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Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord 2017

Pope Francis's Homily at Holy Mass     
St Peter's Basilica, Friday 6 January 2017 - in ArabicEnglish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

““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 adore.

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 a novelty.

The Magi, in this way, express the portrait of man believing, of man who has a nostalgia for God; of those who feel the lack of their own home, their heavenly homeland. They reflect the image of all those who in their lives have not let their hearts be anesthetized.

A holy nostalgia for God wells up in the heart of the believer because he knows that the Gospel is not an event of the past but of the present. A holy nostalgia for God helps us to keep our eyes open in front of all the attempts to reduce and impoverish life. A holy nostalgia for God is believing memory which rebels before all the prophets of doom. This nostalgia is that which keeps hope alive in the believing community that, week by week, implores saying: “Come, Lord Jesus”.

It was this same nostalgia that led the elderly Simeon to go up every day to the Temple, knowing with certainty that his life would not end before he had held the Saviour in his arms. It was this nostalgia that led the prodigal son to abandon his self-destructive lifestyle and to seek the arms of his father. It was this nostalgia that the shepherd felt in his heart when he left the 99 sheep in order to seek out the one that was lost, and was also that which Mary Magdalene experienced on that Sunday morning when she ran to the tomb and met her risen Master. Nostalgia for God draws us out of our iron-clad isolation, which makes us think that nothing can change. Nostalgia for God shatters our dreary routines and impels us to make the changes we want and need. Nostalgia for God has its roots in the past yet does not remain there: it reaches out to the future. The "nostalgic" believer, driven by his faith, goes in search of God, as the Magi did, in the most distant corners of history, because he knows in his heart that there the Lord is waiting for him. He goes to the peripheries, to the frontiers, to places not yet evangelized, so as to encounter his Lord; and he does not do this with an attitude of superiority, he does it as a beggar who cannot ignore the eyes of the one for whom the Good News is still a land to be explored.

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. And so 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). You kill the little ones in their bodies, because fear is killing you in your heart.

We want to adore. Those men came from the East to worship, and they came to do so in the place befitting a king: a palace. This is significant. 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, enslavement, fear.

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, 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 felt nostalgia, they no longer wanted the usual things. They were used to, accustomed to and tired of the Herods of their time. But there, in Bethlehem, was a promise of newness, a promise of gratuitousness. There something new was taking place. The Magi were able to adore because they had the courage to set out and kneeling before the small one, kneeling before the poor one, kneeling before the  defenseless one, kneeling before the unfamiliar and unknown Babe of Bethlehem, they discovered the Glory of God."

Papa Francesco's words at the Angelus in St Peter's Square
Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, Friday 6 January 2017 - also in Arabic, Croatian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
Today we are celebrating the Epiphany of the Lord, which is the manifestation of Jesus who shines as a light for all peoples. A symbol of this light, that shines in the world and seeks to enlighten the life of each one of us, is the star that guided the Magi to Bethlehem. The Gospel says that they had “seen his star in the East” (Mt 2:2) and they chose to follow it: they chose to be guided by the star of Jesus.

In our life too, there are several stars, lights that twinkle and guide. It is up to us to choose which ones to follow. For example, there are flashing lights that come and go, like the small pleasures of life: though they may be good, they are not enough, because they do not last long and they do not leave the peace we seek. Then there is the dazzling limelight of money and success which promises everything, and at once. It is seductive, but with its intensity, blinds and causes dreams of glory to fade into the thickest darkness. The Magi, instead, invite us to follow a steady light, a gentle light that does not wane, because it is not of this world: it comes from heaven and shines ... where? In the heart.

This true light is the light of the Lord, or rather, it is the Lord himself. He is our light: a light that does not dazzle, but accompanies and bestows a unique joy. This light is for everyone and it calls each one of us. In this way, we can hear addressed to us today’s invitation from the prophet Isaiah: “Arise, shine” (60:1). So said Isaiah, prophesying this joy of today in Jerusalem, “Arise, shine”. At the beginning of each day we can welcome this invitation: arise, shine, and follow today — among the many shooting stars in the world — the bright star of Jesus! Following it, we will experience the joy, as happened to the Magi, who “when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Mt 2:10); because where there is God, there is joy. Those who have encountered Jesus have experienced the miracle of light that pierces the darkness and know this light that illuminates and brightens. I would like, with great respect, to invite everyone not to fear this light and to open up to the Lord. Above all, I would like to say to those who have lost the strength to seek, who are tired, to those who, overwhelmed by the darkness of life, have extinguished this yearning: arise, take heart, the light of Jesus can overcome the deepest darkness; arise, courage!

And how do we find this divine light? We follow the example of the Magi, whom the Gospel describes as always on the move. He who wants the light, in fact, goes out of himself and seeks: he is not withdrawn, immobile, watching what is happening around him, but rather, he puts his own life at stake; he goes out of himself. Christian life is a continuous journey, made of hope, a quest; a journey which, like that of the Magi, continues even when the star momentarily disappears from view. On this journey there are also pitfalls that should be avoided: superficial and mundane gossip, which slows the pace; the paralyzing selfish whims; the pit of pessimism that ensnares hope. These obstacles hindered the scribes, of whom today’s Gospel speaks. They knew where the light was, but did not move. When Herod asked them, ‘Where will the Messiah be born?’ [They answered], ‘In Bethlehem!’. They knew where, but did not budge. Their knowledge was vain: they knew many things, but it was useless, all in vain. It is not enough to know that God is born, if you do not celebrate with him Christmas in the heart. God is born, yes, but is he born in your heart? Is he born in my heart? Is he born in our hearts? And in this way we will find him, as did the Magi, with Mary and Joseph in the stable.

The Magi went forth: having found the Child, “they fell down and worshiped him” (v. 11). They did not just look at him, they did not just say a circumstantial prayer and leave, no indeed, they worshiped: they entered into a personal communion of love with Jesus. Then they offered him gold, frankincense and myrrh, namely, their most precious belongings. Let us learn from the Magi not to devote to Jesus only spare time and an occasional thought; otherwise we will not receive his light. Like the Magi, let us set out, let us shine as we follow the star of Jesus, and let us adore the Lord with all our hearts."

After the Angelus:

"Tomorrow the ecclesial communities of the East, which follow the Julian Calendar, will celebrate Holy Christmas. In a spirit of joyful fraternity, I pray that the new birth of the Lord Jesus may fill them with light and peace.

The Epiphany is the Day of Missionary Childhood. I encourage all children and young people who in many parts of the world are committed to spreading the Gospel and to helping their peers in difficulty. Saluto quelli che oggi sono venuti qui da Lazio, Abbruzzo e Molise, e ringrazio la Pontificia Opera dell’Infanzia Missionaria per questo servizio educativo.

Saluto i partecipanti al corteo storico-folcloristico, che quest’anno è dedicato alle terre dell’Umbria meridionale e che si propone di diffondere i valori di solidarietà e fratellanza.

Saluto i gruppi venuti da Malta, dalla California e dalla Polonia; ed estendo la mia benedizione ai partecipanti al grande Corteo dei Re Magi che si svolge a Varsavia con tante famiglie e tanti bambini.

Saluto i fedeli di Ferrara, Correggio, Ruvo di Puglia, Robecco sul Naviglio e Cucciago; come pure i cresimandi di Rosolina e di Romano di Lombardia, i ministranti della diocesi di Asti, i ragazzi di Cologno al Serio, e gli amici e volontari della Fraterna Domus.

The Magi offer their gifts to Jesus, but in reality, Jesus himself is the true gift of God: he is indeed the God who gives himself to us; in him we see the merciful face of the Father who awaits us, welcomes us, always forgives us; the face of God that never treats us according to our works or according to our sins, but only in accordance with the immensity of his inexhaustible mercy. And speaking of gifts, I too thought I would give you a little gift ... there aren’t any camels, but I will give you the gift of the Icons of Mercy booklet. God’s gift is Jesus, mercy of the Father; and this is why in order to remember this gift of God, I am giving you this gift that will be distributed by the poor, by the homeless and by refugees along with many volunteers and religious whom I cordially greet and thank wholeheartedly.

I wish you a year of justice, forgiveness, serenity, but above all, a year of mercy. It will help you to read this book: it is pocket-sized, so you can take it with you.

Please, do not forget to give me, too, the gift of your prayers. May the Lord bless you. Happy feast day, enjoy your lunch and arrivederci!"