The story of the Magi resonates with spiritual aspirations all over the world. Pilgrims who make their way to religious sites are part of the history of many, if not all, religious traditions. Millions have made their way to Mecca, to Lourdes, to Knock, to Guadalupe, Jerusalem, the Andes.
Miles are walked, often in difficult conditions, in the hope of finding something of God in this life.
There are other reasons as well. For there are pilgrims who hope for healing, for forgiveness, who want to express gratitude for a favor believed granted by the Divine.
There are lower roads that are walked, too. These are the ones familiar to us all. For in order to realize some good in this life, we have to move from one place to another.
A change of heart is as much of a movement as is an arduous pilgrimage. Growth means change and change involves movement. It is not always easy.
But there are gifts awaiting those who make such journeys, gifts given by God through others, which is the real gift of the Magi to all of us.
The Mount Carmel Guild has a complex of old buildings in Paterson, N.J. The buildings are on the corner of Straight and Narrow Streets.
I drove Ernie there in my old blue Volkswagon. We traveled from Jersey City to Paterson, which in those days was a bumpy ride. The most direct route was the Paterson Plank Road, which had no planks but a lot of cobblestones.
Where that road once was is now the Meadowlands Complex -- Giants Stadium, a racetrack and a large arena. But back before all that it was a huge spread of grasslands, dumps, a bad smell and the Paterson Plank Road.
So Ernie and I bumped along. He was an alcoholic, was homeless and generally a mess. He came to the rectory and needed help. So off we went to the Guild.
When he saw the street signs, he perked up a bit and said, "I never thought I would arrive so fast at the straight and narrow. You think I can walk it, can make it?"
I told him he could if he tried and trusted. Eventually, he did.
I went back to see him several times during his stay there and he did well. I hope he continued to do well for as long as he had life in him, and as long as he asked for help when he needed it. He worked the program, followed the book, made friends, became a source of light to others.
Each of us is born longing for the lasting good that is God. I suppose it is natural that we think that the full revelation of the divine is awaiting us at the end of life, a place kind of like that reserved for the straight and narrow among us.
The Magi not only gave gifts. They received a gift as well, though they may have not been aware of it at the time. But that does not matter. The gift that is love does not depend for its efficacy on our being aware of it.
Whenever we love, whenever we care for each other, even in the smallest ways, when we lift each other's spirits with words of hope, or a letter, we give the gift that indeed keeps giving.
The Child is the source of love to us all. We can give that love away, and find that it returns again.
Ernie found others who cared about him, and who taught him what he could and should mean to others. The end of the road did not matter as a goal. He learned the joys of the road beneath his feet. And he kept moving.
There was no moving star over the Mount Carmel Guild. The stars were much nearer, in the hearts and voices of those who cared for Ernie and nursed him back to health.
Human care abounds in this life. It shines, is easy to follow, and can make any road an epiphany of grace.
Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.