The Faith and Reason of Truly Wise Men by Rev. Jerome A Magat
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its raising and have come to do him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born, They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel."
Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star's appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word that I too may go and do him homage." After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. The prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
The term "Epiphany" finds its roots in a word that means "Manifestation." The Christ Child is manifested not only to Jewish shepherds, but to Gentile wise men, the Magi. The story of the Magi reveals to us important symbolism, such as the significance of the gifts presented to Jesus, and God's desire to make Himself known not only to the Jews, but to all men. The Magi's quest to find our blessed Lord also demonstrates an often overlooked lesson: the importance of using one's faith and reason to know and love Jesus better.
The Magi probably weren't kings, but wise men trained in the science of the stars. They probably were persons of means, since they had time to study the stars and didn't have to concern themselves with the affairs of earning a daily wage. Their interest in the star that appeared in the East reveals to us the complementary nature of faith and reason. The Magi are drawn to Bethlehem in two ways. First, they are drawn by intellectual curiosity - want to learn more about the star they had studied. Second, and more importantly, they are drawn by faith. Rather than simply study the star, they bring gifts to adore the newborn king, in an act of faith.
This natural hierarchy that places faith above reason reminds us that objects of faith are more certain then objects of reason. That is why we can say that the articles of the Creed are even more certain then the simple proposition 2+2=4. Why?
Consider the source. God is the source and object of divine revelation, which the articles of the Catholic Faith express. Meanwhile, math equations are only propositions of the human mind, a far less reliable source of information and truth.
And yet, the empiricist philosopher tells us to believe that x can only be true if it can be proven. Conversely, faith can't be true since it cannot be calculated. Thus, one's faith is no better than one's opinion - merely private intellectual musing.
The classic Catholic position teaches the opposite. It says, "If God is the source of the proposition, then it MUST be true, and in fact more certain then anything the human mind can fathom on its own, because God can neither deceive nor be deceived. "Unfortunately, most persons in the West are taught to think, "If I can't prove it, it's probably not true" or in moral terms, "If I don't understand or agree with the Church's teaching, the teaching is probably flawed and thereby does not bind me to obey."
St. Anselm contradicted this line of thought by asserting, "I believe so that I may understand." Keep in mind that for Catholics, faith and reason are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they should be thought of as two wings of the same bird lifting us up to discover and ponder the holy face of God.
In an age of skepticism, where the secularization of society makes faith and reason false opposites, the Magi teach us to appreciate the relation between faith and reason. We have the capacity to use both gifts to understand better our God as He is, not Who we want to make him out to be so as to satisfy our curiosity or sense of security.
Let us heed the example of the Magi who, driven by faith and reason, were filled with joy when they discovered the Holy Family in Bethlehem.
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