for Sunday, January 2, 2022
I have a favorite story for adults for the Epiphany. Not the Gift of the Magi or the
Fourth Wise Man, stories I love telling the children, but the story developed from an
essay by the famous English author of a hundred years ago, G. K. Chesterton. G. K.
Chesterton, wrote a wonderful essay on three modern wise men. These three heard
that there was a city of peace, a city where there would never be wars or disturbances.
The men wanted to live in that city, but to do so, they had to past a test. They had to
present themselves at the gates of the city with gifts to demonstrating that they
belonged there because they were men who would ensure the continual peace of the
city. So they journeyed to this wondrous city with what, they were sure, would be gifts
that would guarantee peace and earn them admission into the city.
When they got to the gates of the city, St. Joseph was there to judge their gifts.
The first modern wise man brought gold. He suggested that money was the root of all
wars. With the gold that he bought, people could buy all the pleasures of the world
and have no need to fight. He was convinced that gold would bring peace.
The second modern wise man did not bring frankincense. He brought chemistry.
He brought modern science. With his science he could drug the
minds of people into a state of perpetual bliss. With his chemistry, he could seed the
soil and control the population. People would then have all that they would need so
they would never go to war again.
The story was developed to present the third modern wise man bringing a split
atom, a new myrrh, a new symbol of death. His message was that anyone who
opposed the way of peace would face death. This wise man was the father of nuclear
After they showed him their gifts, St. Joseph refused to let any of them enter.
"What more could we have brought to demonstrate that we are men of peace," they
protested. "We carry with us means to provide affluence, control nature and destroy
enemies." St. Joseph whispered something into the ear of each man. Then they
turned and went away with heavy hearts.
Do you know what St. Joseph told each of them? He told them that they had
forgotten the child.
With all our technology, with all our affluence, with the power we have shown to
dominate many forces of nature, we moderns are convinced that we are wise. The air
no longer holds us to the ground. We can fly in it. The atmosphere no longer holds us
to the earth. We can fly through it to the moon and beyond. The depths of the sea are
no longer mysteries. We can put on scuba gear and swim like the fish. We can enter
deep submersibles and see underwater animals that have never reached the surface.
Diseases like small pox and polio are distant, bad memories. We are convinced that
we can find ways to ensure peace and happiness for everyone. We are convinced that
we are wise.
This might all seem good, but we have forgotten the child. Peace only comes
through the Prince of Peace. Men cannot create peace apart from God. A century
ago, the Pope, Benedict XV, decried the Treaty of Versailles. He said that God was not
even mentioned in the treaty. The Treaty of Versailles ended WWI the so-called "war
to end all wars." How well did that treaty work? Nineteen years later World War II
"Wise men still seek him," the old Christmas card declares. Are we wise? Do
we seek him? Or do we have all the answers in our technological pockets? Do
Siri, or Alexa or Google hold the answers we really need? I once asked Alexa, "Why
am I here? The response was, "Sorry, I donít know that." Technology cannot answer
the deep questions of life. It can only deal with relatively surface issues. The true
answer to my question is beyond the realm of technology, but one of the first answers
provided by faith, "We are here to know, love and serve God in this world and be with
Him in the next." We must be convinced that unless our thoughts are Christo-centric,
revolve around Jesus Christ, our Way to the Father, not only do we not have the
answers about life, we don't even know the questions that need to be asked.
Let me break this open a bit. Although the advance of technology continues
and this can and does benefit humankind, we have to ask, "Is the unbridled use of
technology acceptable? Is AI, Artificial Intelligence, the solution to all problems? Do
we need to apply ethics to technology? If, so, how?" Sadly, many people, perhaps at
times all of us, do not plunge our minds into deep questions regarding technological
advancement. For example, people seem to be taking in vitro fertilization for granted.
Certainly, many of those who are unable to conceive, see this as a solution to their
problem. And all our hearts go out to them. But those who seek Christ must ask a
question that those whose god is technology don't even consider: Is it morally right for
people to use science to produce multiple conceptions in a petri dish, and then have to
decide if they should discard conceived children or have multiple births with critically
low birth weights?
Self driving cars appear to be in the future,. This seems like a wonderful solution
for those who cannot drive. It might even eliminate many accidents. But has the
bus/baby problem been solved? What is that? It is a general term for the difficulty or
perhaps impossibility of applying ethics to technology. Briefly, a bus cuts off a self
driving car. The car is programed to seek the least dangerous course of action. It
swerves from the bus where many might be injured and swerves into a crosswalk
where a lesser number of people would be injured. A mother and a baby in a stroller
are in that crosswalk. They are both killed. Is this acceptable? Some might think so.
Most of us would not. A human being behind the wheel could very well pick an option
that the car was not programed to consider: the human being could risk his or her life
rather than kill another person. Technology does not have all the answers.
Those who seek the presence of Christ in all things have the courage to ask
questions that others do not even consider. Does anyone question the fact that the
United States is one of the largest maker and exporter of military equipment in the
world? Those who worship the gods of materialism, say, "So what? We are not telling
other people to kill each other. We are just doing that which is good for business and
ultimately for the economy." Those who seek Christ in all things question the morality
of an economy that needs war or the threat of war throughout the world to remain
We seek peace, but we forget the child. First we have to find the child. Then
we can enter the City of Peace.
The ancient magi of the Gospel reading traveled from darkness into light. They
sought the Prince of Peace. They were astrologers, people who read the portents of
the sky. The sudden appearance of a bright star was the symbol of the birth of a great
one. They traveled west, following the star's course, until they came to Judea. Then
they went to the place where they expected a great one to be found. They went to the
palace. Instead of a great one, they found Herod. Now, Herod was only concerned
with one thing in his life, and that was Herod. He had the opportunity to come out of
darkness into the light. His own scripture scholars found that the coming Messiah
would be born in Bethlehem. But Herod feared the political effects of a Messiah
coming during his reign. His darkness was so deep that he would attempt to kill the
baby, challenging God's plan rather than trusting God to care for him if he also were to
come into the light. Meanwhile, the magi's faith had become so deep that after they
found the child and worshiped him, they put their lives in jeopardy and did not return to
Once they possessed the child in their hearts, the magi could live in His light
and die in His peace. Because Herod refused to enter into the child's light, he would
die in turmoil and in darkness.
There are many messages carried in this feast day. There is the message of
the Word of God manifested to the Gentiles. There is the message of God's secret
plan now revealed. There is the message that God calls all people from all nations to
Himself. There is a message against prejudice and bigotry.
There is also the message that seeking Christ means wanting Him to transform
our lives. This transformation will temper our acceptance of advancements in
technology and materialism. The Christian way of thinking molds us into wise men and
And the wise still seek him.
Readings of the day:
First Reading: Isaiah 60.1-6
Second Reading: Ephesians 3.2-3a, 5-6
Gospel: Matthew 2.1-12
This material is used with permission of its author, Rev. Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino, Diocese of St. Petersburg, FL. Visit his
Reflections are available for the following Sundays: