The star leads the magi to the house where they find the child in the arms of his mother. These men from far away, with little or no direct contact with God’s revelation to Israel, are nonetheless still led to the heart of Israel and her Messiah. This is because truth is one and indivisible, and, as Edith Stein said, “Whoever seeks the truth will ultimately find it.” Christ, of course, said this first: “Whoever seeks will find, whoever asks receives, and whoever knocks, to him shall the door be opened” (Mt 7:8). Through their pursuit of the truth these magi are led along a journey that gradually opens them to the capacity to behold the star, witness of the coming of the Messiah, and then leads them to follow this star as it guides them to his very dwelling-place, to the home in which he abides in the fullness of his truth, which illumines all things while drawing all hearts unto itself.
If Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, eternal Wisdom and Truth made flesh, abides in his fullness in the arms of his Mother, in the home of his Church, what are these rays of light cast forth to direct hearts, from so many diverse places, back to this place? What, in other words, are the stars that continue to lead human hearts to the Savior, this Savior who dwells in the depths of all things while also infinitely transcending them, and also makes his home in the arms, in the heart, in the house of his Mother and Bride, the Church? And how can we be like the magi, spiritual astronomers who gaze unceasingly upon the firmament of all things in order to witness the manifestation of God, and to be led to him, or to lead others to him?
This path of searching leads to faith, even as it is born from a primal faith, a trust in the knowability of reality and its beautiful intelligibility. And so too, the willingness to speak, to act, to share, to create in order to manifest the truth to others, once it has been discovered, is also an act of faith: faith that this truth is so trustworthy that we can stake everything upon it, that it is worth every effort and desire of ours to share with our brothers and sisters, and that others desperately need it, that it shall give abundant life to them just as it did to us. It is not naivete to seek for the one truth. And it is not intolerance to cling to it once it has been found, and to burn with ardent desire to share it with others. At the heart of all things, indeed at the very foundation of existence, is a deep and fundamental act of trust, and without this trust it is impossible to live truly and deeply. For man and woman cannot build a bridge out of their own subjectivity by their own efforts, by their own “proofs,” but only through trust in what comes from the outside as a gift, a gift uncontrollable and unproven, and yet profoundly intelligible, radiant in its beauty, and thus more certain than the certainty of mere discursive argument. Yes, and the fullness of Christian faith is not some other species entirely from this primal faith; it is, rather, it ultimate fulfillment, the act of surrender to the God who reveals himself in Christ and draws us to participate in his own inner life, toward which everything else is directed.
The movement of faith is a movement of self-transcendence, the stepping-beyond the confines of my own enclosed ego in order to enter into relation with another. And in the process it is letting-go, it is surrender, it is the releasing of control, power, and possession in order to live in and for the objective truth of loving relationship, in the authentic reality of love. Such a movement is not contrary to our nature, nor does it do violence to us; rather, it alone leads to the fulfillment of our being. And an aspiration for this movement of transcendence is inscribed into our very nature, and we cannot help but long for it. But due to original sin and the many false paradigms that exist in a fallen world, this movement is often twisted and mis-directed, and ultimately turns back upon the self. The flight of the heart out of itself to the beloved, the true ecstasy of responsiveness to the “voice” of beauty, goodness, and truth, can become instead the pursuit of success, wealth, power, or pleasure. The aspiration may be there, but the light by which to walk is not. The longing for fulfillment is present, but not the home in which alone fulfillment is found.
For example, in our pornified culture, there is a great striving for fulfillment in the experience of one’s sexuality (given that our gendered orientation towards communion, after prayer and charity, is the deepest locus of this capacity for self-transcendence). But no sexual experience, however intense, can itself provide self-transcendence. For the feeling of my pleasure belongs to me alone, and to no other; thus what may feel like release for me actually only serves to enclose me still more deeply within myself. This is why even reciprocal intercourse in our world is in danger of degenerating into mutual masturbation and use, in which the end sought is pleasure, and two entirely enclosed persons use each other, and thus, even in this most intimate place, remain ultimately alone. The sexual act is made a gift, and even my very subjective experience a dwelling-place for another, only in and through authentic love, which is tender and disinterested, and pursues not pleasure but the true good of the other. Therefore, how different is mutual sexual enjoyment from the true beauty of marital union, which is simply meant to seal and consummate the vowed gift of mutual belonging spoken in the promises of marriage and lifelong surrender! Only in this latter case can even the body and its “language” become a vessel of authentic gift and truly be a mode of self-transcendence in love: a gift to and for the other, even as it is a disinterested welcoming of their gift to me.
There are so many other examples we could use to illustrate the same “self-defeating” tendency of our culture: from the deconstructionism that rejects so-called traditional values because it supposes them to be constraining; to the redefining of identity as something self-fabricated or chosen rather than given and cooperated with; to the paradigm of worldly success as the path of a “responsible” life; to the ownership of body and life as “mine,” as something to feel “empowered” about, rather than to hold, cherish, and live in responsible stewardship and awe-filled play; to the diminution of psychology to self-care and self-affirmation, or the manipulation of brian chemistry through medication in order to fake a semblance of mental wellness that only masks deep wounds that should be addressed and healed; to art being understood as a mode of self-expression or of making political, cultural statements rather than being a gratuitous manifestation of the beautiful truth of reality; to music being no longer noble, sober, and elevated, but base and raucous, speaking not to the pure sensitivity of the spiritual capacity, but to the base pleasure of the body; in all of these things and others, we see the same defeating of self-transcendence by self-immanence, of the ecstasy of love by the instasy of sin, which, in its very reaching out, closes in upon itself and shuts the human person in the prison of his or her own subjectivity.
What our world needs, to come full circle again, are stars. We need stars that draw our gaze outward again and direct it toward that mystery that brings us to the fulfillment of our being in transcending ourselves into the embrace of objective reality, yes, into the embrace of the One who is the Love at the ground of all things and holding them in existence. These can be the stars of true beauty manifest in art—in painting, sculpture, music, film, written word, etc. These can be the stars of the witness of holiness in the lives of those who have surrendered to God, the stars indeed of every good action, prayer, or desire, which abide in the firmament of our universal communion in Christ like polestars by which other hearts are drawn to the Trinity. These can be the stars of evangelical truth expounded and made present anew for the coming generations, as the Word once given in Christ continues to unfold and communicate itself throughout history until the end of time. All of these are manifestations of that one Word which is “a lamp to our feet and a light to our path” (Ps 119:105).
Let us work, play, and pray that the firmament of our world may never be lacking in stars that speak transparently of Christ, harbingers of his presence, and that many hearts will turn their gaze skyward, to the great expanse of the heavens, to behold these stars and to be drawn to the One who abides in our midst, little and yet great, in the arms of his mother, and offers himself to us in the exceeding joy that is filled to overflowing with the very glory of God which is everlasting Love and eternal Communion.