “gentlemen.”
Matt and I would play with three plastic Magi figures, winding through our house on the way to the Nativity scene in search of baby Jesus, through our living room, past the kitchen, sometimes up and down stairs, until they eventually found the Holy Family and offered their gifts to Jesus.
Considering their hard travels through our house, the wise men held up remarkably well, with Gaspar on his elephant, Balthazar on his camel, and Melchior on his white pony. I did have to superglue one of the elephant’s tusks back on, but he was no worse for the wear.
One year later, I was delighted to learn that Matt had been selected to portray one of the three kings during the annual Christmas production staged at his Catholic preschool, Scrilli School in Washington, D.C., which is sponsored by Carmelite sisters. Smiling, I said, “He knows that part!”
At the Christmas play, when it came time for the three wise men to enter the scene, Matt’s friend Elijah entered from one side of the room, and another boy named Samson entered from the other side, but we couldn’t find Matt. Then we saw him, walking purposefully down the center aisle, wearing his kingly headdress and a drawn-on beard that matched his reddish brown hair. On stage, Matt smiled mischievously at us and gave us a little wave, which I’m not sure Gaspar did at the original Nativity. But at nearly the age of 4, Matt had become a “gentleman.”
My Epiphany memory as a Catholic journalist came in 2011, when Cardinal Donald Wuerl, then the archbishop of Washington, marked the 25th anniversary of his ordination as a bishop by honoring 201 unsung heroes of the Archdiocese of Washington with Manifesting the Kingdom Awards.
In a Catholic Standard column announcing the awards, he noted that the people who served at parishes as teachers or in service to the poor, or visiting the sick and elderly, or in a myriad of other activities, are leading others to Christ.
“Just as there are countless stars in the sky that form all types of constellations, so, too, are there many, many holy lives, dedicated people, committed women and men, disciples of Jesus, who replicate the work of the great Star of Bethlehem and simply manifest the presence of Christ in our world,” the cardinal wrote.
Reflecting on that theme in his 2012 book published by Our Sunday Visitor, Seek First the Kingdom: Challenging the Culture by Living Our Faith, Cardinal Wuerl noted,“When the Magi found the Child Jesus, they presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Every person in the Church, each member of the heavenly constellation, has rich gifts to offer: your talents are yours, given by God, and the same is true of your time, your energy and, above all else, your love. These are yours to give, and only you can give them.”
Pope Benedict XVI commented on the Magi in his 2012 Image book, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, writing, “The key point is this: the wise men from the east are a new beginning. They represent the journeying of humanity toward Christ. They initiate a procession that continues throughout history.”
This Epiphany Sunday, the Magi figures in our home will again be positioned around baby Jesus in our Nativity scene, and our son Matt, now almost 12, is navigating middle school. Our journey to Jesus, like that of every Christian, continues to unfold.