Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

The Magi’s conversion

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

On the first Sunday of this new year, the Magi remind us that our faith life is a journey. It is a journey that leads to a conversion, for we are told that they “return home by a different way.”

“Conversion” is often associated with turning away from sin, such as we experience in the season of Lent. Yet, the story of the Magi prompts us to consider another kind of conversion, one that leads to a more mature understanding of the meaning of our lives.

Their conversion is not so much about what we are to leave behind, but rather about our coming to a more profound understanding of what lies ahead, where God is leading us as we discern divine presence and action in the world. Two moments in their journey from the east to Bethlehem are instructive.

First, notice the difference in the ways the Magi and the others in the Gospel react to the birth of the newborn king. The sages from the east focus on what God is doing, as they follow the rising star in the heavens. Their unwavering trust that God is leading them not only gives them the courage to leave the familiar surroundings of their homeland, but also fills them with a joyful sense of wonder as they travel. God is literally moving the heavens to show them the way.

Herod and the chief priests, on the other hand, fix their minds on the thought of maintaining their positions of authority. They panic at the idea that someone could challenge their power, an obsession that blinds them to reality, for what is taking place in the skies above is available to them, if only they would look up.

Pope Francis has urged us not to be trapped in the world of ideas, which are often reflective of our self-interests, to the point that we ignore what is really happening. Ideas, he writes in his latest book, “Let Us Dream,” are debated and argued, which leaves us divided. Reality, on the other hand, includes what God is doing and thus must be discerned, a task that unites us in a common quest to discover where God is leading us.

The Magi call us to a similar kind of conversion of heart, particularly as we respond to the pandemic. They call us to move beyond limiting our thinking to self-interest, and instead first ask what is God calling all of humanity to learn from the suffering that is common to us all. Or, as Pope Francis writes, this is a moment to dream of a different future for humanity, one that chooses “fraternity over individualism … a sense of belonging to each other and to the whole of humanity … (for) the pandemic has exposed what while we are more interconnected, we are also more divided” (“Let Us Dream”).

A second noteworthy scene in the Magi’s story is their arrival in Bethlehem, where they adore the newborn king. They pay homage to this child, not King Herod. Recently, I was talking to a family who welcomed their first grandchild. Starting already this Christmas, they are making plans to photograph every stage of the little girl’s life for future viewing — “perhaps at her pre-nuptial dinner,” gushed Grandpa.

A great blessing in life is being able to mark the development and maturation of a child as she or he grows up. Yet, it is also true that we change as we learn to adjust our relationship with children, treating them differently as they mature. If we don’t, we hear about it, for no teen likes to be treated like a 7-year-old and no adult child like a teen.

The same goes for our relationship to Christ. As we age, our relationship with Jesus must develop appropriately, so that in adulthood we embrace our responsibilities as disciples for the mission of the church, lest we find ourselves stuck in the spirituality of our childhood.

The call to an adult spirituality is at the heart of the renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council and in our own archdiocese through Renew My Church. Adults bond together in pursuing what is good for all and are creative in looking for solutions to new challenges.

The storied history of the church in Chicago is filled with remarkable achievements of the past, including the establishment and building of parish churches by immigrant communities who sacrificed greatly. We must honor this legacy of achievements, but we must also recognize that neighborhoods have changed, populations have shifted and we are in a different place.

Legacies are like traditions. They must be preserved, but in a way that challenges us to sacrifice as our ancestors did for the generations to come.

The Holy Father is fond of quoting the great Austrian composer Gustav Mahler when speaking about respecting tradition: “Tradition is not a repository of ashes, but the preservation of the fire.” The practice at the Easter Vigil of passing on the flame of the new fire, person to person, comes to mind.

The Magi challenge us to take up a different kind of conversion, one that leads to a more mature understanding of the purpose and meaning of our lives as disciples of Jesus. It is a conversion not about what we leave behind, but rather a discernment of what lies ahead. It is a conversion that leads us to a mature spirituality, prompting a greater sense of responsibility for Christ’s mission in the world.

Let us look to the Magi, and like them, be unafraid to take up the journey by a different way.


  • epiphany