POPE FRANCIS’ REFLECTION HOMILY ON THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD.
HOMILY OF POPE FRANCIS
St Peter’s Basilica
Thursday, 6 January 2022
The Magi travel towards Bethlehem. Their pilgrimage speaks also to us, who are called to journey towards Jesus, for he is the North Star that lights up the sky of life and guides our steps towards true joy. Yet where did the Magi’s pilgrimage to encounter Jesus begin? What made these men of the East set out on their journey?
They had excellent reasons not to depart. They were wise men and astrologers, famous and wealthy. Having attained sufficient cultural, social and economic security, they could have remained content with what they already knew and possessed. Instead, they let themselves be unsettled by a question and by a sign: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star…” (Mt 2:2). They did not allow their hearts to retreat into the caves of gloom and apathy; they longed to see the light. They were not content to plod through life, but yearned for new and greater horizons. Their eyes were not fixed here below; they were windows open to the heavens. As Benedict XVI said, the Magi were “men with a restless heart… They were filled with expectation, not satisfied with their secure income and their respectable place in society… They were seekers after God” (Homily, 6 January 2013).
Where did it originate, this spirit of healthy restlessness that led them to set out on their journey? It was born of desire. That was their secret: the capacity to desire. Let us think about this. To desire means to fuel the fire that burns within us; it drives us to look beyond what is immediate and visible. To desire means embracing life as a mystery that surpasses us, as an ever-present cranny in the wall that beckons us to look into the distance, since life is not just our here and now, but something much greater. It is like a blank canvas that cries out for colour. A great painter, Vincent Van Gogh, once said that his need for God drove him to go outside at night to paint the stars. For that is the way God made us: brimming with desire, directed, like the Magi, towards the stars. With no exaggeration, we can say that we are what we desire. For it is our desires that enlarge our gaze and drive our lives forward, beyond the barriers of habit, beyond banal consumerism, beyond a drab and dreary faith, beyond the fear of becoming involved and serving others and the common good. In the words of Saint Augustine, “our entire life is an exercise of holy desire” (Homily on the First Letter of John, IV, 6).
Brothers and sisters, as it was for the Magi, so it is for us. The journey of life and faith demands a deep desire and inner zeal. Sometimes we live in a spirit of a “parking lot”; we stay parked, without the impulse of desire that carries us forward. We do well to ask: where are we on our journey of faith? Have we been stuck all too long, nestled inside a conventional, external and formal religiosity that no longer warms our hearts and changes our lives? Do our words and our liturgies ignite in people’s hearts a desire to move towards God, or are they a “dead language” that speaks only of itself and to itself? It is sad when a community of believers loses its desire and is content with “maintenance” rather than allowing itself to be startled by Jesus and by the explosive and unsettling joy of the Gospel. It is sad when a priest has closed the door of desire, sad to fall into clerical functionalism, very sad.
The crisis of faith in our lives and in our societies also has to do with the eclipse of desire for God. It is related to a kind of slumbering of the spirit, to the habit of being content to live from day to day, without ever asking what God really wants from us. We peer over earthly maps, but forget to look up to heaven. We are sated with plenty of things, but fail to hunger for our absent desire for God. We are fixated on our own needs, on what we will eat and wear (cf. Mt 6:25), even as we let the longing for greater things evaporate. And we find ourselves living in communities that crave everything, have everything, yet all too often feel nothing but emptiness in their hearts: closed communities of individuals, bishops, priests or consecrated men and women. Indeed the lack of desire leads only to sadness and indifference, to sad communities, sad priests or bishops.
Let us look first to ourselves and ask: How is the journey of my faith going? This is a question that we can ask ourselves today, each one of us. How is the journey of my faith going? Is it parked or is it on the move? Faith, if it is to grow, has to begin ever anew. It needs to be sparked by desire, to take up the challenge of entering into a living and lively relationship with God. Does my heart still burn with desire for God? Or have I allowed force of habit and my own disappointments to extinguish that flame? Today, brothers and sisters, is the day we should ask these questions. Today is the day we should return to nurturing our desire. How do we do this? Let us go to the Magi and learn from their “school of desire”. They will teach us in their school of desire. Let us look at the steps they took, and draw some lessons from them.
In the first place, they set out at the rising of the star. The Magi teach us that we need to set out anew each day, in life as in faith, for faith is not a suit of armour that encases us; instead, it is a fascinating journey, a constant and restless movement, ever in search of God, always discerning our way forward.
Then, in Jerusalem the Magi ask questions: they inquire where the Child is to be found. They teach us that we need to question. We need to listen carefully to the questions of our heart and our conscience, for it is there that God often speaks to us. He addresses us more with questions than with answers. We must learn this well: God addresses us more with questions than with answers. Yet let us also be unsettled by the questions of our children, and by the doubts, hopes and desires of the men and women of our time. We need to entertain questions.
The Magi then defy Herod. They teach us that we need a courageous faith, one that is unafraid to challenge the sinister logic of power, and become seeds of justice and fraternity in societies where in our day modern Herods continue to sow death and slaughter the poor and innocent, amid general indifference.
Finally, the Magi return “by another way” (Mt 2:12). They challenge us to take new paths. Here we see the creativity of the Spirit who always brings out new things. That is also one of the tasks of the Synod we are currently undertaking: to journey together and to listen to one another, so that the Spirit can suggest to us new ways and paths to bring the Gospel to the hearts of those who are distant, indifferent or without hope, yet continue to seek what the Magi found: “a great joy” (Mt 2:10). We must always move forwards.
At the end of the Magi’s journey came the climactic moment: once they arrived at their destination, “they fell down and worshiped the Child” (cf. v. 11). They worshiped. Let us we never forget this: the journey of faith finds renewed strength and fulfilment only when it is made in the presence of God. Only if we recover our “taste” for adoration will our desire be rekindled. Desire leads us to adoration and adoration renews our desire. For our desire for God can only grow when we place ourselves in his presence. For Jesus alone heals our desires. From what? From the tyranny of needs. Indeed, our hearts grow sickly whenever our desires coincide merely with our needs. God, on the other hand, elevates our desires; he purifies them and heals them of selfishness, opening them to love for him and for our brothers and sisters. This is why we should not neglect adoration, that prayer of silent adoration which is not so common among us. Please let us not forget adoration.
In this way, like the Magi, we will have the daily certainty that even in the darkest nights a star continues to shine. It is the star of the Lord, who comes to care for our frail humanity. Let us set out on the path towards him. Let us not give apathy and resignation the power to drive us into a cheerless and banal existence. Let our restless hearts embrace the restlessness of the Spirit. The world expects from believers a new burst of enthusiasm for the things of heaven. Like the Magi, let us lift up our eyes, listen to the desire lodged in our hearts, and follow the star that God makes shine above us. As restless seekers, let us remain open to God’s surprises. Brothers and sisters, let us dream, let us seek and let us adore.
Source and copyright: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2022/documents/20220106_omelia-epifania.html
6 January 2021
The Evangelist Matthew tells us that the Magi, when they came to Bethlehem, “saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him” (Mt 2:11). Worshiping the Lord is not easy; it does not just happen. It requires a certain spiritual maturity and is the fruit of an at times lengthy interior journey. Worshiping God is not something we do spontaneously. True, human beings have a need to worship, but we can risk missing the goal. Indeed, if we do not worship God, we will worship idols – there is no middle way, it is either God or idols; or, to use the words of a French writer: “Whoever does not worship God, worships the devil” – and instead of becoming believers, we will become idolaters. It is just like that, aut aut.
In our day, it is particularly necessary for us, both as individuals and as communities, to devote more time to worship. We need to learn ever better how to contemplate the Lord. We have somewhat lost the meaning of the prayer of adoration, so we must take it up again, both in our communities and in our own spiritual life. Today, then, let us learn a few useful lessons from the Magi. Like them, we want to fall down and worship the Lord. To worship him seriously, not as Herod said: “Let me know where the place is and I will go to worship him”. No, that worship is not good. Ours must be serious!
The Liturgy of the Word offers us three phrases that can help us to understand more fully what it means to be worshipers of the Lord. They are: “to lift up our eyes”, “to set out on a journey” and “to see”. These three phrases can help us to understand what it means to be a worshiper of the Lord.
The first phrase, to lift up our eyes, comes to us from the prophet Isaiah. To the community of Jerusalem, recently returned from exile and disheartened by great challenges and hardships, the prophet addresses these powerful words of encouragement: “Lift up your eyes and look around” (60:4). He urges them to lay aside their weariness and complaints, to escape the bottleneck of a narrow way of seeing things, to cast off the dictatorship of the self, the constant temptation to withdraw into ourselves and our own concerns. To worship the Lord, we first have to “lift up our eyes”. In other words, not to let ourselves be imprisoned by those imaginary spectres that stifle hope, not to make our problems and difficulties the centre of our lives. This does not mean denying reality, or deluding ourselves into thinking that all is well. On the contrary, it is a matter of viewing problems and anxieties in a new way, knowing that the Lord is aware of our troubles, attentive to our prayers and not indifferent to the tears we shed.
This way of seeing things, which despite everything continues to trust in the Lord, gives rise to filial gratitude. When this happens, our hearts become open to worship. On the other hand, when we focus exclusively on problems, and refuse to lift up our eyes to God, fear and confusion creep into our hearts, giving rise to anger, bewilderment, anxiety and depression. Then it becomes difficult to worship the Lord. Once this happens, we need to find the courage to break out of the circle of our foregone conclusions and to recognize that reality is much greater than we imagine. Lift up your eyes, look around and see. The Lord asks us first to trust in him, because he truly cares for everyone. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he provide for us? (cf. Lk 12:28). If we lift up our eyes to the Lord, and consider all things in his light, we will see that he never abandons us. The Word became flesh (cf. Jn 1:14) and remains with us always, for all time (cf. Mt 28:20). Always.
When we lift up our eyes to God, life’s problems do not go away, no; instead we feel certain that the Lord grants us the strength to deal with them. The first step towards an attitude of worship, then, is to “lift up our eyes”. Our worship is that of disciples who have found in God a new and unexpected joy. Worldly joy is based on wealth, success or similar things, always with ourselves at the centre. The joy of Christ’s disciples, on the other hand, is based on the fidelity of God, whose promises never fail, whatever the crises we may face. Filial gratitude and joy awaken within us a desire to worship the Lord, who remains ever faithful and never abandons us.
The second helpful phrase is to set out on a journey. Before they could worship the Child in Bethlehem, the Magi had to undertake a lengthy journey. Matthew tells us that in those days “wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying: ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him’” (Mt 2:1-2). A journey always involves a transformation, a change. After a journey, we are no longer the same. There is always something new about those who have made a journey: they have learned new things, encountered new people and situations, and found inner strength amid the hardships and risks they met along the way. No one worships the Lord without first experiencing the interior growth that comes from embarking on a journey.
We become worshipers of the Lord through a gradual process. Experience teaches us, for example, that at fifty we worship differently than we did at thirty. Those who let themselves be shaped by grace usually improve with time: on the outside, we grow older – so Saint Paul tells us – while our inner nature is being renewed each day (cf. 2 Cor 4:16), as we grow in our understanding of how best to worship the Lord. From this point of view, our failures, crises and mistakes can become learning experiences: often they can help us to be more aware that the Lord alone is worthy of our worship, for only he can satisfy our innermost desire for life and eternity. With the passage of time, life’s trials and difficulties – experienced in faith – help to purify our hearts, making them humbler and thus more and more open to God. Even our sins, the awareness of being sinners, of experiencing such bad things. “But I did this… I did…”: if you approach it with faith and repentance, with contrition, it will help you to grow. Paul says that everything can help us to grow spiritually, to encounter Jesus, even our sins. And Saint Thomas adds: “etiam mortalia”, even the bad sins, the worst. But if you respond with repentance it will help you on this journey towards encountering the Lord and to worship him better.
Like the Magi, we too must allow ourselves to learn from the journey of life, marked by the inevitable inconveniences of travel. We cannot let our weariness, our falls and our failings discourage us. Instead, by humbly acknowledging them, we should make them opportunities to progress towards the Lord Jesus. Life is not about showing off our abilities, but a journey towards the One who loves us. We are not to show off our virtues in every step of our life; rather, with humility we should journey towards the Lord. By keeping our gaze fixed on the Lord, we will find the strength needed to persevere with renewed joy.
And so we come to the third phrase: to see. To lift up our eyes; to set out on a journey; to see. The Evangelist tells us that, “going into the house they saw the child with Mary, his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him” (Mt 2:10-11). Worshiping was an act of homage reserved for sovereigns and high dignitaries. The Magi worshiped the One they knew was the king of the Jews (cf. Mt 2:2). But what did they actually see? They saw a poor child and his mother. Yet these wise men from far-off lands were able to look beyond those lowly surroundings and recognize in that Child a royal presence. They were able to “see” beyond appearances. Falling to their knees before the Babe of Bethlehem, they expressed a worship that was above all interior: the opening of the treasures they had brought as gifts symbolized the offering of their own hearts.
To worship the Lord we need to “see” beyond the veil of things visible, which often prove deceptive. Herod and the leading citizens of Jerusalem represent a worldliness enslaved to appearances and immediate attractions. They see, yet they cannot see. It is not that they do not believe, no; it is that they do not know how to see because they are slaves to appearances and seek what is attractive. They value only the sensational, the things that capture the attention of the masses. In the Magi, however, we see a very different approach, one we can define as theological realism – a very “high” word, yet helpful – a way of perceiving the objective reality of things and leads to the realization that God shuns all ostentation. The Lord is in humility, he is like that humble child, who shuns that ostentation which is precisely the product of worldliness. A way of “seeing” that transcends the visible and makes it possible for us to worship the Lord who is often hidden in everyday situations, in the poor and those on the fringes. A way of seeing things that is not impressed by sound and fury, but seeks in every situation the things that truly matter, and that seeks the Lord. With Saint Paul, then, let us “look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor 4:18).
May the Lord Jesus make us true worshipers, capable of showing by our lives his loving plan for all humanity. Let us ask for the grace for each of us and for the whole Church, to learn to worship, to continue to worship, to exercise this prayer of adoration often, because only God is to be adored.
6 January 2021
Dear Brothers and Sisters, buongiorno!
Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany, that is, the manifestation of the Lord to all peoples: in fact, the salvation wrought by Christ knows no boundaries. It is for everyone. Epiphany is not an additional mystery, it is always the same mystery as the Nativity, viewed, however, from the dimension of light, the light that illumines every man and women, the light to be welcomed in faith and the light to bring to others in charity, through witness, in the proclamation of the Gospel.
Isaiah’s vision, reported in today’s Liturgy (see 60:1-6), resounds in our time and is more timely than ever: “darkness covers the earth, and thick darkness the peoples” (v. 2), the text from Isaiah says. With that background, the prophet announced the light: the light given by God to Jerusalem and destined to enlighten the path of all the peoples. This light has the power to attract everyone, near and far, everyone sets out on the path to reach it, verse 3). It is a vision that opens the heart, that makes the breath come easier, that invites hope. Certainly, the darkness is present and threatening in everyone’s life and in the story of humanity; but God’s light is more powerful. It needs to be welcomed so that it might shine on everyone. But, we can distance this light from us. But we can ask ourselves: “Where is this light?” The prophet caught a glimpse of it from afar, but that was already enough to fill the heart of Jerusalem with irrepressible joy. Where is that light?
The Evangelist Matthew in his turn, recounting the episode of the Magi (see 2:1-12), shows that this light is the Baby of Bethlehem, it is Jesus, even if His kingship was not accepted by everyone. Rather some rejected it, like King Herod. He is the star who appeared on the horizon, the awaited Messiah, the One through whom God would inaugurate His kingdom of love, His kingdom of of justice and of peace. He was born not only for some, but for all men and women, for all peoples. The light is for all peoples, salvation is for all peoples.
And how does this “radiation” come? How does Christ’s light shine in every place and at every moment? It has its own method of expanding. It does not do so through the powerful means of this world’s empires who always seek to seize power. No, Christ’s light spreads through the proclamation of the Gospel. Through proclamation…by word and witness. And with this same “method”, God chose to come among us: the Incarnation, that is, by drawing near to the other, encountering the other, assuming the reality of the other and bringing the witness of our faith, everyone. This is the only way that Christ’s light, who is Love, can shine in those who welcome it and attract others. Christ’s light does not expand only through words, through fake methods, commercial ones…. No, no, through faith, word and witness. Thus the light of Christ expands. The star is Christ, but we too can and must also be the star for our brothers and sisters, as witnesses of the treasures of goodness and infinite mercy that the Redeemer offers freely to everyone. Christ’s light does not expand through proselytism. It expands through witness, through the confession of the faith. Even through martyrdom.
Therefore, the condition is to welcome this light within, to welcome it always more. Woe to us if we think we possess it, no; woe to us if we think that we only need to “manage” it! No. Like the Magi, we too are called to allow ourselves to be fascinated, attracted, guided, illuminated and converted by Christ: He is the journey of faith, through prayer and the contemplation of God’s works, who continually fills us with joy and wonder, an ever new wonder. That wonder is the always the first step to go forward in this light.
Let us invoke the protection of Mary on the universal Church, so that it might spread throughout the entire world the Gospel of Christ, the light of all the peoples, the light of every people.
St. Peter’s Basilica January 6, 2020
To worship means…
In the Gospel (Mt 2:1-12), we heard the Magi begin by stating the reason why they have come: “We have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him” (v. 2). Worship is the end and goal of their journey. Indeed, when they arrived in Bethlehem, “they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him” (v. 11). Once we lose the sense of worship, we lose our direction in the Christian life, which is a journey towards the Lord, not towards ourselves. The Gospel warns us about this risk, for alongside the Magi it presents others who are incapable of worship.
First of all, there is King Herod, who uses the word worship, but only to deceive. He asks the Magi to tell him where the child is to be found, “so that I too may come and adore him” (v. 8). The fact is that Herod worshiped only himself; that is why he wanted to rid himself of the child through a lie. What does this teach us? That when we do not worship God, we end up worshiping ourselves. So too, the Christian life, when it fails to worship the Lord, can become a discreet way of affirming ourselves and our own abilities: Christians who do not know how to worship, who do not know how to pray by worshiping. This is a grave risk: we use God instead of serving him. How many times have we confused the interests of the Gospel with our own? How many times have we cloaked in religiosity the things we find convenient? How many times have we confused God’s power, which is for serving others, with power of this world, which is for serving ourselves!
In addition to Herod, other people in the Gospel are incapable of worship: they are the chief priests and the scribes. They tell Herod with great precision where the Messiah is to be born: in Bethlehem of Judea (cf. v. 5). They know the prophecies and can quote them exactly. They know where to go – they are great theologians, great! – but they do not go there. Here too we can draw a lesson. In the Christian life, it is not enough to be knowledgeable: unless we step out of ourselves, unless we encounter others and worship, we cannot know God. Theology and pastoral effectiveness mean little or nothing unless we bend the knee; unless we kneel down like the Magi, who were not only knowledgeable about planning a journey, but also capable of setting out and bowing down in worship. Once we worship, we come to realize that faith is not simply a set of fine doctrines, but a relationship with a living Person whom we are called to love. It is in encountering Jesus face to face that we come to see him as he is. Through worship, we discover that the Christian life is a love story with God, where what really matters is not our fine ideas but our ability to make him the centre of our lives, as lovers do with those whom they love. This is what the Church ought to be, a worshiper in love with Jesus her spouse.
As we begin the New Year, may we discover anew that faith demands worship. If we can fall on our knees before Jesus, we will overcome the temptation to set off on our own path. For worship involves making an exodus from the greatest form of bondage: slavery to oneself. Worship means putting the Lord at the centre, not ourselves. It is means giving things their rightful place, and giving the first place to God. Worship means making God’s plan more important than our personal time, our entitlements and our spaces. It is to accept the teaching of Scripture: “You shall worship the Lord your God” (Mt 4:10). Your God: worship means realizing that you and God belong together to one another. It means being able to speak to him freely and intimately. It means bringing our lives to him and letting him enter into them. It means letting his consolation come down to earth. Worship means discovering that, in order to pray, it is enough to say: “My Lord and my God!”, and to let ourselves be pervaded by his tender love.
Worship means going to Jesus without a list of petitions, but with one request alone: to abide with him. It is about discovering that joy and peace increase with praise and thanksgiving. In worship, we allow Jesus to heal and change us. In worship, we make it possible for the Lord to transform us by his love, to kindle light amid our darkness, to grant us strength in weakness and courage amid trials. Worship means concentrating on what is essential: ridding ourselves of useless things and addictions that anaesthetize the heart and confound the mind. In worship, we learn to reject what should not be worshiped: the god of money, the god of consumerism, the god of pleasure, the god of success, the god of self. Worship means bending low before the Most High and to discover in his presence that life’s greatness does not consist in having, but in loving. Worship means recognizing that we are all brothers and sisters before the mystery of a love that bridges every distance: it is to encounter goodness at the source; it is to find in the God of closeness the courage to draw near to others. Worship means knowing how to be silent in the presence of the divine Word, and learning to use words that do not wound but console.
Worship is an act of love that changes our lives. It is to do what the Magi did. To bring gold to the Lord and to tell him that nothing is more precious than he is. To offer him incense and to tell him that only in union with him can our lives rise up to heaven. To present him with myrrh, balm for the bruised and wounded, and to promise him that we will aid our marginalized and suffering neighbours, in whom he himself is present. We usually know how to pray – we ask the Lord, we thank him – but the Church must move forward in her prayer of worship; we must grow in worshiping. This is wisdom that we must learn each day. Praying by worshiping: the prayer of worship.
Dear brothers and sisters, today each one of us can ask: “Am I a Christian who worships?” Many Christians pray but they do not worship. Let us ask ourselves this question: Do we find time for worship in our daily schedules and do we make room for worship in our communities? It is up to us, as a Church, to put into practice the words we prayed in today’s Psalm: “All the peoples on earth will worship you, O Lord”. In worshiping, we too will discover, like the Magi, the meaning of our journey. And like the Magi, we too will experience “a great joy” (Mt2:10).
St. Peter’s Basilica January 6, 2019
What is Epiphany?
Epiphany: this word indicates the manifestation of the Lord, who, as Saint Paul tells us in the second reading (cf. Eph 3:6), makes himself known to all the nations, today represented by the Magi. In this way, we see revealed the glory of a God who has come for everyone: every nation, language, and people is welcomed and loved by him. It is symbolized by the light, which penetrates and illumines all things.
Yet if our God makes himself known for everyone, it is even more surprising how he does so. The Gospel speaks of a hum of activity around the palace of King Herod once Jesus appears as a king. The Magi ask: “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” (Mt 2:2). They will find him, but not where they thought: not in the royal palace of Jerusalem, but in a humble abode in Bethlehem. We saw this same paradox at Christmas. The Gospel spoke of the census of the entire world taken in the days of Emperor Augustus, when Quirinius was governor (cf. Lk 2:2). But none of the great men of that time realized that the King of history was being born in their own time. Again, when Jesus, some thirty years of age, made himself known publicly, preceded by John the Baptist, the Gospel once more solemnly situates the event, listing all the “magnates” of the time, the great secular and spiritual powers: Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias, the high priests Annas and Caiaphas. And it concludes by saying that, at that time, “the word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah, in the wilderness” (Lk 3:2). To none of the magnates, but to a man who had withdrawn to the desert. Here is the surprise: God does not need the spotlights of the world to make himself known.
When we listen to that list of distinguished personages, we might be tempted to turn the spotlight on them. We might think that it would have been better had the star of Jesus appeared in Rome, on the Palatine Hill, where Augustus ruled over the world; then the whole empire would immediately have become Christian. Or if it had shone on the palace of Herod, he might have done good rather than evil. But God’s light does not shine on those who shine with their own light. God “proposes” himself; he does not “impose” himself. He illumines; he does not blind. It is always very tempting to confuse God’s light with the lights of the world. How many times have we pursued the seductive lights of power and celebrity, convinced that we are rendering good service to the Gospel! But by doing so, have we not turned the spotlight on the wrong place, because God was not there. His kindly light shines forth in humble love. How many times too, have we, as a Church, attempted to shine with our own light! Yet we are not the sun of humanity. We are the moon that, despite its shadows, reflects the true light, which is the Lord. He is the light of the world (cf. Jn 9:5). Him, not us.
The light of God shines on those who receive it. Isaiah, in the first reading (cf. 60:2), tells us that that light does not prevent the darkness and the thick clouds from covering the earth, but shines forth on those prepared to accept it. And so, the prophet addresses a challenging summons to everyone: “Arise, shine” (60:1). We need to arise, to get up from our sedentary lives and prepare for a journey. Otherwise, we stand still, like the scribes that Herod consulted; they knew very well where the Messiah was born, but they did not move. We also need to shine, to be clothed in God who is light, day by day, until we are fully clothed in Jesus. Yet to be clothed in God, who like the light is simple, we must first put aside our pretentious robes. Otherwise, we will be like Herod, who preferred the earthly lights of success and power to the divine light. The Magi, instead, fulfill the prophecy. They arise and shine, and are clothed in light. They alone see the star in the heavens: not the scribes, nor Herod, nor any of the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
In order to find Jesus, we also need to take a different route, to follow a different path, his path, the path of humble love. And we have to persevere. Today’s Gospel ends by saying that the Magi, after encountering Jesus, “left for their own country by another road” (Mt 2:12). Another road, different from that of Herod. An alternative route than that of the world, like the road taken by those who surround Jesus at Christmas: Mary and Joseph, the shepherds. Like the Magi, they left home and became pilgrims on the paths of God. For only those who leave behind their worldly attachments and undertake a journey find the mystery of God.
This holds true for us too. It is not enough to know where Jesus was born, as the scribes did if we do not go there. It is not enough to know that Jesus was born, like Herod, if we do not encounter him. When his place becomes our place, when his time becomes our time, when his person becomes our life, then the prophecies come to fulfillment in us. Then Jesus is born within us. He becomes the living God for me. Today we are asked to imitate the Magi. They do not debate; they set out. They do not stop to look but enter the house of Jesus. They do not put themselves at the center but bow down before the One who is the center. They do not remain glued to their plans but are prepared to take other routes. Their actions reveal a close contact with the Lord, a radical openness to him, a total engagement with him. With him, they use the language of love, the same language that Jesus, though an infant, already speaks. Indeed, the Magi go to the Lord not to receive, but to give. Let us ask ourselves this question: at Christmas did we bring gifts to Jesus for his party, or did we only exchange gifts among ourselves?
If we went to the Lord empty-handed, today we can remedy that. The Gospel, in some sense, gives us a little “gift list”: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold, the most precious of metals, reminds us God has to be granted first place; he has to be worshiped. But do that, we need to remove ourselves from the first place and to recognize our neediness, the fact that we are not self-sufficient. Then there is frankincense, which symbolizes a relationship with the Lord, prayer, which like incense rises up to God (cf. Ps 141:2). Just as incense must burn in order to yield its fragrance, so too, in prayer, we need to “burn” a little of our time, to spend it with the Lord. Not just in words, but also by our actions. We see this in the myrrh, the ointment that would be lovingly used to wrap the body of Jesus taken down from the cross (cf. Jn 19:39). The Lord is pleased when we care for bodies racked by suffering, the flesh of the vulnerable, of those left behind, of those who can only receive without being able to give anything material in return. Precious in the eyes of God is mercy shown to those who have nothing to give back. Gratuitousness!
In this Christmas season now drawing to its close, let us not miss the opportunity to offer a precious gift to our King, who came to us not in worldly pomp, but in the luminous poverty of Bethlehem. If we can do this, his light will shine upon us.
© Libreria Editrice Vatican
VATICAN-PROVIDED ENGLISH TEXT
Jan. 6, 2017
Long for God and worship Him.
- Long for God with an open and humble heart.
- Herod’s closed heart and cauterized conscience impeded him to see God and led him to make people suffer.
- The Magi were able to worship God because they longed for God and had the courage to set out to seek Him in spite of the arduous and complicated journey.
“Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we have observed his star in the East, and have come to worship him” (Mt 2:2).
With these words, the Magi, come from afar, tell us the reason for their long journey: they came to worship the newborn King. To see and to worship. These two actions stand out in the Gospel account. We saw a star and we want to worship.
These men saw a star that made them set out. The discovery of something unusual in the heavens sparked a whole series of events. The star did not shine just for them, nor did they have special DNA to be able to see it. As one of the Church Fathers rightly noted, the Magi did not set out because they had seen the star, but they saw the star because they had already set out (cf. Saint John Chrysostom). Their hearts were open to the horizon and they could see what the heavens were showing them, for they were guided by an inner restlessness. They were open to something new.
1. Long for God with an open and humble heart.
The Magi thus personify all those who believe, those who long for God, who yearn for their home, their heavenly homeland. They reflect the image of all those who in their lives have not let their hearts become anesthetized.
A holy longing for God wells up in the heart of believers because they know that the Gospel is not an event of the past but of the present. A holy longing for God helps us keep alert in the face of every attempt to reduce and impoverish our life. A holy longing for God is the memory of faith, which rebels before all prophets of doom. That longing keeps hope alive in the community of believers, which from week to week continues to plead: “Come, Lord Jesus”.
This same longing led the elderly Simeon to go up each day to the Temple, certain that his life would not end before he had held the Saviour in his arms. This longing led the Prodigal Son to abandon his self-destructive lifestyle and to seek his father’s embrace. This was the longing felt by the shepherd who left the ninety-nine sheep in order to seek out the one that was lost. Mary Magdalen experienced the same longing on that Sunday morning when she ran to the tomb and met her risen Master. Longing for God draws us out of our iron-clad isolation, which makes us think that nothing can change. Longing for God shatters our dreary routines and impels us to make the changes we want and need. Longing for God has its roots in the past yet does not remain there: it reaches out to the future. Believers who feel this longing are led by faith to seek God, as the Magi did, in the most distant corners of history, for they know that there the Lord awaits them. They go to the peripheries, to the frontiers, to places not yet evangelized, to encounter their Lord. Nor do they do this out of a sense of superiority, but rather as beggars who cannot ignore the eyes of those who for whom the Good News is still uncharted territory.
2. Herod’s closed heart and cauterized conscience impeded him to see God and led him to make people suffer.
An entirely different attitude reigned in the palace of Herod, a short distance from Bethlehem, where no one realized what was taking place. As the Magi made their way, Jerusalem slept. It slept in collusion with a Herod who, rather than seeking, also slept. He slept, anesthetized by a cauterized conscience. He was bewildered, afraid. It is the bewilderment which, when faced with the newness that revolutionizes history, closes in on itself and its own achievements, its knowledge, its successes. The bewilderment of one who sits atop his wealth yet cannot see beyond it. The bewilderment lodged in the hearts of those who want to control everything and everyone. The bewilderment of those immersed in the culture of winning at any cost, in that culture where there is only room for “winners”, whatever the price. A bewilderment born of fear and foreboding before anything that challenges us, calls into question our certainties and our truths, our ways of clinging to the world and this life. Herod was afraid, and that fear led him to seek security in crime: “You kill the little ones in their bodies, because fear is killing you in your heart” (SAINT QUODVULTDEUS, Sermon 2 on the Creed: PL 40, 655).
3. The Magi were able to worship God because they longed for God and had the courage to set out to seek Him in spite of the arduous and complicated journey.
We want to worship. Those men came from the East to worship, and they came to do so in the place befitting a king: a palace. Their quest led them there, for it was fitting that a king should be born in a palace, amid a court and all his subjects. For that is a sign of power, success, a life of achievement. One might well expect a king to be venerated, feared and adulated. True, but not necessarily loved. For those are worldly categories, the paltry idols to which we pay homage: the cult of power, outward appearances and superiority. Idols that promise only sorrow and enslavement.
It was there, in that place, that those men, come from afar, would embark upon their longest journey. There they set out boldly on a more arduous and complicated journey. They had to discover that what they sought was not in a palace, but elsewhere, both existentially and geographically. There, in the palace, they did not see the star guiding them to discover a God who wants to be loved. For only under the banner of freedom, not tyranny, is it possible to realize that the gaze of this unknown but desired king does not abase, enslave, or imprison us. To realize that the gaze of God lifts up, forgives and heals. To realize that God wanted to be born where we least expected, or perhaps desired, in a place where we so often refuse him. To realize that in God’s eyes there is always room for those who are wounded, weary, mistreated and abandoned. That his strength and his power are called mercy. For some of us, how far Jerusalem is from Bethlehem!
Herod is unable to worship because he could not or would not change his own way of looking at things. He did not want to stop worshiping himself, believing that everything revolved around him. He was unable to worship, because his aim was to make others worship him. Nor could the priests worship, because although they had great knowledge, and knew the prophecies, they were not ready to make the journey or to change their ways.
The Magi experienced longing; they were tired of the usual fare. They were all too familiar with, and weary of, the Herods of their own day. But there, in Bethlehem, was a promise of newness, of gratuitousness. There something new was taking place. The Magi were able to worship, because they had the courage to set out. And as they fell to their knees before the small, poor and vulnerable Infant, the unexpected and unknown Child of Bethlehem, they discovered the glory of God.
HOMILY SOURCE: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2017/01/06/the_popes_homily_on_the_feast_of_the_epiphany/1283919
PHOTO SOURCE: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/13/67/09/13670973bc3c1cd460929861f5e4e24e.jpg
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