‘Let us imitate the Magi: looking upwards, setting out, and freely offering our gifts’
Three actions of the Magi guide our journey towards the Lord, who today is revealed as light and salvation for all peoples. The Magi see the star, they set out and they bring gifts.
Seeing the star. This is where it starts. But why, we might ask, did the Magi alone see the star? Perhaps because few people raised their eyes to heaven. We often make do with looking at the ground: it’s enough to have our health, a little money and a bit of entertainment. I wonder if we still know how to look up at the sky. Do we know how to dream, to long for God, to expect the newness he brings, or do we let ourselves be swept along by life, like dry branches before the wind? The Magi were not content with just getting by, with keeping afloat. They understood that to truly live, we need a lofty goal and we need to keep looking up.
Yet we can also ask why, among all those who looked up at the heavens, so many others did not follow that star, “his star” (Mt2:2). Perhaps because the star was not eye-catching, did not shine any brighter than other stars. It was a star – so the Gospel tells us – that the Magi saw “at its rising” (vv. 2, 9). Jesus’ star does not dazzle or overwhelm, but gently invites. We may ask ourselves what star we have chosen to follow in our lives. Some stars may be bright, but they do not point the way. So it is with success, money, career, honours and pleasures when these become our life. They are meteors: they blaze momentarily, but then quickly burn out and their brilliance fades. They are shooting stars that mislead rather than lead. The Lord’s star, however, may not always overwhelm by its brightness, but it is always there, ever kindly: it takes you by the hand in life and accompanies you. It does not promise material reward, but ensures peace and grants, as it did to the Magi, “exceedingly great joy” (Mt 2:10). But it also tells us to set out.
Setting out, the second thing the Magi do, is essential if we are to find Jesus. His star demands a decision to take up the journey and to advance tirelessly on our way. It demands that we free ourselves from useless burdens and unnecessary extras that only prove a hindrance, and accept unforeseen obstacles along the map of life. Jesus allows himself to be found by those who seek him, but to find him we need to get up and go, not sit around but take risks, not stand still, but set out. Jesus makes demands: he tells those who seek him to leave behind the armchair of worldly comforts and the reassuring warmth of hearth and home. Following Jesus is not a polite etiquette to be observed, but a journey to be undertaken. God, who set his people free in the exodus and called new peoples to follow his star, grants freedom and joy always and only in the course of a journey. In other words, if we want to find Jesus, we have to overcome our fear of taking risks, our self-satisfaction and our indolent refusal to ask anything more of life. We need to take risks simply to meet a Child. Yet those risks are immensely worth the effort, since in finding that Child, in discovering his tenderness and love, we rediscover ourselves.
Setting out is not easy. The Gospel shows us this through a cast of characters. There is Herod, wild with fear that the birth of a king will threaten his power. So he organizes meetings and sends people out to gather information, yet he himself does not budge; he stays locked up in his palace. Even “all Jerusalem” (v. 3) is afraid: afraid of the new things God is bringing about. They want everything to remain as it was – that is the way it has always been – no one has the courage to leave. The temptation of the priests and scribes is more subtle: they know the exact place and tell it to Herod, quoting the ancient prophecy. They know, but they themselves make no move towards Bethlehem. Theirs can be the temptation of those who are used to being believers: they can talk at length about the faith they know so well, but will not take a personal risk for the Lord. They talk, but do not pray; they complain, but do no good. The Magi, on the other hand, talk little and journey much. Ignorant of the truths of faith, they are filled with longing and set out. So the Gospel tells us: They “came to worship him” (v. 2); “they set out; they went in, and fell down and worshiped him; they went back” (vv. 9, 11, 12). They kept moving.
Bringing gifts. Having come to Jesus after a long journey, the Magi do as he does: they bring gifts. Jesus is there to give his life; they offer him their own costly gifts: gold, incense and myrrh. The Gospel becomes real when the journey of life ends in giving. To give freely, for the Lord’s sake, without expecting anything in return: this is the sure sign that we have found Jesus. For he says: “The gift you have received, give freely as a gift” (Mt 10:8). To do good without counting the cost, even when unasked, even when you gain nothing thereby, even if it is unpleasant. That is what God wants. He, who become small for our sake, asks us to offer something for the least of his brothers and sisters. Who are they? They are those who have nothing to give in return, the needy, the hungry, the stranger, the prisoner, the poor (cf. Mt 25:31-46). We give a gift pleasing to Jesus when we care for a sick person, spend time with a difficult person, help someone for the sake of helping, or forgive someone who has hurt us. These are gifts freely given, and they cannot be lacking in the lives of Christians. Jesus reminds us that if we only love those who love us, we do as the pagans do (cf. Mt 5:46-47). Today let us look at our hands, so often empty of love, and let us try to think of some free gift that we can give without expecting anything in return. That will please the Lord. And let us ask him: “Lord, let me rediscover the joy of giving”.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us imitate the Magi: looking upwards, setting out, and freely offering our gifts.
[Original Text: Italian] [Vatican-provided translation]
ANGELUS: On the Feast of the Epiphany
Of three attitudes we find in the Gospel–careful searching, indifference, fear–we must choose which to adopt
PHOTO.VA – OSSERVATORE ROMANO
Here is a Vatican-provided translation of the Holy Father’s address before and after the recitation of the Angelus, on the occasion of the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord:
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Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
Today, the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, the Gospel presents three attitudes with which the coming of Jesus and his manifestation to the world were received: careful searching, indifference, fear.
The Magi do not hesitate to set out to search for the Messiah. When they reach Jerusalem they ask: “Where is the infant king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage”. They have made a long journey and now they conduct a careful search to discover where the newborn King can be found. In Jerusalem they turn to King Herod, who asks the chief priests and scribes to inquire about the place where the Messiah was to be born.
This careful search of the Magi contrasts with the indifference of the high priests and scribes. They know the Scriptures and are able to give the right answer regarding the place of His birth: “In Bethlehem of Judea, because this is what the prophet wrote”, but they do not bother to go and visit the Messiah. Bethlehem is only a few kilometers away, but they do not move.
Even more negative is the attitude of Herod: he is afraid that the Child will take away his power. He calls the Magi and has them tell him when the star appeared to them, then he sends them to Bethlehem saying: “Go and find out all about the child and, when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage”. In reality, Herod wants to know where the child is, not to do him homage, but to eliminate him, because he considers him a rival. See how fear provokes hypocrisy. Hypocrites are the way they are because they have fear in their hearts.
These are the three attitudes we find in the Gospel: careful searching, indifference, fear. And we too must choose which of the three to adopt.
Selfishness can lead us to consider the coming of Jesus in our lives as a threat. So we try to suppress or silence Jesus’ message. When we follow human ambitions, the most comfortable perspectives, the inclinations of evil, we perceive Jesus as an obstacle.
On the other hand, the temptation of indifference is always present. Even if we know that Jesus is the Saviour, we prefer to live as if He were not: instead of behaving coherently with our Christian faith, we follow the rules of the world, which tend to satisfy our inclination to arrogance, our thirst for power and money.
Instead, we are called to follow the example of the Magi: to be careful in our search, ready to go out of our way to meet Jesus in our lives. Search for him in order to worship him, to recognize that He is our Lord, the One who indicates the true way to follow. If we have this attitude, Jesus really saves us, and we can live a beautiful life, we can grow in faith, hope and love for God and our brothers and sisters.
We invoke the intercession of Mary Most Holy, the star of pilgrim humanity in time. With her maternal help, may every person find Christ, the Light of Truth, and may the world go forward along the path of justice and peace.
Remarks after the Angelus
Dear brothers and sisters.
Some Eastern, Catholic and Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas at this time. I greet especially the Orthodox Copts and my Brother Tawadros whom I congratulate on the joyous occasion of the inauguration of the new Cathedral in Cairo. I extend my best wishes to all these Churches: may this joyful celebration be a source of new spiritual vigor and communion among all of us Christians, who recognize Him as our Lord and Saviour.
Epiphany is marks Youth Mission Day, which this year invites young missionaries to make the gaze of Jesus their own, so that it may guide of their commitment to prayer, fraternity and sharing with needy young people of their age.
I extend my cordial greeting to all of you, individual pilgrims, families, parish groups and associations, coming from Italy and different countries. In particular, I greet the faithful of Lavello and those of San Martino in Rio, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, and the confirmation candidates from Bonate Sotto and Romano di Lombardia.
A greet especially the historical-folklore parade that promotes the values of Epiphany and that this year is dedicated to the territory of the Prenestini Mountains. I would also like to mention the procession of the Magi that takes place in many places in Poland and that sees the great participation of families and associations.
I wish everyone a happy feast-day. Please do not forget to pray for me. Enjoy your lunch and goodbye!
[Original text: Italian] [Translation by the Vatican]