Cologne: An Epiphany

The best thing about allowing God to plan your travels are the amazing ways He surprises you. When I stepped off the train in Cologne I had no idea of what awaited me. I had found little of spiritual significance in Berlin other than art and artifacts.

I guess because of that, I had written off the rest of Germany outside of Bavaria. God knows what he is doing even when I don’t. Living in the present though, requires not knowing, thus receiving each moment as a sacrament. It’s trusting that while you may be in the dark, you’re really in His light, being guided by His illumination.

Awe, sheer awe, is what I felt as I approached the looming, goth of a Cathedral, with it’s twin spires and it’s dark staining. I needed to know more, even if it meant using my precious data. Quickly, Google turned up all I needed: Relics of the Kings. I checked my phone for the date. January 9th. Yes! It was within eight days of the celebration of Epiphany. I knew this was more than luck.

I was taught that Catholics may celebrate any solemnity as an octave. I think this may have been a hook; Catholics like to party so we can extend it out. If you get a Christmas card from me in February- as long as it’s before Mardi Gras- it is legit. Don’t ask me to explain it. Just say “thanks”. Wink. Wink.

Anyway. I marveled at God’s timing in bringing me here to visit the tomb where three kings who followed a star across the globe were laid to rest. You know these guys.

“We three kings of Orient are, Bearing gifts we traversed so far, Field and fountain, Moor and mountain, Following yonder star.”

Yep. Those are the ones. Amazing. I would NEVER have guessed that they would be here in the Rhineland. But as I said, God is full of surprises.

Cologne Relics of the Magi

Cologne, Relics of the Magi

The Three Kings, or the Magi, as they are sometimes called, seem to be a bit shrouded in mystery, like the lands that they inhabited: Arabia, Persia and India.

As a disclaimer: I am neither theologian nor scholar, just an ordinary pilgrim like you; that is all. I give you this disclaimer as there seems to be debate amongst those who are theologians and scholars, as to the facts concerning these men. They may argue but I prefer a simpler way; Trust.

When we choose to trust we open ourselves to the reality of the Truth. Choosing to trust is an act of faith. It is declaring that we don’t have all the answers, that we are willing to be vulnerable and risk facing humiliation. Trust requires courage.

Back to the Kings…This is what I know:

Balthasar was a king of Arabia, Melchior was a king of Persia and Casper was a king of India. These men set out on a long pilgrimage being led by the light, a star shining in the darkness.

They did not make the journey empty-handed. Within their bounty were some treasured gifts. They knew that someone even greater than themselves had come into the world. They wanted to be prepared to offer him their honor and allegiance.

Perhaps, they were prophets. Some say they were priests. By the end of their journey they would become: true prophets, priests, and kings.

After traveling for more than one year, the pilgrim kings finally arrived in the land of the Hebrews. As would be customary they went to the ruler of the kingdom, King Herod. They explained their circumstances to the Roman-appointed, king of Judea. The Magi informed him that they came seeking the newly-born King of the Jews. Imagine Herod’s surprise.

Herod possesed with envy and fear, ordered all male children in the kingdom under the age of two, to be murdered. This is remembered as the Massacre of the Innocents. Christians recognize these Holy Innocents as the first martyrs of the faith.

The Three Kings went on from Herod’s palace eventually finding the Infant Jesus. They prostrated themselves in worship before Him laying at His feet their gifts: Gold for the child’s Kingship, frankincense for his Priesthood, and myrrh for His Death. Imagine Mary’s wonder.

Shortly after their arrival, Joseph, Mary’s husband, had a dream in which an angel appeared to him. The messenger from God warned Joseph to take his wife and child to Egypt due to the tyranny of Herod. In astonishment, Joseph obeyed.

Balthasar, Melchior, and Casper had found what they were searching for. They set out seeking that which was greater than themselves. Their sights were set on heaven. Their hearts were that of pilgrims.

Their pilgrimage brought about many surprises not only for themselves but for those they encountered. It set into motion many unexpected events of which they were unaware. They were only aware of their part. Living in the present they allowed life to unfold before them. With trust they followed into the unknown and were illuminated by the Light of the World.

Much more could be said about the Holy Family’s Flight Into Egypt but I think I’ll wait with hope that a pilgrimage to that mysterious land may be in the future. For now I will be content with this very moment, for that is where God is to be found. With every new moment comes a new epiphany- illuminating the darkness- that hides in the heart.


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Christmas in Krakow: John Paul II Center, Part 1

Sometimes in life, we find that when we are most confident that we are headed in the right direction we unexpectedly, but precisely at the perfect moment, are alerted to alter our course.

As I rode the commuter bus through Krakow’s center still fashioned with the adornments of the holiday, my thoughts went back to a Christmas forever ago. It was a quiet evening as I flipped through the channels looking for the countdown to the ball drop. Instead the remote stopped on a different square, and in contrast to the rollicking jubilee in NY city, an older man wearing white was walking with a metal staff in hand, up a flight of steps.

He was in Rome and as he approached the enormous doors before him, he knelt, lowered himself head-to-ground and kissed the stone threshold. As I took in this foreign image, something deep inside me ruptured. Mysterious, ancient tears welled up, escaped their captivity and flooded down my face. Impressed upon my soul was the ascertained knowledge that this man was father; I belonged to him. And then came peace. Hello, 2000…

Hello, Google maps. Where you been?  Wifi arrived twenty minutes into my ride and although I don’t read or speak Polish, I was pretty sure I was on the wrong bus. Without any discretion but with many apologies, I shoved my phone in the face of the stoic but (to my great joy) friendly local, crammed next to me. He informed me that my gut was right but the bus was not. On cue the doors screeched open. I jumped off. Within two minutes I was on a direct train headed toward my destination, the John Paul II Center, Krakow. Thank you, Providence.

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Christmas in Krakow’s Jewish Quarter: Divine Mercy, Part 1

“Tell the world of my great and unfathomable Mercy.”

Jesus to St. Faustina

Christmas Eve in the Jewish Quarter

Returning to the hostel from Midnight Mass, I joined two new friends from Tel Aviv, who were celebrating Hanukkah. As we raised our glass together, I could not help but think of what happened not far from this city during World War II; the systematic extermination of people, primarily Jews, but many others as well, who were deemed less than vermin.

Just prior to my arrival in Krakow, I had made an intentional trip to Dachau, a Nazi concentration camp just outside of Munich, Germany. It was a personal pilgrimage for me of which I will write more about soon. So much suffering had taken place there as a direct result of individuals choosing to commit evil against their neighbors, many of whom were Poles. Comprehension of the suffering imposed on those interned in the camps seems nearly unfathomable to people of good heart.


When confronted with evil on the magnitude of the Holocaust, it seems only natural to want to lash out at anyone that could have had the power to stop the atrocities and didn’t. Evil on this level, may cause us to question even the existence of the Creator. We might even attribute to God all the narcissistic qualities of the man who the SS hailed as their “Hitler” thus paying the man, not the Creator, homage.

In light of these conclusions, hopelessness and despair seem understandable. All that might be able to rally us through those two tunnels of darkness, would be our hearts cry for justice, but too often, this desire turns into revenge–justice at all costs, no matter what level it sinks us to. Forgiveness? For what purpose?

At a low point in my life, as I wrestled with forgiving people who injured me gravely, someone told me this:

Unforgiveness is like handing your enemy a cup of poison but instead drinking it yourself.

That was an eye opening perspective. What good was my anger doing for me? Nothing good. Forgiveness seemed impossible to me. I did not have enough Love. I was incapable of forgiving my enemy. I was suffering; not the one perpetuating the evil.

Enter Saint Faustina Kowalska

Also not far from the Jewish Quarter in this city, is a little chapel where the bones of a Polish nun, St. Faustina Kowalska, are laid to rest. Hanging above this poor nun’s tomb is the miraculous image of Divine Mercy. The painting is of the merciful God that this humble women hailed; on her knees, head lowered, prayer beads in hand.

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