I recently read T.S. Eliot’s poem, ‘The journey of the Magi’ again. If you haven’t read it before, I suggest you do. It will, I’m sure, be well worth it. It got me wondering why the Magi set out on that journey in the first place. I suppose we’ll never know. We can speculate that it was curiosity, whether intellectual or spiritual is another question. Whichever it might have been, they are not too far apart, both share an intoxication that spurs us on to action. They both begin a journey for us; one the one hand an intellectual journey, on the other a spiritual journey, but both, change us if we give ourselves to the journey. We are not the same person as when we began the journey. We might be a worse person for it, we might be a better person for it; it’s the journey that changes us. It changes how we look on life, how we relate to life, how we fit into life.
I think the poem is speaking to us about that journey. The bit of the poem that really gets me thinking however is his comment about the birth of the child, and about death. I suppose that at the birth of every child, the parent dies a little – that’s if they are to be a good parent. The child comes first and the self-centredness of the parent is lost in the love for the new-born infant. There is a dying involved in love, a dying to oneself. It is still painful and a struggle at times, but because there is a good reason for it, the perseverance is strengthened. There is a growing in love, a maturing in love and therefore in our humanity. It reminds me of a passage of the encyclical, Deus Caritas Est’, No 6: ‘Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice.’ That is the power of love, the power to change. It’s a mistake to think we can change anyone, even by the strength of our love. We can’t. The love has to be let in, and that has nothing to do with anyone except the person who can open the door to it. That’s what the journey of life is really all about; it’s about the gradual opening of the door to love till we find that something in us has died. It isn’t just something of ourselves we didn’t like and had struggled with being finally overcome, it’s more about realising that what we thought was ourselves wasn’t; it’s about finding a peace that is also incompleteness, but knowing now where to find what we have found on our journey. It is that feeling of knowing we are not at home here, but knowing that we are going home.
When you go to visit the crib this year, maybe you too will see that it is not only about the birth of a baby who was Son of God; it is also about you and your journey through life and love. It is also about a particular kind of dying, one that you probably have already experienced in one way or another. Sometimes it takes a baby to make us realise where life really is.