Today’s Gospel gives an opportunity to address an important topic: the relation of Christianity and the "occult." Matthew tells about men from the east called Magi (magoi) who searched the night sky for signs. They observed an astronomical event ("star at its rising") and traveled to Palestine to do homage to "the newborn king."
In the ancient world it was very common to see correspondence between celestial movements and happenings here on earth. That belief persists right up to our day. According to recent polls around one third of Americans “believe” in astrology.* Perhaps some of you are among that number. I won't ask for a show of hands, but I will ask you to consider what the Magi did when they finally found the Christ child.
But first let me say that astrology is not the worse thing to believe in. Ancient philosophers like Aristotle took it fairly seriously. The great poet Dante wove it lightly into his Christian synthesis. A modern president and his first lady consulted an astrologer, although they maintain they did not base national decisions on the horoscope.
I will also make a public confession. At one desperate time of my youth, I read the newspaper horoscopes to find some clue about the future of a certain girl and myself. I did find the hopeful signs I was seeking, but I would have used my time much better by attempting to talk directly with her. Still I do have sympathy for those souls who consult horoscopes, psychics, card readers and so on.
While it might be easy to scoff at these practices (St. Augustine devoted a large section of City of God to ridiculing astrology) I will not take that tack. Rather I wish to offer you something better. A dog will cling to an old bone and snarl at anyone who tries to wrest it from him. But if offered a chunk of meat, he will quickly drop the bone. This morning I wish to place before you something truly substantial.
When the Magi found the One they were looking for, they prostrated themselves and did him homage. At his feet they placed their most valuable treasures – gold, incense and myrrh. (Lk 2:11) Some scholars consider that those elements were used in divinations. They did not need them after encountering the Fullness. God now guided them in a more direct way. (v. 12)
Some of you have just purchased your 2002 horoscope. I ask you to place it at the feet of Jesus. You do not need it. He will guide you. He is your future.
In the past you attempted to embrace both Christianity and astrology. Jesus does not condemn you, but he now asks you to make a choice between him and your horoscope. The two cannot go together. Jesus makes it clear in the Catechism:
"All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to 'unveil' the future.[Cf. Deut 18:10 ; Jer 29:8 .] Consulting horoscopes, ASTROLOGY, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone." (#2116)
If you have fallen into one of those practices, do not despair. Rather follow the example of the Magi: Do homage to Jesus alone. Let him be the guiding star of your life.
*One-third of Americans believe in astrology (USA Today 6/20/00), with the fastest growing segment among executives and professionals (USA Today, 1996). According to The Harris Poll, nearly 41 percent of adult Americans believe in astrology (The Harris Poll, #52 9/13/00). An eight year, worldwide study by Roper Starch reported a 30 percent increase in the belief in astrology (USA Today, 1996). In 1976, 17 percent of Americans believed in astrology. In 1998 that number jumped to 37 percent (biz.journals.com, 3/3/00).
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