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Following the star this Advent

Here in Rome, Advent is a beautiful season. Storefronts are being decorated and ancient cobblestone streets are coming to life with lights and evergreens. In St. Peter’s Square the city is abuzz and the towering Christmas tree and Nativity crèche are being erected for the season.


My meditation this Advent emerged from a grace I received during my five-day silent retreat in September after praying on the Gospel account of the three wise men journeying to meet the baby Jesus. The passage struck me on several levels.


First, there was the great love Our Lord showed them in drawing the wise men to himself. He sent them a sign, the star, which they recognized as divine. Focusing on this sign led them to meet God born as a human child, their very creator and redeemer, in a humble stable in Bethlehem. Our encounter with Christ always begins with his action rather than ours. Amidst all our anxieties and searching, it is so comforting that it is really he who chooses and searches for us.


Second, receiving Our Lord’s loving invitation prompts us to offer the gift of ourselves back to him — the true author of our life. The wise men’s great joy at this meeting overflowed into offering their own gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the one who had given them everything. The gifts of the wise men have special significance for this offering of ourselves.


The gold represents our well-being, our temporal goods including our talents, no matter how humble they may be. The gift of frankincense is our time spent in prayer lit by the fire of the Holy Spirit’s love and rising as an aromatic offering to God Our Father. And the myrrh, an aromatic oil used in ancient times to anoint the body of the deceased, is the offering of our very bodies as holy temples where the spirit comes to dwell, especially when we encounter Christ in the Eucharist.


As a seminarian preparing for ordination to the transitional diaconate in June, I also was struck by the parallel between the three promises I will make during ordination and the three ways of giving oneself mentioned above. In the promise of respect and obedience to the bishop, I will be called to offer gold, my well-being, abilities and my ministry for service to God’s people. In the promise to pray for the church, especially in the Liturgy of the Hours, I will offer frankincense to be set on fire by the Holy Spirit for the intercession of the church. And in the myrrh used for anointing the body of the deceased, there is a parallel in the promise to embrace the celibate life, which is a sign of my commitment to Christ for the sake of the kingdom of heaven in which I will be called to offer my body for the sake of serving God and his people.


This Advent and Christmas season we pray especially for all those who have been drawn by Christ in every vocation and state of life. May we all be strengthened by the power of his love and respond by putting our lives in his hands.


McShurley, who is from St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal, is in his third year of theological studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018