The end of the Christmas Octave brings us to Epiphany Eve: so end our special Twelve-Days features, which we hope you have enjoyed. For all their erudition, charm and wit, the prickly literary convert Evelyn Waugh now reminds us that those of us who tend towards letters and learning have a special need of the prayers of the sophisticated Magi, with their fine tastes and strange offerings.
Like me, you were late in coming.
The shepherds were here long before,
even the cattle. They had joined
the chorus of angels
before you were started.
For you the primordial discipline
of the heavens had to be relaxed
and a new defiant light set to blaze amid
the disconcerted stars.
How laboriously you came, taking sights
and calculating, where the shepherds
had run barefoot. How odd you looked on the road,
attended by what outlandish liveries,
and laden with such preposterous gifts.
You came at length to the first stage
of your pilgrimage and the great star
stood still above you. What did you do?
You stopped to call on King Herod.
Deadly exchange of compliments
in which there began that un-ended war
of mobs and magistrates against the innocent.
Yet you came, and were not turned away.
You too found room before the manger.
Your gifts were not needed, but they were
accepted and put carefully by,
for they were brought with love.
In that new order of charity
that had just come to life,
there was room for you, too.
You were not lower in the eyes of
the Holy Family than the ox or the ass.
You are our special patrons,
and patrons of all latecomers,
of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth,
of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation,
of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt,
of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents.
May we, too, before and at the end
find kneeling-space in the straw.
For His sake Who did not reject your curious gifts,
pray always for all the learned,
the oblique, and the delicate.
Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God
when the simple come into their kingdom.
Photo: Rubens’ paintings of the Magi reunited at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, in 2015. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images.
(from the Catholic Herald)