SMC 6th January 2019
Many of you have been away over Christmas and as the Christmas season comes to its end, many clergy, including me, are looking forward to their breaks away so I’m off to Italy for a few days a week tomorrow. And one of the important things about the Wise Men, whom we celebrate today is that they travelled with Christ as their goal. Coming from far away they represent the far reaches of the earth and remind us that the dominion of this child whose birth we have celebrated is great indeed such that “Camels in throngs will cover you and dromedaries of Midian and Ephah, everyone in Sheba will come,” as our first reading foresaw. How can we travel better, with Christ as our goal?
The context in which many of us find ourselves when we make big journeys is how expensive they are, flights to here and there or even a train to a different part of this country. Then we have to think about what we’re going to pack, how many pairs of designer glasses will we need? All of a sudden this venture has become very materialistic: we can become slightly resentful about the cost and are worried we might not have as much money as we feel we need; and we can get distracted by thinking we will be happier the more pairs of T-shirts we have. Contrast that with our Lord, who sends His disciples out with no haversack (Luke 10:4), knowing the dangers of travelling heavy.
Next comes the issue of where we’re staying and will this lead us astray? Often we may find ourselves staying with family and friends and people we don’t always know quite as well we might think. Such people might be bad influences on us, after all its hard to say ‘no’ when you’re staying in someone’s home. Think of the prophet Daniel, who constantly had to battle with the expectations of the Jewish religion and those of the court of Babylon in which he lived, hence his concern about what he ate (Daniel 1) and needing to maintain the disciplines of prayer and worship (Daniel 6). So with us, questions to ask yourself in advance might be: “where are we going to Mass on Sunday?” do they realise that you believe you really should be there every Sunday? It’s also worth knowing what their foibles are: with some people we might be tempted to eat too much and fall into the sin of gluttony or drink too much or be materialistic or be part of webs of lies or to gossip or be disinterested in the welfare of others. We need to know the value of our soul and strive to keep it pure wherever we are, no matter who’s around us.
Another thing about traveling is that we are served by others whenever we travel. This is true if we get the 341 to Waterloo - taking several hours, of course! - or a flight to Dubai. There will be drivers and attendants, folk serving us coffee at service stations on the motorways and in flight. If we stay at hotels there will be staff, if we eat out there will be folk serving us. The great temptation can be to bossing them around: “Do this … do that . I’ve paid for this.” Our Blessed Lord instructs us otherwise: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them … It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not be served but to serve; and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28). At the end of each day, it’s good for us to pray for those who have served us at the shop or on the bus or, if you’re lucky enough to be away, in the hotel.
One of the reasons it’s so important for us to bring travel under the domain of our living out our Christian faith is that it interrupts our routines which are so important to our being faithful: we book a flight on a Sunday and all of a sudden our deeply held keeping of the Lord’s Day as holy is jettisoned. The Lord has created the world with routines, be it the sun rising in the morning or the progress of the moon that we might see it fully only occasionally. The Bible has long interpreted this routine as a sign of God’s mercy and greatness: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23) ands in the Psalmist: “God is in the midst of the city … God will help it when the morning dawns” (Psalm 46:5).
I’d also add that travelling can be a great time to pray and I suspect many of us could make better use of it to do so. Surely the temptation could be that we get in the mindset of leaving praying behind whenever we travel, along with work concerns, the broken washing machine, the neighbours from hell and whatever else is doing our head in at any given time. We almost certainly have a bit more time while away and this could be time spent improving our prayer life. Taking with us a Morning and Evening prayer book, or downloading Universalis on our phone so we are saying Morning and Evening Prayer; finding a local church that has Mass during the week as well as on a Sunday. And while the tube is by no means the ideal time to pray, it’s got something going for it in that you’re perhaps less likely to be disturbed there than at home: no phone ringing, no chores to be done. So maybe the commute to work could even be a time for prayer. Let’s make better use of our travel time.
Finally, the relationship between worship and rest is an interesting one. When Jesus walked this earth, His opponents wanted to equate rest on the sabbath with doing nothing hence they criticised Jesus for healing on the sabbath, which was then kept on Saturday (Mark 3:1-6). We can be similarly minded about our holidays, thinking it involves us doing nothing other than eating and drinking and sleeping. This is especially true because praying and getting to Mass and loving our neighbour can be incredibly hard work. With prayer, it can be frustrating and disappointing and feel incredibly unrewarding because we’re never really sure whether we’re doing it properly or not. But prayer is also the most wonderful of things, feeding our soul, that eternal element of our identity. Prayer sets us in a proper web of relationships within the Church, with the Saints and with our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Prayer sets us in a proper relationship with God and strips off some of the old self which is just going to die anyway.
If we live life looking towards Heaven we will get better at this union of rest and worship. Heaven is where we know both perfect rest and perfect worship and so we can practise on our holidays knowing how compatible they are. For today we celebrate the Wise Men, who travelled to see the newborn King. They then had to travel home a different way because they were in danger but they would have kept with them the vision they had had of Jesus, of how their knees had bent before Him, of how they travelled home lighter because they had given all of value to the King of Kings, and of how they travelled avoiding evil, the wicked King Herod. May they pray for us when we travel. Amen.