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Jan 5, 2020

Three Wise Men, Three Gifts: Melchior, Balthasar, and Caspar

Thomas Smith

I love that the Feast of the Epiphany falls so close to the beginning of a New Year. Epiphany celebrates, in part, a primitive pilgrimage to Jesus in response to Jesus’ journey to us in the Incarnation—both pilgrimages of love. The wise men, traditionally named Melchior, Balthasar, and Caspar, can serve as wonderful models for all those who are still seeking Jesus and offering him their gifts.

I want to link their ancient offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to three gifts that we can offer Jesus in a special way this year.

Melchior

Melchior is remembered as the bearer of gold, a treasure of great value, even today. I often think what a practical gift it must have been for the humble Holy Family who would soon be fleeing for their lives to a strange land (Matthew 2:13-15). They would likely need the capital to start a new life in a foreign place. What gift could we offer Jesus that would rival gold? In a word, his Word. It is “more to be desired than gold, yes, much more than fine gold; sweeter than honey” (Psalm 19:10). Like the Incarnation, it is first God’s gift to us, and we give it back to him by receiving it, and living it with love.

How might you receive this precious and invaluable gift more completely in 2020? There are many wonderful ways. For example, you could join (or even better, start) a parish Bible study. But, let me suggest another way, a way that opens the path for the Word to be a true dialogue of love. It’s called Lectio Divina. It means sacred reading and is a four-step process for praying the Word in a conversation with Christ.

According to Benedict XVI, Lectio Divina is the singular spiritual practice that can usher in the once-in-a-generation renewal that the Body of Christ so desperately needs.

“I am convinced if this practice is effectively promoted and enthusiastically embraced it will bring a new spiritual springtime”

Benedict XVI on the Anniversary of Dei Verbum

Think about it, one spiritual discipline, twenty minutes a day, to usher in a renewed spiritual life for you and the Church! What a deal! That’s one percent of your day. My goodness, can we give the Lord one percent of our day in 2020? If you are unfamiliar with Lectio Divina, check out Tim Gray’s very practical book, Praying Scripture for a Change.

Balthasar

Frankincense was the gift presented by the magi Balthasar. It was the main ingredient for incense used in the biblical Temple, made from a dried resin drawn from the craggy trees of the Arabian Peninsula (the land of Mt. Sinai). It is the smell of worship, an appropriate gift for the adoring threesome at the home of the Holy Family (Matthew 2:1-2, 8, 11). It is used in the book of Revelation to represent our prayers ascending to God (Revelation 5:8; 8:4).

All of our prayerful worship (adoration and blessing, petition, intercession, thanks, and praise) reaches its highest expression in the liturgical event of the Eucharist. What a wonderful spiritual resolution to grow in our appreciation of and participation in the Mass in 2014.

If your schedule permits, consider attending daily Mass in addition to your Sunday celebration (even if it’s only one or two days). If that’s not possible, consider preparing for the Sunday liturgy by practicing lectio divina with the Scripture readings in advance, or offering your time to carry the Eucharist to the homebound or a parishioner in a local nursing home or similar institution. A wonderful document that is worth a careful and prayerful read is Ecclesia in Eucharistia.

Caspar

Finally, Caspar unwrapped his gift of myrrh for Christ and his mother. Many have pointed out that myrrh was used, along with other spices, for preparing the bodies of the dead (John 19:39), and this may have been a foreshadowing of his death for us. It is worth our prayerful reflection—Christ was born to die, for each of us. But myrrh was also used for healing wounds, and as a painkiller (Mark 15:23). It was a means of showing mercy to others.

What a transformative year 2020 could be if we increased our participation in Christ’s mercy through word, deed, and prayers. It is the urgent message of our time. In fact, many believe the last handwritten words of Pope St. John Paul II were on this very topic. Among his papers, aids discovered an unfinished homily he had intended to give at a new Roman parish, Padre Dio Misericordioso (God, the Merciful Father), a community he had established in the Jubilee Year. It was to be delivered on Divine Mercy Sunday, 2005. All of us know, of course, that our beloved holy father made his journey to the house of Our Father on the vigil of that very feast, leaving the message undelivered.

Later, Pope Benedict XVI, honoring the wish of his dear friend, visited that parish and delivered the pontiff’s final words. It is clear, his last message was not just for a new parish in the suburbs of an Italian city but for the world, for us.

His voice still echoes in my mind:

“To humanity, which sometimes seems bewildered and overwhelmed by the power of evil, selfishness and fear, the Risen Lord offers his love that pardons, reconciles and reopens hearts to hope. It is a love that converts hearts and gives peace. How much the world needs to understand and accept Divine Mercy!”

May we carry St. John Paul II’s words in our hearts and in our lives this year, completing our triple offerings to our Lord Jesus of Word, worship and works of mercy.


You May Also Like:

The Early Church Offers Guiding Light on Epiphany

Epiphany:  Finding Christ after Christmas

Continuing Christmas into the New Year


Thomas Smith is the co-author of Wisdom: God’s Vision for Life,  Revelation: The Kingdom Yet to Come and The Prophets: Messengers of God’s Mercy. He is an international presenter for The Great Adventure Bible Timeline. Bringing a wealth of experience and insight on the Word of God to audiences across the U.S., Thomas is a repeat guest on EWTN and Catholic radio as well as a sought after parish mission and conference speaker. Thomas Smith has taught as an adjunct professor at the St. Francis School of Theology in Denver, and is the former Director of the Denver Catholic Biblical School and the Denver Catechetical School. He lives on his family ranch in southeastern Idaho and writes for his website www.gen215.org.


This article was first published on The Ascension Blog’s former home, The Great Adventure Blog, January 2014.

Featured image, The Adoration of the Three Kings (c. 1525-1530) by Girolamo da Santacroce, sourced from Wikimedia Commons

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  • Thank you Thomas, for the three-fold plan for receiving the Word of God into our hearts in 2014. God’s Word is truly the gift that keeps on giving!

    I’ve found that when you practice Lectio Divina, you want to spend even more precious time in the presence of the Lord through His Word. What better gift than a relationship with God?

    It was interesting to me that you quoted Psalm 19, because I found that practicing Lectio Divina while reading Psalms to be a very enriching experience that
    changed my life. There is a Psalm for every possible situation in one’s life.

    “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, Oh Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

    “My soul languishes for your salvation; I hope in your word.” (Psalm 119:81)

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