The Cologne Cathedral is a renowned monument of German Catholicism and Gothic architecture and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1996. It is Germany’s most visited landmark, attracting an average of 20,000 people a day. At 157 m (515 ft), the cathedral is the tallest twin-spired church in the world, the second tallest church in Europe after Ulm Minster, and the third tallest church of any kind in the world. It is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and has the second-tallest spires. The towers for its two huge spires give the cathedral the largest façade of any church in the world.
Cologne’s medieval builders had planned a grand structure to house the reliquary of the Three Kings and fit for its role as a place of worship for the Holy Roman Emperor. Why go to so much trouble to honor three wise men coming from afar? It is because they give us so many lessons about walking the Christian life.
Let’s begin with the star. The wise men were most probably what today we consider scientists studying the universe. They would be very familiar with the movements of the stars. In antiquity many civilizations could predict the seasons and the crops with great accuracy. They didn’t have the Weather Channel, but they were able to read nature in an impressive way.
Scientists at that time were often interested not only in one area of knowledge, but in a variety of them. They knew math, the stars, physics, philosophy and theology very well. They were definitely very interested in the beliefs of different cultures. Through trading with the Jewish people, they were probably familiar with the promise of a Messiah.
In this context they saw a particularly peculiar star, or comet, and they understood that it would guide them to the Savior. But one thing is to understand and another to actually follow. They left everything following the star. Our first lesson is to follow the Will of God. After careful discernment, we need to make a leap of faith and follow like the wise men.
The wise men followed the star, but the star hid from them in Jerusalem. This might have been hard for them, but they did not give up, they kept trusting. Sometimes, in the spiritual life, after careful discernment we start following, but the Lord hides for a while and doubt, dryness and anxiety attack us.
We need to imitate the wise men in not abandoning our resolutions, in keeping our trust in the Lord, in doing his Most Holy Will even when we don’t feel anything, in walking through the dark night even when feeling alone. The second lesson then, is trust in the midst of darkness.
But our story has an extremely happy ending. They found Jesus with Mary and “they prostrated themselves and did him homage.” Following the star faithfully has its very tough challenges. At times it becomes almost impossible, but it always leads to finding Jesus. It must also be said that even though the wise men felt a little lost when the star hid, it was Jesus himself who strengthened them from inside out. Our third lesson is that the star always leads to Jesus and that Jesus at times hides but he never abandons us.
Finally, “they opened their treasures” and offered Jesus their gifts. They might have thought that they were giving Jesus a favor, but actually they received infinitely more than they gave. Just consider for a moment the torrent of graces of love, peace and joy with which the Lord flooded their souls. The last lesson is that Jesus is never outdone in generosity.