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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. It is not uncommon these days to hear someone describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. To be spiritual is widely accepted as something good whereas to be religious is looked upon with suspicion. To be spiritual is in vogue. To be religious is not.

Today’s Feast of the Epiphany sheds some light on this split between religion and spirituality and shows how both of them belong together and not apart.

The Magi in the Gospel are not described as religious people. They are pagan kings but they are also seekers, searchers and followers of lights and signs that lead them forward on a journey. In this regard, the Magi represent all of us who are also on a spiritual journey of discovery. They symbolise all of us who are searching, seeking and who follow lights and signs that provide meaning and lead us forward on the pilgrimage of life.

But notice how this journey of the Magi finally led somewhere and to someone. All their searching and seeking ended when they found the Christ child and when they came to faith in him, for we are told that they fell on their knees and did him homage. For us too, our journey of searching does not go on forever. It leads us to decide, to believe, to worship and to commit to something or someone. G.K. Chesterton once said: ‘Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid’. This means that there comes a time when some kind of vague spirituality will not do any more. We must decide what the truth is and where it is to be found. For the three wise men, they found it in a personal God they came to adore. They found it in the Christ child. Here is how spirituality needs religion as much as religion needs spirituality. The Holy Spirit that is active in us, does not lead us on an idle journey or up the garden path. The Spirit always leads us towards our personal God who knows us and loves us. The Spirit leads us to Christ, our God made human who is the way, the truth and the life. The Spirit leads us to faith in him who gives us a reason to live and a reason to die.

Look at the examples of the saints. In his earlier years, Augustine sought happiness in many things but found it only in Christ. He searched for peace in everything but only found it in someone. C.S. Lewis was drawn on a journey from atheism to becoming one of the greatest defenders of the Christian faith in the last century. Thomas Merton is another character who tells in his autobiography Seven Story Mountain how his search for peace led him to Christ and into the Church. The journey of Edith Stein and her search for what is true, led her from Judaism to atheism and finally to Christianity and to life as a Carmelite nun. What all of these have in common is that their spiritual search led them to the Church and to faith in the truth of Jesus Christ.

As life, schools and work return to normal this week after the Christmas holidays, let us pray for one another. Let us pray that the thousands of people who connected with the Church over this Christmas time may be led by the Holy Spirit to consider the beauty, truth and goodness offered in the person of Jesus Christ who invites us to believe in him and accept the personal love he offers. For us already in the family of the Church, may we walk with people who search sincerely for what they still haven’t found.


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