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Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord 2009

Pope Benedict XVI's Homily 2009
- in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Epiphany, the "manifestation" of Our Lord Jesus Christ, is a many-facetted mystery. The Latin tradition identifies it with the visit of the Magi to the Infant Jesus in Bethlehem and thus interprets it above all as a revelation of the Messiah of Israel to the Gentiles. The Eastern tradition on the other hand gives priority to the moment of Jesus' Baptism in the River Jordan when he manifested himself as the Only-Begotten Son of the heavenly Father, consecrated by the Holy Spirit. John's Gospel, however, also invites us to consider as an "epiphany" the Wedding at Cana, during which, by changing the water into wine, Jesus "manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him" (Jn 2: 11). And what should we say, dear brothers and sisters, especially we priests of the New Covenant who are every day witnesses and ministers of the "epiphany" of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist? The Church celebrates all the mysteries of the Lord in this most holy and most humble Sacrament in which he both reveals and conceals his glory. "Adoro te devote, latens Deitas" in adoration, thus we pray along with St Thomas Aquinas.

In this year 2009, which has been dedicated in a special way to astronomy to mark the 4th centenary of Galileo Galilei's first observations with the telescope, we cannot fail to pay particular attention to the symbol of the star that is so important in the Gospel account of the Magi. In all likelihood the Wise Men were astronomers. From their observation point, situated in the East compared to Palestine, perhaps in Mesopotamia, they had noticed the appearance of a new star and had interpreted this celestial phenomenon as the announcement of the birth of a king, specifically that in accordance with the Sacred Scriptures of the King of the Jew. The Fathers of the Church also saw this unique episode recounted by St Matthew as a sort of cosmic "revolution" caused by the Son of God's entry into the world. For example, St John Chrysostom writes: "The star, when it stood over the young Child, stayed its course again: which thing itself was of a greater power than belongs to a star, now to hide itself, now to appear, and having appeared to stand still.". St Gregory of Nazianzen states that the birth of Christ gave the stars new orbits. This is clearly to be understood in a symbolic and theological sense. In effect, while pagan theology divinized the elements and forces of the cosmos, the Christian faith, in bringing the biblical Revelation to fulfilment, contemplates only one God, Creator and Lord of the whole universe.

The divine and universal law of creation is divine love, incarnate in Christ. However, this should not be understood in a poetic but in a real sense. Moreover, this is what Dante himself meant when, in the sublime verse that concludes the Paradiso and the entire Divina Commedia, he describes God as "the Love which moves the sun and the other stars" (Paradiso, xxxiii, 145). This means that the stars, planets and the whole universe are not governed by a blind force, they do not obey the dynamics of matter alone. Therefore, it is not the cosmic elements that should be divinized. Indeed, on the contrary, within everything and at the same time above everything there is a personal will, the Spirit of God, who in Christ has revealed himself as Love. If this is the case, then as St Paul wrote to the Colossians people are not slaves of the "elemental spirits of the universe" but are free, that is, capable of relating to the creative freedom of God. God is at the origin of all things and governs all things, not as a cold and anonymous engine but rather as Father, Husband, Friend, Brother and as the Logos, "Word-Reason" who was united with our mortal flesh once and for all and fully shared our condition, showing the superabundant power of his grace. Thus there is a special concept of the cosmos in Christianity which found its loftiest expression in medieval philosophy and theology. In our day too, it shows interesting signs of a new flourishing, thanks to the enthusiasm and faith of many scientists who following in Galileo's footsteps renounce neither reason nor faith; instead they develop both in their reciprocal fruitfulness.

Christian thought compares the cosmos to a "book" the same Galileo said this as well considering it as the work of an Author who expresses himself in the "symphony" of the Creation. In this symphony is found, at a certain point, what might be called in musical terminology a "solo", a theme given to a single instrument or voice; and it is so important that the significance of the entire work depends on it. This "solo" is Jesus, who is accompanied by a royal sign: the appearance of a new star in the firmament. Jesus is compared by ancient Christian writers to a new sun. According to current astrophysical knowledge, we should compare it with a star that is even more central, not only for the solar system but also for the entire known universe. Within this mysterious design simultaneously physical and metaphysical, which led to the appearance of the human being as the crowning of Creation's elements Jesus came into the world: "born of woman" as St Paul writes. The Son of man himself epitomizes the earth and Heaven, the Creation and the Creator, the flesh and the Spirit. He is the centre of the cosmos and of history, for in him the Author and his work are united without being confused with each other.

In the earthly Jesus the culmination of Creation and of history is found but in the Risen Christ this is surpassed: the passage through death to eternal life anticipates the point of the "recapitulation" of all things in Christ. Indeed "all things", the Apostle wrote "were created through him and for him" (Col 1: 16). And it is precisely with the resurrection of the dead that he became "pre-eminent in all things". Jesus himself affirms this, appearing to his disciples after the Resurrection: "all authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Mt 28: 18). This awareness supports the way of the Church, Body of Christ, on the paths of history. There is no shadow, however dark, that can obscure Christ's light. This is why believers in Christ never lack hope, even today, in the face of the great social and financial crisis that is tormenting humanity, in the face of the destructive hatred and violence that have not ceased to stain many of the earth's regions with blood, in the face of the selfishness and pretension of the human being in establishing himself as his own God, which sometimes leads to dangerous distortions of the divine plan concerning life and the dignity of the human being, the family and the harmony of the Creation. Our efforts to free human life and the world from the forms of poison and contamination that could destroy the present and the future retain their value and meaning as I noted in the encyclical Spe Salvi even if we apparently fail or seem powerless when hostile forces appear to gain the upper hand, because "it is the great hope based upon God's promises that gives us courage and directs our action in good times and bad" (n 35).

Christ's universal lordship is exercised in a special way on the Church. We read in the Letter to the Ephesians that God "has put all things under [Christ's] feet and has made him the head over all things for the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Eph 1: 22-23). The Epiphany is the manifestation of the Lord and as a reflection, it is the manifestation of the Church, since the Body is inseparable from the Head. Today's first reading, from "Third Isaiah", gives us the precise perspective for understanding the reality of the Church as a mystery of reflected light: "Arise, shine" the Prophet says, addressing Jerusalem, "for your light has come, / and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you" (Is 60: 1). The Church is humanity illuminated, "baptized" in the glory of God, that is in his love, in his beauty, in his dignity. The Church knows that her own humanity, with its limitations and wretchedness, serve especially to highlight the work of the Holy Spirit. She can boast of nothing, save in her Lord. It is not from her that light comes; the glory is not hers. But this is precisely her joy, which no one can take from her: to be a "sign and instrument" of the One who is "lumen gentium", the light of humanity.

Dear friends, in this Pauline Year, the Feast of the Epiphany invites the Church, and in her, every community and every individual member of the faithful, to imitate, as did the Apostle to the Gentiles, the service that the star rendered to the Magi from the East, guiding them to Jesus. What was Paul's life after his conversion other than a "race" to bring the light of Christ to the peoples, and vice versa, to lead the peoples to Christ? God's grace made Paul a "star" for the Gentiles. His ministry is an example and an incentive for the Church to rediscover herself as essentially missionary and to renew the commitment to proclaim the Gospel, especially to those who do not yet know it. Yet, in looking at St Paul, we cannot forget that his preaching was completely nourished by the Sacred Scriptures. Therefore it should be powerfully reaffirmed in the perspective of the recent Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that the Church and individual Christians can be a light that leads to Christ only if they are diligently and intimately nourished by the Word of God. It is the Word, certainly not us, that illumines, purifies and converts. We are merely servants of the Word of life. This is how Paul saw himself and his ministry: as a service to the Gospel. "I do it all for the sake of the Gospel", he wrote (1 Cor 9: 23). The Church, every ecclesial community, every Bishop and every priest ought also to be able to say this: "I do it all for the sake of the Gospel". Dear brothers and sisters, pray for us, Pastors of the Church, that by assimilating the Word of God daily we may pass it on faithfully to our brethren. Yet we too pray for you, all the faithful, because every Christian is called through Baptism and Confirmation to proclaim Christ, the light of the world, in word and in the witness of his life. May the Virgin Mary, Star of Evangelization, help us to bring this mission to completion together, and may St Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, intercede for us from Heaven. Amen."

Papa Benedetto's words at the Angelus in St Peter's Square
- in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today we are celebrating the Solemnity of the Epiphany, the "Manifestation" of the Lord. The Gospel tells how Jesus came into the world with deep humility and hiddenness. St Matthew, however, mentions the episode of the Wise Men who arrive from the East, guided by a star, to worship the newborn King of the Jews. Every time we hear this account, we are struck by the stark contrast between the attitude of the Magi, on the one hand, and that of Herod and the Jews on the other. In fact, the Gospel says that on hearing the words of the Magi "Herod the king... was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him" (Mt 2: 3). There are various ways in which this reaction can be understood: Herod is alarmed because he sees in the one the Magi were seeking a rival to himself and his children. On the other hand, the elders and inhabitants of Jerusalem seem amazed, rather than anything else, as though they had been woken from a certain lethargy and needed to think. Isaiah had, in reality, foretold: "To us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called "Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Is 9: 6).

So why should Jerusalem have been worried? It seems that the Evangelist almost desired to anticipate what was later to be the attitude of the high priests and the Sanhedrin, as well as of the people, toward Jesus during his public life. Certainly, it becomes clear that knowledge of the Scriptures and of the messianic prophecies does not lead everyone to open themselves to him and to his words. It comes to mind that Jesus with his Passion approaching wept over Jerusalem because it had not recognized the time of its visitation (cf. Lk 19: 44). Here we touch on one of the crucial points of historical theology: the drama of the faithful love of God in the person of Jesus, who "came to his own, yet his own did not accept him" (Jn 1: 11). In the light of the whole Bible this attitude of hostility, or ambiguity, or superficiality represents that of every person and of the "world" in the spiritual sense when closed to the mystery of the true God, who comes to meet us in the disarming docility of love. Jesus, the "King of the Jews" (cf. Jn 18: 37), is the God of mercy and fidelity. He desires to reign in love and in truth and asks us to convert, to abandon wicked deeds and to set out with determination on the path of good.

Hence in this sense "Jerusalem" is all of us! May the Virgin Mary, who welcomed Jesus with faith, help us not to close our hearts to his Gospel of salvation. Rather, let us allow ourselves to be conquered and transformed by him, the "Emmanuel", God who came to dwell among us to offer us the gift of his peace and his love."

After the Angelus

"Rivolgo i miei fervidi auguri ai fratelli e alle sorelle delle Chiese Orientali, che, seguendo il Calendario Giuliano, celebreranno domani il Santo Natale. La memoria della nascita del Salvatore accenda sempre più nei loro cuori la gioia di essere amati da Dio. Il ricordo di questi nostri fratelli nella fede mi conduce spiritualmente in Terra Santa e nel Medio Oriente. Continuo a seguire con viva apprensione i violenti scontri armati in atto nella Striscia di Gaza. Mentre ribadisco che l’odio e il rifiuto del dialogo non portano che alla guerra, vorrei oggi incoraggiare le iniziative e gli sforzi di quanti, avendo a cuore la pace, stanno cercando di aiutare israeliani e palestinesi ad accettare di sedersi attorno ad un tavolo e di parlare. Iddio sostenga l’impegno di questi coraggiosi "costruttori di pace"!

La festa dell’Epifania, in molti Paesi, è anche la festa dei bambini. Un pensiero speciale va quindi a tutti i bambini, che sono la ricchezza e la benedizione del mondo, e soprattutto ai tanti a cui è negata un’infanzia serena. Desidero, in particolare, attirare l’attenzione sulle decine di bambini e ragazzi che, in questi ultimi mesi, compreso il periodo natalizio, nella Provincia orientale della Repubblica Democratica del Congo, sono stati sequestrati da bande armate, che hanno attaccato i villaggi e causato anche numerose vittime e feriti. Faccio appello agli autori di tali disumane brutalità, affinché restituiscano i ragazzi alle loro famiglie e al loro futuro di sicurezza e di sviluppo, a cui hanno diritto insieme a quelle care popolazioni. Manifesto al tempo stesso la mia vicinanza spirituale alle Chiese locali, anch’esse colpite nelle persone e nelle opere, mentre esorto i Pastori e i fedeli ad essere forti e saldi nella speranza.

Gli episodi di violenza nei confronti dei ragazzi, che purtroppo si registrano pure in altre parti della terra, appaiono ancor più deprecabili considerando che nel 2009 ricorre il 20° anniversario della Convenzione dei Diritti del Fanciullo: un impegno che la comunità internazionale è chiamata a rinnovare a difesa, tutela e promozione dell’infanzia del mondo intero. Il Signore aiuti quanti – e sono innumerevoli! – operano quotidianamente al servizio delle nuove generazioni, aiutandole ad essere protagoniste del loro futuro. Inoltre, la Giornata dell’Infanzia Missionaria, che si celebra nell’odierna festa dell’Epifania, è opportuna occasione per porre in evidenza come i bambini e i ragazzi possano svolgere un ruolo importante nella diffusione del Vangelo e nelle opere di solidarietà verso i loro coetanei più bisognosi. Il Signore li ricompensi!

En ce jour de l’Épiphanie, je suis heureux de vous saluer chers frères et sœurs de langue française. La venue des mages aux pieds de l’Enfant Jésus nous invite, à être, nous aussi d’humbles pèlerins qui marchent vers la Lumière. Que la clarté de l’Étoile radieuse du matin brille au fond de votre cœur et vous guide vers la clarté de son aurore. En ce jour, j’adresse aussi mes vœux cordiaux aux frères et aux sœurs des Églises d’Orient qui célèbrent le saint Noël. Avec ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

I greet all the English-speaking visitors who join us for this Angelus prayer. On this feast of the Epiphany, the Church celebrates the revelation of Christ, the Eternal Son of the Father, as the light of the nations and the Saviour of all mankind. May the radiance of the Lord’s glory fill you and your families with deep spiritual joy, and draw men and women everywhere to faith and new life in him!

Einen herzlichen Gruß richte ich an die Pilger aus den Ländern deutscher Sprache. Im Kind von Bethlehem leuchten der ganzen Welt Gottes Wahrheit und Herrlichkeit auf. Jesus Christus ist der Retter und Erlöser aller Menschen und Völker. Auf Ihn weisen der Stern von Bethlehem und die gesamte Schöpfung hin; Ihn offenbart das Wort Gottes der Heiligen Schrift. Auch wir wollen durch das Zeugnis unseres Lebens dazu beitragen, das suchende Menschen den Weg zu Gott finden, der die Liebe ist und das Heil schenkt. – Euch allen wünsche ich einen gesegneten Festtag!

Saludo con afecto a los peregrinos de lengua española. En esta solemnidad de la Epifanía contemplamos a Cristo que se manifiesta como único Señor y Salvador de todos los pueblos. Al igual que los Magos de Oriente, también nosotros queremos venir a adorar al Niño Jesús recién nacido y ofrecerle nuestra vida como ofrenda de amor y de fe. Que Dios os bendiga en este día de Fiesta.

Serdeczne pozdrowienie kieruję do Polaków. Dziś Wcielone Słowo objawiło się tym, którzy rozpoznali znaki czasów. Mądrość zaprowadziła ich na spotkanie z Panem. W uroczystość Trzech Króli prośmy Boga o dar takiej mądrości dla wszystkich ludzi na świecie. Niech Bóg wam błogosławi!

Rivolgo un cordiale saluto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare ai fedeli venuti da Verolanuova e ai giovani del movimento "Tra Noi". Saluto inoltre quanti danno vita al corteo "Viva la Befana", ispirato quest’anno al folclore della città e del territorio di Assisi. "Befana" deriva da "Epifania", e dunque auguri in questa festa a tutti i bambini di Roma! E anche ai grandi, perché conservino lo spirito d’infanzia. Auguri a tutti!"

BXVI - Tuesday, 6 January 2009 - © Copyright 2009 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana