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Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord 1979

Pope St John Paul II's Homily at Mass
with the Episcopal Ordination of
Francisczek Macharski, Archbishop of Krakow
Saturday 6 January - in English, French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"'Arise (Jerusalem), for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you', the Prophet Isaiah cries out (60:1) in the 8th century before Christ, and we listen to his words today in the 20th century AD and admire, really admire, the great light that comes from these words. Through the centuries, Isaiah addresses Jerusalem, which was to become the city of the Great Anointed, of the Messiah: "And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising... your sons shall come from faar, and your daughters shall be carried in the arms... A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord" (60:3-4; 6).

We have before our eyes these three — so tradition says — three Magi Kings who come on pilgrimage from afar with camels and bring with them not only gold and incense, but also myrrh: the symbolic gifts with which they went to meet the Messiah who was awaited also beyond the frontiers of Israel. We are not surprised, therefore, when Isaiah, in his prophetic dialogue with Jerusalem carried out through the centuries, says at a certain point: "your heart shall thrill and rejoice" (60:5). He speaks to the city as if it were a living man.

"Your heart shall thrill and rejoice". On Christmas Eve, finding myself together with those participating in the Eucharistic liturgy at midnight here in this Basilica, I asked everyone to be, in mind and heart, more there than here; more in Bethlehem, at the birthplace of Christ, in that stable-cave in which "the Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14). And today I ask the same of you. Because the Magi Kings, those strange pilgrims from the East, came just there, to that place, south of Jerusalem. They passed through Jerusalem. They were led by a mysterious star, the star, an exterior light that moved in the firmament. But they were led even more by faith, the inner light. They were not surprised by what they found: neither by the poverty, nor the stable, nor the fact that the Child lay in a manger. They arrived and they fell down "and worshipped him". Then they opened their caskets and offered the Child Jesus gold and incense, of which Isaiah speaks, but also myrrh. And after having done all that, they returned to their country.

Because of this pilgrimage to Bethlehem, the Magi Kings from the East became the beginning and the symbol of all those who, through faith, reach Jesus, the Child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, the Saviour nailed to the cross, he who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, taken down from the cross and buried in a tomb at the foot of Calvary, rose again on the third day. These very men, the Magi Kings, three according to tradition, from the East, became the beginning and the prefiguration of all those who, from beyond the frontiers of the Chosen People of the Old Covenant, have reached and still reach Christ by means of faith.

"Your heart shall thrill and rejoice", Isaiah says to Jerusalem. In fact the heart of the People of God had to dilate in order to contain the new men, the new peoples. This very cry of the Prophet is the keyword of the Epiphany. It was necessary to dilate the heart of the Church continually, when more and more new men entered it; when, following in the steps of the shepherds and the Magi Kings, from the East new peoples kept arriving in Bethlehem. Now, too, it is always necessary to dilate this heart according to the needs of men and peoples, ages and times.

The Epiphany is the feast of the vitality of the Church. The Church lives her awareness of God's mission, which is carried out through her. The Second Vatican Council helped us to realize that the "mission" is the proper name of the Church, and in a certain sense defines her. The Church becomes herself when she carries out her mission. The Church is herself, when men — such as the shepherds and the Magi Kings from the East — reach Jesus Christ by means of faith. When in the Christ-Man and through Christ they find God again.

The Epiphany, therefore, is the great feast of faith. Both those who have already arrived at faith, and those who are on the way to arrive at it, take part in this feast. They take part, rendering thanks for the gift of faith, just as the Magi Kings, full of gratitude, knelt before the Child. The Church, which becomes more aware of the vastness of her mission every year, takes part in this feast. To how many men it is still necessary to bring faith! How many men must be won back to the faith, which they have lost, and that is sometimes more difficult than the first conversion to faith! But the Church, aware of that great gift, the gift of the incarnation of God, can never stop, can never tire. She must continually seek access to Bethlehem for every man and for every period. The Epiphany is the feast of God's challenge.

On this solemn day representatives of the population and of the Archdiocese of Krakow have come to Rome, to present a gift to the Child Jesus, a gift which is expressed in the episcopal ordination of the new Archbishop of Krakow. It is a gift of faith, love and hope. Allow me to speak to them in my native language. (The Pope then continued in Polish.)

Arise Jerusalem! "Your heart shall thrill and rejoice". Gathered there together with those who have come from the East, with the Magi kings, admirable witnesses to faith in God incarnate, near the manger in Bethlehem, where we are directed in mind and heart, we find ourselves again here in this Basilica. Here the prophecy of Isaiah has been fulfilled in a special way, in the course of the centuries. From here the light of faith spread to so many men and so many peoples. From here, through Peter and his See, an innumerable multitude has entered and still enters this great community of the People of God, in the union of the new Covenant, in the tabernacles of the new Jerusalem.

And today what more can Peter's successor wish this Basilica, this new Chair of his, than to serve the Epiphany? That in it and through it men of all times and of our time, men from the East and from the West, from the North and from the South, may succeed in arriving at Bethlehem, at arriving at Christ by means of faith.

Once more, therefore, I borrow the words of Isaiah to express the wishes "Urbi et Orbi" and say: "Arise! Your heart shall thrill and rejoice!"

Arise and sow the strength of your faith! May Christ enlighten you continually! May men and Peoples walk in this light. Amen."

Papa San Giovanni Paolo II's words at the Angelus in St Peter's Square
Sunday 7 January 1979 - in English, French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. On the feast of the Epiphany, the Church thanks God for the gift of faith in which so many men, peoples and nations have participated and participate.

And just these three, according to tradition, men from the East, Wise Kings, who arrived in Bethlehem, are among the first witnesses and bearers of this gift. In them faith, understood as an interior opening of man, as the response to the light, to the Epiphany of God, finds its limpid expression. In this opening-up to God man eternally aspires to the realization of his very self. Faith is the beginning of this realization, and is its condition.

Thanking God for the gift of faith, we thank him at the same time for the light: for the gift of the Epiphany and for the gift of the opening of our spirit to divine light. Such is also the significance of the feast through which the Church expresses, so to speak, right up to the end, the joy of Christmas, of the birth of God.

2. For more than 100 years, believing man has been put under a serious accusation. Religion, according to the words of the accusation, "alienates man", that is, it deprives him of that which is substantially human.

A radical division has been made between that which is "substantially human" and that which is "transcendental". In modern times the old formula "altiora te non quaeras" ("do not seek things that are above you") has been repeated.

Contrary to this accusation and this prohibition, the Wise Kings from the East hastened to go to Bethlehem. And together with them, so many, so very many men. All of them bear witness that that which is "substantially human" is expressed not in the formula quoted, but in another equally old one: "altiora te quaeras" ("seek the things that are above you").

Is it possible to sentence/pass judgement on what is "substantially human" without recourse to the full experience of man? Who has the right to affirm that this full experience of man's is expressed just in the formula "altiora te non quaeras"? Who has the right to affirm that the full realization of man is equivalent to his closure and not, instead, to his very openness, that is, to that "altiora te quaeras"!?

3. In our times we often have recourse to the principle of religious freedom. And rightly so. This is one of the most fundamental rights of man. The Second Vatican Council dedicated one of its documents to religious freedom. More and more often this right occupies a key position in legislative documents. But much still remains to be done for the correct functioning of this principle in social, public, state and international life. And here there is no other road, there is only this one: believing man needs to be freed from the accusation of alienation. Precisely this accusation is the cause of the great harm done to men in the name of man's "progress".

The Wise Kings need to be let to go to Bethlehem. Together with them walks every man who recognizes as the definition of his humanity the truth of the opening of his spirit to God, the truth that is expressed in the phrase "altiora te quaeras"!

An opposite formula cannot be imposed on men. According to this formula, "altiora te non quaeras",
the principle itself of religious freedom cannot be understood and interpreted in social and public life, because thus it would be deformed.

Today the Church thanks God for faith, for the gift of the Epiphany and, at the same time, for the gift of openness.

The whole Church asks and operates in this direction so that the double gift, which is at the base of so many human questions and events, will find the right of citizenship in the lives of individuals, nations, states, and continents; in the life of the whole of humanity."