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Three Wise Men From The East Adore The Infant Saviour

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

ST. MATTHEW describes the coming of the Wise Men from the East to adore the infant Saviour as follows : " When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of King Herod, behold there came Wise Men from the East to Jerusalem, saying: Where is He that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East, and are come to adore Him." (Matt. ii. i, 2.) Isaias foretold this event, saying: "Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thy eyes round about and see : all these are gathered together, they are come to thee. Thy sons shall come from afar, and thy daughters shall rise up at thy side. Then shalt thou see, and abound, and thy heart shall wonder and be enlarged, when the multitude of the sea shall be converted to thee. The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Madian and Epha: all they from Saba shall come, bringing gold and frank-incense, and showing forth praise to the Lord." (Is. lx. r6.)

This prophecy was fulfilled on the day of the Epiphany, when the divinity of Our Saviour was made manifest to the Gentiles, in the persons of the three Wise Men from the East. The history is as follows.

When the Israelites, on their way to the Promised Land, were about to pass through the country of Moab, King Balac summoned to his court a heathen prophet named Balaam, to curse the Hebrew people. But the Lord compelled the false prophet, against his will, to pronounce a blessing; so that looking far away into future ages, and raising his voice, he said: "A star shall rise out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel, and shall strike the chiefs of Moab, and shall waste all the children of Seth. And he shall possess Idumea : the inheritance of Seir shall come to their enemies, but Israel shall do manfully. Out of Jacob shall he come that shall rule, and shall destroy the remains of the city." (Num. xxiv. 1719.)

From this remarkable prophecy the heathen nations had come to believe that among the Jews a mighty king would one day be born, who would bring the Gentiles and their whole territory under his subjection. While most people naturally, in the course of long ages, lost sight of this wonderful prophecy, some few prominent and earnest men, who were well versed in astronomy, kept its remembrance fresh in their minds. So much importance did the Gentiles attach to the prophet's words that, as tradition tells us, certain persons were appointed to take their station on Mount Victorialis, there to observe the heavens, and to watch and pray that God would soon permit this extraordinary star to appear in the firmament. But the watchers died without seeing the star. The de-sire for a Saviour did not, however, die with them, but was kept alive by the transmission of the tradition from father to son through all generations. The watchmen on the mountain were replaced by others from age to age.

On Christmas night, a strange star of unusual brilliancy was discovered in that portion of the sky toward Judea. Some astronomers are of opinion that it was merely a clustering together of several of the ordinary heavenly bodies, but as these scientific men are not agreed, we prefer to abide by tradition, and the opinions of the early holy Fathers, and to believe that the Creator placed an entirely new star in the heavens in order to glorify the coming upon earth of His divine Son.

At once several of the devout people of the East set out for Judea, in order to visit the long-expected king, and to pay Him their homage. Chief among them were three estimable princes, named Melchior, Caspar, and Balthasar, who felt themselves inspired by Heaven to undertake the journey. Being well versed in the science of the stars, and acquainted with the old prophecy of Balaam, they were called Magi, or Wise Men. As these three persons, each in his own country, were en-gaged on the night of the Lord's birth in studying the movements of the stars, and, like their forefathers, praying and yearning for the Redeemer's coming, they saw simultaneously this unusually large and brilliant orb appear suddenly in the firmament in the direction of Judea. At once they knew, by special revelation, that now at last the long-wished-for star of promise had arisen. It is impossible to describe their joy. They immediately resolved to set out, notwithstanding the severity of the winter season and the difficulties of a journey of more than a hundred leagues, to visit Judea and there adore the new-born King.

So the three devout and learned princes prepared to set out, each one from his own land, taking with them valuable offerings to be presented to the new-born King. Each was accompanied by several companions, attendants, servants, and a number of people of various ranks. When all was ready, the caravan moved off, and the star which they had seen at home guided them during the whole journey. On they went, over extensive countries, through vast deserts, across streams. When they passed through a town, the inhabitants would come out to gaze with wonder at the splendid equipments of the princes, their numerous attendants, and the long line of camels and dromedaries; though no one along the route, even close to Jerusalem, seemed to know anything about this new-born King for whom the travellers eagerly inquired.

At last, on the twelfth day of their journey, and after much fatigue and inconvenience, they came within sight of Jerusalem. With what unfeigned delight they hailed the appearance of this holy city, which they fondly hoped to be the end of their pilgrimage! But as they came near, the star suddenly disappeared from the heavens.

The amazed travellers did not look upon this event as presaging much good; yet they determined to enter. As they passed in long procession through the streets, on their way to the palace, an immense concourse of people came out in surprise to view this strange spectacle. King Herod received his distinguished visitors with apparent respect and friendship, and inquired the object of their coming. And they replied : " Where is He that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East, and are come to adore Him." But nobody could tell them. The cruel and jealous Herod was shocked at the inquiry, but concealing, as well as he could, his anxiety, he replied in apparent good faith: "Your inquiries are indeed of the greatest importance, but you must be fatigued after your long and wearisome journey, and need some repose. Take a few hours, therefore, together with all your attendants, to enjoy refreshment and rest; and, at the proper hour, I will give you the fullest information possible."

This being done, Herod assembled the chief priests, scribes, and other learned men, and demanded information concerning the birth of Christ. "But they said to him : In Bethlehem of Juda. For so it is written by the prophet: And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the cities of Juda: for out of thee shall come forth the captain that shall rule My people Israel, Then Herod privately calling the Wise Men learned diligently of them the time of the star which appeared to them, and sending them into Bethlehem, said: Go and diligently inquire after the child, and when you have found Him, bring me word again, that I also may come and adore Him." (Matt. ii. 5-8.)

The three Wise Men bade adieu to Herod, and scarcely had they left Jerusalem when the vanished star appeared again in all its brilliancy. At this welcome and cheering sight the whole caravan burst forth into acclamations of joy. With renewed courage they hastened on to Bethlehem, and soon the city of David greeted their eyes. The entrance into the town of such an unusually large and brilliant cavalcade brought out the whole of the wondering population. But the pilgrims kept their eyes fixed on the guiding star and its movements, and followed it to the outskirts of the town, where it stood still directly above the lowly stable. The Wise Men now felt convinced that their journey was ended and their object attained. Yet they were sorely puzzled at seeing no palace, not even a cottage. Only a ruinous stable stood before them. They could not understand how He whose glory had been proclaimed by Heaven itself could dwell in this poor and gloomy abode of cattle. Yet there stood the miraculous star shedding its brightest rays upon this abandoned ruin. But as they were looking, with doubt and misgiving, into the stable, their souls were, in reward for their humility and perseverance, en-lightened by the Holy Ghost, and they understood and appreciated so thoroughly the poverty and self-denial of the infant Saviour that they trembled at the thought how near they were to the King of heaven and how soon to appear in His presence.

Hastily adjusting their travel-stained garments, air-ranging their presents, and composing their minds, they prepared for a becoming appearance before their King. When the whole company was ready, they advanced toward the stable, and the three Wise Men, with a few favorite attendants, entered the stable. They found Mary seated, with the divine Infant in her arms, while St. Joseph stood near gazing with eyes of tender affection upon his heavenly charge. Completely overpowered at this spectacle of poverty and humility, the Wise Men, unable to utter a word, sank upon their knees before the Child in silent adoration. Long they lingered, absorbed in deep and silent prayer, while the heavenly Father filled their hearts with sentiments of adoration for Jesus, and affection and reverence for Mary and Joseph.

At last they rose from their devotions, and having reverently and fondly kissed the feet of the infant Jesus, opened their treasures, and with bowed heads and bended knees presented their offrings of gold, incense, and myrrh. And thus these three good men made practical and outward homage of their soul-felt admiration for their Saviour.

On the gifts of the three Wise Men the holy Fathers comment as follows: First, in their nature these gifts were perfectly suited to the qualities of Jesus Christ, to whom they were offered. By the gold they expressed their submission to Him as a sovereign king, gold being always considered as a tribute due to royalty; by the in cense they showed that they adored Him as God, incense being generally made use of in the service of the Deity; by the myrrh they clearly evinced that they believed Him to be mortal, since it is one of the principal ingredients used in embalming the dead. The holy Fathers also advise us that we may and ought to make like presents to Christ, in a spiritual sense, to those offered to Him by the Wise Men in the stable of Bethlehem. We must give Him our gold by charity to the poor; we must present Him our incense by fervent prayer; and we must offer Him myrrh, the nature of which is to preserve from the effects of corruption, by the virtue of self-denial, thereby destroying those seeds of perversion which sin has implanted in us.

"And having received an answer in sleep, that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way into their country." (Matt. ii. 12.) The devout Magi had accomplished their desire, having seen Jesus and presented their offerings. Therefore, taking leave of the Holy Family, they prepared to return quietly to Jerusalem, in order to inform Herod of their success. But during the night preceding their departure, as they lay asleep in their tents, they had a vision of angels, one of whom said: "Arise, and hurry away to your homes, but do not pass through Jerusalem ; take the route through the desert, for Herod must neither see nor hear of you again." Without asking the meaning of this extraordinary order, they obeyed with promptness, arose, folded their tents, loaded their beasts of burden, and mounting their camels, returned home by the way pointed out by the angel in the vision.

After a long and fatiguing journey they reached their own country, and related to their eagerly inquiring friends how they had been guided by the strange star, described their interview with Herod, and their indescribable happiness at finding the new-born King. They continued to lead good and holy lives, often recalling the pleasant incidents of their visit to Judea. An ancient writer tells us, that after the ascension of Our Lord, St. Thomas, the apostle, went to the East and baptized the three Wise Men, who from that time became stanch defenders and eloquent preachers of the faith of Christ, and afterward were made bishops, and at a good old age slept in the Lord. Later, their remains were brought to Constantinople, were removed afterward to Milan, and were finally brought by the Emperor Frederic Barbarossa to Cologne, in Germany, where they are to-day held in profound veneration.

Happy the man who, like the Magi, implicitly follows the direction of God, and engages in nothing unless by the authority of His ever-sacred orders. Ever attentive to. the call of Heaven, nothing must be suffered to hinder us from following it without delay; ever submissive to its dictates, nothing must be allowed to divert us from the straight line of duty. Thus the divine light will guide us, like the three Wise Men, on our way, and lead us to that salvation which Christ revealed to them.

Holy Father in heaven! I offer Thee, at the manger of Thy divine Son, in company with the three Wise Men, and following their example, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I offer Thee the gold of Christ's royal dignity, by virtue of which all men must bow down in submission. I offer Thee the pure and brilliant gems of His human-divine virtues and perfections, always so beautiful in the eyes of Heaven. I offer to Thee Thine only begotten Son Himself, together with all His graces and merits, acquired by Him for our sake and for our benefit.

I offer Thee the sweet incense of all the fervent prayers with which the holy soul of Jesus glorified Thee during His mortal life. I offer Thee the sweet spices of His humility, patience, obedience, all of which have been as fragrant incense in Thy sight.

I offer Thee the bitter myrrh of all those precious tears which, from the manger to the cross, He shed for the conversion of sinners. I offer Thee the sacred body of Thy divine Son, with all its pains and sufferings, from the moment of His birth to His expiration on the cross.

All these I bring to Thee, heavenly Father, with devout heart, entreating Thee to enrich me with grace. to pardon all sinners, and to replenish all devout followers of Jesus with divine favors, until Thou dost admit us all together to the never-ending happiness of heaven.

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