Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read Matthew 2:1–12
I’m a long-time fan of the reality show Survivor. In this physical and mental game, you leave everything to compete with strangers on an island, hoping to be the last one standing and collecting the prize of a million dollars. I was deeply moved by this season’s “sole survivor.” Winner, Mike Gabler, endured 26 days in the Mamanuca Islands, suffering from starvation and exhaustion, among other things, all to announce at the finale that he’d be giving the million-dollar prize away to support the veterans. Why did he show up for the game every day, knowing that he wouldn’t get anything in the end?
I’m reminded of Gabler when I read tomorrow’s gospel.
Tomorrow, the church celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany, the story of three wise men who leave everything to go on a journey guided by a star that leads them to Mary and the newborn Jesus, where they offer gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh.
An amazing story that’s mostly true.
According to Catholic Apologist Jimmy Akin, there were more than three wise men or magi. And as for that star that guided them the entire way? While they “saw his star at its rising” (Matthew 2:2), it did not shoot around the sky like a celestial GPS, mapping out their route to Bethlehem (the magi were astrologers). Remember, it initially took them to Jerusalem, where they found no king. Also, their travels took more than a few days, and despite what our nativity scenes depict, the wise men were not present at the stable. As Matthew writes, “and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother” (Matthew 2:11). This journey, dangerous and challenging, could have taken up to two years. When they finally reached their destination, something peculiar happened. They handed over their treasures, fell to their faces, and worshipped.
In the words of Father Mike Schmitz, “They didn’t come to get. They came to give.”
The gospel message is important, especially for today’s self-absorbed culture. Your life is not about you. Gabler knew this, and it’s how he survived. The game was never about him. The same goes for the wise men. From the very beginning, what motivated them was a call from God, a deeper knowing that there is something greater than ourselves we seek. Self-help books and new age gurus lie to us, claiming that we discover the meaning and purpose of our lives when we look inward; if we want our lives to change for the better, we need to start with ourselves.
This, my friends, is a lie from the pit of hell. Trust me. I speak from experience.
I suffered from an eating disorder for years. Having no idea how to break out of a prison I had starved myself into, I would spend hours on my knees in worship of the self-help aisle at Barnes & Noble. I was searching for words with the power to save me. They never did. It was only when I got down on my knees and worshipped God, the living Word, that I found my true Savior. Once I recognized the power of God and approached Him for who He is, not what He gives, everything changed. I had finally uncovered the secret to a happy life: don’t show up to get. Show up to give.
The most common reason Catholics give for no longer attending the Mass (the ultimate form of worship) is that they don’t feel like they are getting anything out of it. “I don’t feel fed” is a common complaint, so they leave in search of a church with a more dynamic preacher, better praise music, and flavored coffee. I’m all for finding a reverent Mass, but there is a difference between wanting reverence and wanting to be entertained. We do not go to Mass to be entertained as much as we do not go to Mass to win a million dollars. This is what Broadway musicals and games like Survivor are for. We attend Mass because it’s our loving response to the God who has loved us first. We don’t show up to get. We show up to give. And that giving is called worship.
If attending Sunday Mass is not high on your list, I encourage you to spend time with the wise men. Notice that when they come face to face with Jesus, they don’t complain about how long and difficult the road was, hoping to be compensated for their time. They give everything they hold, fall to the ground and worship Him. We, too, come face to face with God when we receive Him in the Blessed Sacrament. Every time we receive the Holy Eucharist, we are filled with the presence of God, and it changes us. Only the Catholic Church makes this offer, and I don’t believe that we truly comprehend this. If we did, trading it for an experience that makes us feel good would be unheard of. We were not created to worship our feelings.
“Man was created,” says Ignatius Loyola, “to praise, reverence, and serve God.” Our whole existence is to give God honor and glory, not only for His sake but for ours because worship changes us. Notice how after the wise men recognized God and worshipped Him, “they departed for their country another way” (Matthew 2:12). Why? Because after you encounter God, life is never the same. Gabler, too, departed another way, commenting that when he gets home, “I need to be a better husband, I need to be a better father, I need to be a better brother, son.”
If you ask me, Gabler took home the better prize.
Food for thought or journaling…
When I approach Jesus at home in prayer or Sunday Mass, do I show up expecting to get something from Him, or do I fall at His feet, handing Him everything?
Lord, save me from self-worship and teach me how to worship You. Amen.
 Jimmy Akin, #75 Mysteries of the Magi, Jimmy Akin's Mysterious World, StarQuest Media (December 2019): https://sqpn.com/2019/12/mysteries-of-the-magi/.
 The Epiphany of the Lord - Mass with Fr. Mike Schmitz, YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Exwg_UWeYKI.
 David Paternostro, S.J., Godwards: The End of Man, Magis Center for Catholic Spirituality (February 17, 2010): https://www.magisspirituality.org/spex_reflection/godwards-the-end-of-man/.
 Christopher Brito, "Survivor" winner Mike Gabler says he'll donate entire 1 million prize to veterans in need. CBSnews.com, (December 16, 2022): https://www.cbsnews.com/news/survivor-mike-gabler-donate-veterans-season-43/.