Thinking Anew – The coming of the Magi

Former Irish ambassador to the EU Britain and Italy Bobby McDonagh wrote a piece called “Christian harmony can coexist with modern beliefs” in this newspaper last week.

And the article does exactly what it says on the tin.

McDonagh recalls how he learned at school that there is no contradiction between Christian faith and philosophy or science or literature.

But maybe the central theme of the former diplomat’s article, which certainly was the catalyst that inspired the writing, was the recalling of the life and times of a great teacher he had at school.


He writes in glowing terms of his former teacher, Jesuit priest Paul Andrews, who died on November 27th.

Although Paul Andrews had left the school 47 years ago, more than a third of McDonagh’s classmates attended the funeral Mass.

McDonagh writes: “Sometimes it seems important for each of us to find a moment to remember a life which has been directed neither at fame nor at fortune, to acknowledge achievements which require no validation from tabloids or treasuries. We all know people who lived such lives. For me, Paul was one of them.”

It’s abundantly clear that Fr Paul Andrews was a brilliant teacher, who left an indelible mark on many people, including Bobby McDonagh.

Paul Andrews was a gifted man, who had the ability to see, speak and think about God in the environment in which he lived. He made God possible to many people, to those he accompanied, to those he taught and to those who read his works.

Tomorrow the Christian churches celebrate the great feast of the Epiphany. It’s the feast that celebrates the making present, the manifestation, the blossoming of the kingdom of God.

Three wise men make known to the world the reality, the story that this infant Jesus is the Son of God.

In tomorrow’s Gospel Matthew recounts for his readers how the Wise Men were directed by means of a star to Bethlehem. In that same Gospel we learn of the tension between the worldly power of King Herod and the Wise Men, who manage to avoid the dangers that King Herod is plotting.

This Christmas I have encountered so many views of life and reality. I have sat down and listened to people who do not believe in God. I have joyfully witnessed a church packed to the rafters. I have observed a brand of right-wing Catholicism that I can no longer abide, and then up pops the feast of the Epiphany and the article by Bobby McDonagh. His article, at least for me, is a shining light.

In so many ways it’s the coming of the Magi, the wise men, who direct me to the greatness of God.

Obviously, Paul Andrews, in his own quiet, intelligent and charitable way sowed a seed in his students, a seed that helped many of them to go in search of God.

Tomorrow’s feast might help all of us to be guided by a shining light.

And don’t we all encounter people who inspire and impress us with their kindness and goodness?

They get on with it, irrespective of the clamour and noise about them. They don’t seek headlines. And they live in the present in awe of the world about them.

Bobby McDonagh paints a picture of a teacher and priest who was obviously always in search of wisdom and intent on passing it on to others.

Surely his was the living out in everyday life of the feast of the Epiphany.

It’s also worth noting that the Epiphany celebration is the setting of James Joyce’s luminous short story “The Dead”.

Joyce was educated by the Jesuits and Paul Andrews played a significant role in rehabilitating Joyce within the Jesuit community in the 1950s. As Fr Bruce Bradley SJ said at Paul’s funeral Mass: “Paul was quite prepared to break the disapproving silence and begin the process of setting the record (on Joyce) straight at last.”

Another example of following a bright star, when it may not have been the popular action to take.