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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Papal Homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany

Pope Benedict XVI incenses the altar during the Mass for the Solemnity of the Epiphany.   (Photo:  Aljazeera)

Courtesy of the Google Translator, here is the text of the magnificent homily the Holy Father preached this morning at St. Peter's Basilica for the Solemnity of the Epiphany:

Dear brothers and sisters ,

In the solemnity of the Epiphany, the Church continues to contemplate and celebrate the mystery of the birth of Jesus the Savior. In particular, today's feast underlines the destination and the universal significance of this birth. In becoming man in the womb of Mary, the Son of God came not only for the people of Israel, represented by the shepherds of Bethlehem, but also for all humanity, represented by the Magi. And it is on the Magi and their journey in search of the Messiah (cf. Mt 2:1-12) that the Church invites us to meditate and pray today. In the Gospel we heard that they had come to Jerusalem from the East, asking: "Where is he that is born King of the Jews? We have seen his star rise and have come to worship him "(v. 2). What kind of people they were, and what kind of star was that? They were probably wise to scan the sky, but not to try to "read" the future in the stars, possibly to earn money, rather than that, the men were "looking into" something more, in search of true light, which is able to show the way to go in life. There were some people that exists in creating what we might call the "signature" of God, a sign that man can and must groped to find and decipher. Perhaps the best way to meet these Magi and seize their desire to be guided by the signs of God is to pause and consider what they find on their journey, the great city of Jerusalem.

First they met King Herod.
Certainly he was interested in the child the Magi were talking about, but not for the purpose of worship, as in his lies, he wanted to suppress the child. Herod is a man of power; the other can only see a rival to fight. After all, if you think about it, God seems to be a rival, even a particularly dangerous rival, that would deprive men of their habitat, their autonomy, their power, a rival who shows the way to go in life and prevent it, so, to do whatever you want. Herod hears from the experts of the Holy Scriptures the words of the prophet Micah (5:1), but his only thought is about the throne. Then God himself shall be overshadowed and people must be reduced to mere pawns to be moved in the great chessboard of power. Herod is a character who is not nice and who instinctively judges in a negative way with hsi brutality. But we should ask ourselves: maybe there is something of Herod in us? Perhaps we, too, sometimes,  see God as a kind of rival? Perhaps we too are blind in front of his signs, deaf to his words, because we think that puts limits on our lives and not to allow us to have existence at will? Dear brothers and sisters, when we see God in this way we end up feeling dissatisfied and unhappy; we do not let ourselves be guided by Him who is the foundation of all things. We must remove from our minds and our hearts the idea of rivalry, the idea that God is giving space to a limit for ourselves and we must open ourselves to the certainty that God is omnipotent love that takes nothing away, no threat, indeed , is the only one capable of offering us the opportunity to live fully, to experience real joy.

The Magi then meet with scholars, theologians, experts who know all about the Holy Scriptures, who know the possible interpretations, who are able to quote from memory every step and are therefore a valuable aid for those who want to pursue the path of God . But, says St. Augustine, they like to be guides for others, show the way, but do not walk, they remain motionless. For them, writing becomes a kind of atlas to read with curiosity, a set of words and concepts on which to examine and discuss learnedly. But again we can ask ourselves: there is also the temptation to believe  the Holy Scriptures, this rich treasure and vital to the faith of the Church, more as an object for study and discussion of specialists that we like the Book points the way to attain life? I think, as I indicated in the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini , should always be born again in us the deep disposal to see to the Bible, read in the living Tradition of the Church ( No. 18 ), as the truth that tells us what man is and how it can be fully realized, the truth is that the way to go every day, along with others, if we build our lives on the rock and not sand.

And so we come to the star.
What type of star had the Magi seen and followed? Throughout the ages, this question has been the subject of debate among astronomers. Kepler, for example, believed that it was a "nova" or a "supernova", that is one of those stars that normally give off a faint light, but that they suddenly have a violent internal explosion that produces a great light. Yes, interesting things, but that does not lead us to what is essential to understand that star. We have to go back to the fact that these men were looking for traces of God, trying to read his "signature" in the creation, knew that "the heavens declare the glory of God" (
Ps 19:2), were certain, that God can be glimpsed in creation. But, as wise, knew well that is not with any telescope, but with the deep eyes of reason in search of the ultimate meaning of reality and God's desire driven by faith, that you can meet him, indeed it is possible that God comes to us. The universe is not the result of chance, as some would have us believe. Contemplating it, we are invited to read something profound: the wisdom of the Creator, the inexhaustible creativity of God, his infinite love for us. We should not limit your mind of theories that are still only up to a certain point and that - if we look good - are not in competition with the faith, but can not explain the ultimate meaning of reality. In the beauty of the world, in its mystery, its greatness and rationality we can not read the eternal rationality, and we can not help but be guided by it to the one God, Creator of heaven and earth. If we get this look, we see that He who created the world and one who was born in a manger in Bethlehem and continued to live among us in the Eucharist, are the same living God who calls us, loves us, wants to lead to eternal life.

Herod, the experts of the Scriptures, the star. But we follow the journey of the Magi who come to Jerusalem. Above the large city the star disappears, there is no more. What does this mean? Again we read the sign in depth. For those men was logical to try the new king in the royal palace, where they were the wise counselors of the court. But, probably to their astonishment, they had to see that that baby was not in the places of power and culture, even if those places were offered them valuable information about him. They realized, however, that at times the power, even that of knowledge, stands in the way the meeting with that child. The star then led them to Bethlehem, a small town, led them among the poor, the lowly, to find the King of the world. The criteria of God are different from those of men, God does not manifest itself in the power of this world, but in the humility of his love, the love that calls to our freedom to be taken to transform and enable us to get to the One who is Love. But for us things are not so different from what they were for the Magi. If we are asked our opinion on how God would save the world, perhaps we would say that would express all his power to give the world a fairer economic system, in which everyone could have everything he wants. In reality, this would be a kind of compulsion on man, why would deprive him of basic elements that characterize it. In fact, it would not undermine our freedom, nor our love. The power of God manifests itself in a completely different way: in Bethlehem, where we encounter the apparent powerlessness of his love. And that's where we should go, and it is there that we find the star of God

So there is a clear last important element of the story of the Magi: the language of creation allows us to go a long way towards God, but ultimately gives us the light. In the end, for the Magi was essential to hear the voice of the Holy Scriptures: only show them the way they could. It 's the Word of God, the true star which, in the uncertainty of human discourse, gives us the full glory of divine truth. Dear brothers and sisters, let us be guided by the star, which is the Word of God, follow it in our lives, walking to the church where the Word has pitched his tent. Our street is always illuminated by a light that no one else can give us a sign. And we ourselves become stars for others, a reflection of that light which Christ has made to shine on us. Amen.


The Magi made considerable sacrifices in their journey to seek the newborn King.  The journey was not an easy one; yet, it was one of joyful expectation.  Little did they know that as they followed that bright Star, it would lead them to something beyond the fulfillment of all of their expectations: God, Himself, in the form of a child.  

Experiencing the beauty of the celebration, even through satellite television, made me wonder why we need to move important feasts to the nearest Sunday.  Granted, I understand that the transfer to Sunday would mean that more people would be able to partake of the feast; however, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf makes a compelling argument in his blog, "What Does the Prayer Really Say" about keeping the integrity of the dates.  January 6th is the 12th day of Christmas.  There is significance in this date.  English Catholics, keeping the Church alive in the underground during the persecutions of the Elizabethan regime, came up with the well-known (but sadly, misunderstood) Christmas carol, the 12 Days of Christmas, to symbolize the season.

Even in the Mexican-American tradition, the importance of January 6th is still kept.  Regardless of the fact that the Epiphany is moved to a Sunday, countless people still hold fast to the January 6th date and mark the occasinon by indulging in a special cake called a "rosca".  This cake, which looks like an oblong bundt cake, is in the shape of a crown.  Imbedded within the "rosca" are one or two tiny figurines depcting the Christ Child.  Whoever gets a piece containing the figurine must, by custom, host a celebration on February 2, the Solemnity of the Presentation of the Lord.

If people still maintain this custom, would it really be too hard of a stretch to just go ahead and reinstate January 6th as the Solemnity of the Epiphany in the calendar for the Ordinary Form of the Mass?   Perhaps this is a question that the Church, or, at least, the various national episcopal conferences should re-examine. 

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