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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

0507: Reflections on the Solemnity of the
Epiphany by Pope Francis

Entry 0507: Reflections on the Solemnity of the Epiphany    
 by Pope Francis 

On three occasions during his pontificate, Pope Francis has delivered reflections on the solemnity of the Epiphany, on 6 January 2014, 6 January 2015, and 6 January 2016. Here are the texts of the three reflections prior to the recitation of the Angelus and three homilies delivered on these occasions.




Saint Peter’s Square, Monday, 6 January 2014

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

Today we are celebrating the Epiphany, that is, the “manifestation” of the Lord. This Solemnity is tied to the biblical narrative of the coming of the Magi from the East to Bethlehem in order to pay homage to the King of the Jews: an episode on which Pope Benedict gave a magnificent commentary in his book on the infancy of Jesus. This precise moment was the first “manifestation” of Christ to the nations. Thus, the Epiphany brings to the fore the universal opening of the salvation brought by Jesus. The Liturgy today acclaims: “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you,” because Jesus came for us all, for every nation, for everyone!

Thus, this Feast lets us see a double movement: in one direction, the movement of God towards the world, towards humanity—the whole of the history of salvation, which culminates in Jesus—and in the other, the movement of men towards God—let us think of religions, of the quest for truth, the journey of the nations toward peace, interior peace, justice, freedom. And this double movement is driven by a mutual attraction. What is it that draws God? It is love for us: we are his children, he loves us and wants to free us from evil, from sickness, from death, and to bring us to his home, to his Kingdom. “God, by his sheer grace, draws us to himself and makes us one with him” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, no. 112). And from us too there arises a love, a desire: the good always draws us, truth draws us, life, happiness, beauty attracts us. Jesus is the meeting point of this mutual attraction, of this double movement. He is God and man: Jesus. God and man. But who took the initiative? God, always! God’s love always comes before our own! He always takes the initiative. He waits for us, he invites us, the initiative is always his. Jesus is God made man, made flesh, he is born for us. The new star that appears to the Magi was a sign of the birth of Christ. Had they not seen the star, these men would not have set out. The light goes before us, truth goes before us, beauty precedes us. God goes before us. The Prophet Isaiah said that God is like the flower of the almond tree. Why? Because in that region the almond is the first to flower. And God goes ever before, he is always the first to seek us, he takes the first step. God goes ever before us. His grace precedes us and this grace appeared in Jesus. He is the Epiphany. He, Jesus Christ, is the manifestation of God’s love. He is with us.

The Church stands entirely within this movement of God toward the world: her joy is the Gospel, to mirror the light of Christ. The Church is the people who have experienced this attraction and bear it within, in their hearts and in their lives. “I would like to say—sincerely—I would like to say to those who feel far from God and from the Church—I would like to say respectively—to all those who are fearful or indifferent: the Lord is also calling you to be a part of his people and he does so with deep respect and love!” (see ibid., no. 113). The Lord is calling you. The Lord is seeking you. The Lord is waiting for you. The Lord does not proselytize, he loves, and this love seeks you, waits for you, you who at this moment do not believe or are far away. And this is the love of God.

Let us ask God, on behalf of the whole Church, let us ask for the joy of evangelizing, for we were “sent by Christ to reveal and communicate the love of God to all men and to all peoples” (Ad Gentes, no. 10). May the Virgin Mary help us all to be missionary-disciples, little stars that mirror his light. Let us pray too that hearts be open to receiving the proclamation, and that all men and women may be “partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel” (Eph 3:6).



Vatican Basilica, Monday, 6 January 2014

Lumen requirunt lumine.” These evocative words from a liturgical hymn for the Epiphany speak of the experience of the Magi: following a light, they were searching for the Light. The star appearing in the sky kindled in their minds and in their hearts a light that moved them to seek the great Light of Christ. The Magi followed faithfully that light which filled their hearts, and they encountered the Lord.

The destiny of every person is symbolized in this journey of the Magi of the East: our life is a journey, illuminated by the lights which brighten our way, to find the fullness of truth and love which we Christians recognize in Jesus, the Light of the World. Like the Magi, every person has two great “books” which provide the signs to guide this pilgrimage: the book of creation and the book of sacred Scripture. What is important is that we be attentive, alert, and listen to God who speaks to us, who always speaks to us. As the Psalm says in referring to the Law of the Lord: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps 119:105). Listening to the Gospel, reading it, meditating on it and making it our spiritual nourishment especially allows us to encounter the living Jesus, to experience him and his love.

The first reading echoes, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, the call of God to Jerusalem: “Arise, shine!” (Is 60:1). Jerusalem is called to be the city of light which reflects God’s light to the world and helps humanity to walk in his ways. This is the vocation and the mission of the People of God in the world. But Jerusalem can fail to respond to this call of the Lord. The Gospel tells us that the Magi, when they arrived in Jerusalem, lost sight of the star for a time. They no longer saw it. Its light was particularly absent from the palace of King Herod: his dwelling was gloomy, filled with darkness, suspicion, fear, envy. Herod, in fact, proved himself distrustful and preoccupied with the birth of a frail Child whom he thought of as a rival. In reality Jesus came not to overthrow him, a wretched puppet, but to overthrow the Prince of this world! Nonetheless, the king and his counselors sensed that the foundations of their power were crumbling. They feared that the rules of the game were being turned upside down, that appearances were being unmasked. A whole world built on power, on success, possessions and corruption was being thrown into crisis by a child! Herod went so far as to kill the children. As Saint Quodvultdeus writes, “You destroy those who are tiny in body because fear is destroying your heart” (Sermo 2 de Symbolo: PL 40, 655). This was in fact the case: Herod was fearful and on account of this fear, he became insane.

The Magi were able to overcome that dangerous moment of darkness before Herod, because they believed the Scriptures, the words of the prophets which indicated that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. And so they fled the darkness and dreariness of the night of the world. They resumed their journey towards Bethlehem and there they once more saw the star, and the gospel tells us that they experienced “a great joy” (Mt 2:10). The very star which could not be seen in that dark, worldly palace.

One aspect of the light which guides us on the journey of faith is holy “cunning.” This holy “cunning” is also a virtue. It consists of a spiritual shrewdness which enables us to recognize danger and avoid it. The Magi used this light of “cunning” when, on the way back, they decided not to pass by the gloomy palace of Herod, but to take another route. These wise men from the East teach us how not to fall into the snares of darkness and how to defend ourselves from the shadows which seek to envelop our life. By this holy “cunning,” the Magi guarded the faith. We too need to guard the faith, guard it from darkness. Many times, however, it is a darkness under the guise of light. This is because the devil, as Saint Paul says, disguises himself at times as an angel of light. And this is where a holy “cunning” is necessary in order to protect the faith, guarding it from those alarmist voices that exclaim: “Listen, today we must do this, or that.” Faith though, is a grace, it is a gift. We are entrusted with the task of guarding it, by means of this holy “cunning” and by prayer, love, charity. We need to welcome the light of God into our hearts and, at the same time, to cultivate that spiritual cunning which is able to combine simplicity with astuteness, as Jesus told his disciples: “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mt 10:16).

On the feast of the Epiphany, as we recall Jesus’ manifestation to humanity in the face of a Child, may we sense the Magi at our side, as wise companions on the way. Their example helps us to lift our gaze towards the star and to follow the great desires of our heart. They teach us not to be content with a life of mediocrity, of “playing it safe,” but to let ourselves be attracted always by what is good, true and beautiful, by God, who is all of this, and so much more! And they teach us not to be deceived by appearances, by what the world considers great, wise and powerful. We must not stop at that. It is necessary to guard the faith. Today this is of vital importance: to keep the faith. We must press on further, beyond the darkness, beyond the voices that raise alarm, beyond worldliness, beyond so many forms of modernity that exist today. We must press on towards Bethlehem, where, in the simplicity of a dwelling on the outskirts, beside a mother and father full of love and of faith, there shines forth the Sun from on high, the King of the universe. By the example of the Magi, with our little lights, may we seek the Light and keep the faith. May it be so.




Saint Peter’s Square, Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning! Happy Feast Day!

On Christmas Eve we meditated on the hastening of several shepherds of the people of Israel to the grotto of Bethlehem; today, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, we remember the arrival of the Magi, who came from the Orient to adore the newborn King of the Jews and Universal Savior and to offer Him symbolic gifts. With their act of adoration, the Magi bear witness that Jesus has come to earth to save not one people alone but all peoples. Therefore, on today’s feast our gaze broadens to the horizons of the whole world in order to celebrate the “manifestation” of the Lord to all peoples, which is the manifestation of the love and universal salvation of God. He does not reserve his love to the privileged few, but offers it to all.

As the Creator and Father is of all people, so the Savior wants to be for all people. That is why we are called to always nourish great faith and hope for every person and his or her salvation: even those who seem far from the Lord are followed—or better yet “chased”—by his passionate love, by his faithful and also humble love. For God’s love is humble, very humble!

The Gospel account of the Magi describes their journey from the East as a journey of the spirit, as a journey toward the encounter with Christ. They are attentive to signs that indicate his presence; they are tireless in facing the trials of the search; they are courageous in deducing the implications for life that derive from encounter with the Lord. This is life: Christian life is a journey, but being attentive, tireless and courageous. A Christian journeys like this. Journey attentively, tirelessly, courageously. The experience of the Magi evokes the journey of every man and woman towards Christ. As for the Magi, so for us, to seek God means to journey—and as I said: attentive, tireless and courageous—focused on the sky and discerning in the visible sign of the star the invisible God who speaks to our hearts. The star that is able to lead every man to Jesus is the Word of God, the Word that is in the Bible, in the Gospels. The Word of God is the light that guides our journey, nourishes our faith and regenerates it. It is the Word of God that continually renews our hearts and our communities. Therefore, let us not forget to read it and meditate upon it every day, so that it may become for each like a flame that we bear inside us to illuminate our steps, as well as those of others who journey beside us, who are perhaps struggling to find the path to Christ. Always with the Word of God! The Word of God carried in your hand: a little Gospel in your pocket, purse, always to be read. Do not forget this: always with me, the Word of God!

On this day of Epiphany, our thoughts turn also to our brothers and sisters of the Christian East, Catholics and Orthodox, many of whom are celebrating the Birth of the Lord tomorrow. May our warmest wishes reach them.

I would like to recall, then, that today we celebrate Children’s mission Day. It is the feast dedicated to children who joyfully live the gift of faith and pray for the light of Jesus to reach all the children of the world. I encourage teachers to cultivate the missionary spirit in the little ones. May they not be closed but open children and young people. May they see a great horizon, may their hearts move toward this horizon, in order that witnesses of God’s tenderness and heralds of the Gospel might arise among them. Now let us turn to the Virgin Mary and invoke her protection on the Universal Church, in order that the Gospel of Christ, the light of nations, the light of all peoples, might be spread through the entire world. And may she make us increasingly embrace the journey; may she make us journey and be attentive, untiring and courageous on that path.



Vatican Basilica, Tuesday, 6 January 2015

That child, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, came not only for the people of Israel, represented by the shepherds of Bethlehem, but also for all humanity, represented today by the wise men from the East. It is on the Magi and their journey in search of the Messiah that the Church today invites us to meditate and pray.

These wise men from the East were the first in that great procession of which the prophet Isaiah spoke in today’s first reading (see 60:1-6): a procession which from that time on has continued uninterrupted; in every age it hears the message of the star and finds the Child who reveals the tenderness of God. New persons are always being enlightened by that star; they find the way and come into his presence.

According to tradition, the wise men were sages, watchers of the constellations, observers of the heavens, in a cultural and religious context which saw the stars as having significance and power over human affairs. The wise men represent men and woman who seek God in the world’s religions and philosophies: an unending quest. Men and women who seek God.

The wise men point out to us the path of our journey through life. They sought the true Light. As a liturgical hymn of Epiphany which speaks of their experience puts it: Lumen requirunt lumine;” by following a light, they sought the light, “Lumen requirunt lúmine.” They set out in search of God. Having seen the sign of the star, they grasped its message and set off on a long journey.

It is the Holy Spirit who called them and prompted them to set out; during their journey they were also to have a personal encounter with the true God.

Along the way, the wise men encountered many difficulties. Once they reached Jerusalem, they went to the palace of the king, for they thought it obvious that the new king would be born in the royal palace. There they lost sight of the star. How often sight of the star is lost! And, having lost sight of the star, they met with a temptation, placed there by the devil: it was the deception of Herod. King Herod was interested in the child, not to worship him but to eliminate him. Herod is the powerful man who sees others only as rivals. Deep down, he also considers God a rival, indeed the most dangerous rival of all. In the palace the wise men experience a moment of obscurity, of desolation, which they manage to overcome thanks to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, who speaks through the prophecies of sacred Scripture. These indicate that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David.

At that point they resume their journey, and once more they see the star; the evangelist says that they “rejoiced exceedingly” (Mt 2:10). Coming to Bethlehem, they found “the child with Mary his mother” (Mt 2:11). After that of Jerusalem, this was their second great temptation: to reject this smallness. But instead, “they fell down and worshiped him,” offering him their precious symbolic gifts. Again, it is the grace of the Holy Spirit which assists them. That grace, which through the star had called them and led them along the way, now lets them enter into the mystery. The star which led them on the journey allows them to enter into the mystery. Led by the Spirit, they come to realize that God’s criteria are quite different from those of men, that God does not manifest himself in the power of this world, but speaks to us in the humbleness of his love. God’s love is great. God’s love is powerful. But the love of God is humble, yes, very humble. The wise men are thus models of conversion to the true faith, since they believed more in the goodness of God than in the apparent splendor of power.

And so we can ask ourselves: what is the mystery in which God is hidden? Where can I find him? All around us we see wars, the exploitation of children, torture, trafficking in arms, trafficking in persons. In all these realities, in these, the least of our brothers and sisters who are enduring these difficult situations, there is Jesus (see Mt 25:40, 45). The crib points us to a different path from the one cherished by the thinking of this world: it is the path of God’s self-abasement, that humility of God’s love by which he abases himself, he completely lowers himself, his glory concealed in the manger of Bethlehem, on the cross upon Calvary, in each of our suffering brothers and sisters.

The wise men entered into the mystery. They passed from human calculations to the mystery: this was their conversion. And our own? Let us ask the Lord to let us undergo that same journey of conversion experienced by the wise men. Let us ask him to protect us and to set us free from the temptations which hide the star. To let us always feel the troubling question: “Where is the star?” whenever—amid the deceptions of this world—we lose sight of it. To let us know ever anew God’s mystery, and not to be scandalized by the “sign,” that sign spoken of by the angels, which points to “a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12), and to have the humility to ask the Mother, our Mother, to show him to us. To find the courage to be liberated from our illusions, our presumptions, our “lights,” and to seek this courage in the humility of faith and in this way to encounter the Light, Lumen, like the holy wise men. May we enter into the mystery. So may it be. Amen.




Saint Peter’s Square, Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

In today’s Gospel, the narrative of the Magi coming from the East to Bethlehem to adore the Messiah, conveys a breath of universality to the Feast of the Epiphany. This is the breath of the Church which wants all peoples of the earth to be able to encounter Jesus, to experience his merciful love. This is the desire of the Church: that peoples may find Jesus’ mercy, his love. Christ is newly born, he does not yet know how to speak, and already people—represented by the Magi—can meet him, recognize him, worship him. The Wise Men stated: “we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him” (Mt 2:2). Herod heard this as soon as the Magi arrived in Jerusalem. These Wise Men were prestigious men, of a distant religion and different culture, and they were on their way to the land of Israel to worship the newborn king. The Church has always seen in them the image of humanity as a whole, and with today’s celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany, the Church almost tries to direct, respectfully, each man and each woman of this world to the Child who is born for the salvation of all. On Christmas Eve Jesus manifested himself to shepherds, humble and scorned men—some say brigands. They were the first to bring a little warmth to that gelid cave in Bethlehem. Then the Magi arrived from faraway lands. They too were mysteriously drawn by that Child. The shepherds and the Wise Men were very different from each other; however, they had one thing in common: heaven. The shepherds of Bethlehem immediately hastened to see Jesus, not because they were particularly good, but because they kept watch in the night and, raising their eyes to heaven, they saw a sign, they heard its message and followed it. It was the same for the Magi: they observed the heavens, saw a new star, interpreted the sign and set out on their journey, from afar. The shepherds and the Wise Men teach us that in order to encounter Jesus it is necessary to be able to lift our gaze to heaven, not to withdraw into ourselves, into our own selfishness, but to have our heart and mind open to the horizons of God, who always surprises us, to be able to welcome his messages and respond with readiness and generosity.

When the Magi, the Gospel says, “saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly” (Mt 2:10). For us too, there is great comfort in seeing the star, in other words in feeling guided and not abandoned to our fate. The star is the Gospel, the Word of the Lord, as the Psalm states: “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (119[118]:105). This light guides us to Christ. Without listening to the Gospel, it is impossible to encounter him! The Wise Men, indeed, by following the star arrived at the place where they found Jesus. Here “they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him” (Mt 2:11). The experience of the Magi exhorts us not to be satisfied with mediocrity, not to “cut corners,” but to seek the meaning of things, to fervently explore the great mystery of life. It teaches us not to be scandalized by smallness and poverty but to recognize majesty in humility, and to be able to kneel before it.

May the Virgin Mary, who welcomed the Wise Men in Bethlehem, help us to lift our gaze from ourselves, to allow ourselves to be guided by the star of the Gospel in order to encounter Jesus, and to be able to humble ourselves to adore him. In this way we will be able to bring to others a ray of his light, and to share with them the joy of the journey.



Vatican Basilica, Wednesday, 6 January 2016

The words of the Prophet Isaiah—addressed to the Holy City of Jerusalem—are also meant for us. They call us to rise and go forth, to leave behind all that keeps us self-enclosed, to go out from ourselves and to recognize the splendor of the light which illumines our lives: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (60:1). That “light” is the glory of the Lord. The Church cannot illude herself into thinking that she shines with her own light. Saint Ambrose expresses this nicely by presenting the moon as a metaphor for the Church: “The moon is in fact the Church, [she] shines not with her own light, but with the light of Christ. She draws her brightness from the Sun of Justice, and so she can say: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’” (Hexaemeron, IV, 8, 32). Christ is the true light shining in the darkness. To the extent that the Church remains anchored in him, to the extent that she lets herself be illumined by him, she is able to bring light into the lives of individuals and peoples. For this reason the Fathers of the Church saw in her the mysterium lunae.

We need this light from on high if we are to respond in a way worthy of the vocation we have received. To proclaim the Gospel of Christ is not simply one option among many, nor is it a profession. For the Church, to be missionary does not mean to proselytize: for the Church to be missionary means to give expression to her very nature, which is to receive God’s light and then to reflect it. This is her service. There is no other way. Mission is her vocation; to shine Christ’s light is her service. How many people look to us for this missionary commitment, because they need Christ. They need to know the face of the Father.

The Magi mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew are a living witness to the fact that the seeds of truth are present everywhere, for they are the gift of the Creator, who calls all people to acknowledge him as good and faithful Father. The Magi represent the men and woman throughout the world who are welcomed into the house of God. Before Jesus, all divisions of race, language and culture disappear: in that Child, all humanity discovers its unity. The Church has the task of seeing and showing ever more clearly the desire for God which is present in the heart of every man and woman. This is the service of the Church, with the light that she reflects: to draw out the desire for God present in every heart. Like the Magi, countless people, in our own day, have a “restless heart” which continues to seek without finding sure answers—it is the restlessness of the Holy Spirit that stirs in hearts. They too are looking for a star to show them the path to Bethlehem.

How many stars there are in the sky! And yet the Magi followed a new and different star, which for them shone all the more brightly. They had long peered into the great book of the heavens, seeking an answer to their questions—they had restless hearts—and at long last the light appeared. That star changed them. It made them leave their daily concerns behind and set out immediately on a journey. They listened to a voice deep within, which led them to follow that light. It was the voice of the Holy Spirit, who works in all people. The star guided them, until they found the King of the Jews in a humble dwelling in Bethlehem.

All this has something to say to us today. We do well to repeat the question asked by the Magi: “Where is the child who has been born the King of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage” (Mt 2:2). We are impelled, especially in an age like our own, to seek the signs which God offers us, realizing that great effort is needed to interpret them and thus to understand his will. We are challenged to go to Bethlehem, to find the Child and his Mother. Let us follow the light which God offers us—that tiny light. The hymn in the breviary poetically tells us that the Magi lumen requirunt lumine—that tiny light. The light which streams from the face of Christ, full of mercy and fidelity. And once we have found him, let us worship him with all our heart, and present him with our gifts: our freedom, our understanding and our love. True wisdom lies concealed in the face of this Child. It is here, in the simplicity of Bethlehem, that the life of the Church is summed up. For here is the wellspring of that light which draws to itself every individual in the world and guides the journey of the peoples along the path of peace. 

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For reflections on the Solemnity of the Epiphany 

 by Pope Benedict XVI,
please scroll down to the bottom of this page.

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