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Magi's journey reflects people's longing for God

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Magi had the courage to set out on a journey in the hope of finding something new, unlike Herod who was full of himself and unwilling to change his ways, Pope Francis said.

The Wise Men who set out from the East in search of Jesus personify all those who long for God and reflect "all those who in their lives have let their hearts be anesthetized," the pope said Jan. 6, the feast of the Epiphany.

"The Magi experienced longing; they were tired of the usual fare. They were all too familiar with, and weary of, the Herods of their own day. But there, in Bethlehem, was a promise of newness, of gratuity," he said.

Thousands of people were gathered in St. Peter's Basilica as the pope entered to the sounds of the choir singing "Angels we have heard on high" in Latin. Before taking his place in front of the altar, the pope stood in front of a statue of baby Jesus, spending several minutes in veneration before kissing it.

The pope said that the Magi adoring the newborn king highlight two specific actions: seeing and worshipping.

Seeing the star of Bethlehem did not prompt them to embark on their journey but rather, "they saw the star because they had already set out," he said.

"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 something new," the pope said.

This restlessness, he continued, awakens a longing for God that exists in the hearts of all believers who know "that the Gospel is not an event of the past but of the present."

It is holy longing for God "that helps us keep alert in the face of every attempt to reduce and impoverish our life. A holy longing for God is the memory of faith, which rebels before all prophets of doom," the pope said.

Recalling the biblical figures of Simeon, the prodigal son, and Mary Magdalene, the pope said this longing for God "draws us out of our iron-clad isolation, which makes us think that nothing can change," and helps us seek Christ.

However, the figure of King Herod presents a different attitude of bewilderment and fear that, when confronted with something new, "closes in on itself and its own achievements, its knowledge, its successes."

The quest of the Magi led them first to Herod's palace that, although it befits the birth of king, is only a sign of "power, outward appearances and superiority. Idols that promise only sorrow and enslavement," he said.

"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," the pope said. 

Unlike the Magi, the pope added, Herod is unable to worship the newborn king because he was unwilling to change his way of thinking and "did not want to stop worshiping himself, believing that everything revolved around him."

Christians are called to imitate the wise men who, "weary of the Herods of their own day," set out in search of the promise of something new.

"The Magi were able to worship, because they had the courage to set out. And as they fell to their knees before the small, poor and vulnerable infant, the unexpected and unknown child of Bethlehem, they discovered the glory of God," the pope said.

After the Mass, Pope Francis greeted tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. 

A colorful parade led by the sounds of trumpets and drums, people dressed in traditional and festive clothing contributed to the cheerful atmosphere despite the chilly weather. 

Explaining the significance of the Wise Men who presented their gifts to Christ after adoring him, the pope gave the crowds a gift: a small booklet of reflections on mercy. 

The book, entitled "Icons of Mercy," presents "six Gospel episodes that recall the experience of people transformed by Jesus' love: the sinful woman, Zacchaeus, Matthew, the publican, the Samaritan, the good thief and the apostle Peter. Six icons of mercy," the papal almoner's office said. 

Together with the homeless, poor men and women and refugees, religious men and women distributed the books to the crowd. As a thank you, Pope also offered more than 300 homeless men and women sandwiches and drinks.

 
  • Published in Vatican

Living the Word: The Epiphany of the Lord, Jan. 3, 2016

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5,6; Matthew 2 1-12

They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. (Mt 2:11)

While the world has quickly moved away from Christmas to the next holiday, the Church only began its celebration at sundown Dec. 24 and will conclude the Christmas season next Sunday, Jan. 10, with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The Catholic faith is truly countercultural, and these Christmas season feasts in January prove that assertion. Today's feast, the Epiphany, follows the Magi from the East as they come to adore the newborn child. Having escaped the clutches of Herod, the Magi enter the home of Mary to bring their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the newborn savior of the world.

The beauty of these feasts after Christmas Day is that the faithful can take a step back and really feel the meaning of the birth of Jesus Christ. The gift giving is done, the Christmas trees are either put away or added to the mulch pile, and all are lamenting that they ate far too much during the Christmas season. So with all of the commercial festivities of Christmas now complete, the faithful can now follow the example of the Magi of today's feast. They can make the journey to the newborn child. They adore the Word made flesh. Finally, they offer him the very gift of self. Ah, the true meaning of Christmas!

Throughout Advent Christians journeyed to the newborn child of Christmas. Time was spent in prayer. The candles of the Advent wreath were slowly and patiently lit. Christians sought meaning, purpose, and salvation in the word of God made flesh in Jesus. On Christmas day, the faithful symbolically arrived at the manger scene. In the life of Jesus, there are four important stops that are crucial to the faith of the Christian: the manger scene, the upper room where the Last Supper was shared by Jesus and his companions, the foot of the cross, and the empty tomb of the Resurrection. The place of Jesus' birth, the first Eucharist, the death of Jesus, and his Resurrection remind the faithful that Jesus came to guide God's people to eternal life.

Today, with the Magi, the faithful stand in awe and wonder at what God has done. Unlike the words of this column that will disappear, God's Word became flesh and will live forever. God has been born in time and space, to real parents and in a real community. Living among humanity, God took on human flesh to bring hope and salvation to all. That's what we see lying in that manger! Born humble, homeless, and poor, this newborn will be the salvation of all. With the Magi we stop at the spot of the birth of the son of God to adore this Christ child. Our journey will not stop there; it must continue to the other important stops along Jesus' journey. But today, in silence the faithful kneel in adoration at the crib of Jesus, this infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, who is the Way, Truth, and Life.

The Magi offer the newborn child and his mother Mary gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They made that long journey across the desert to adore the child, and then to offer all they had. Beware stopping at the manger! When the faithful come to adore the Christ child, he demands a response, and not a halfhearted assent to some obscure theological truth. No, this infant demands the total giving of self to his and our Father. He demands commitment to faith and obedience to the will of God the Father. Once the faithful have stopped at the manger, there is no going back! One's life will be changed forever at the realization that this child is the Word made flesh, as God has joined the human family in the person of Jesus, so now the human person is swept up into the life of God through Jesus' divinity. Redemption is now at hand. Come let us adore, that we, too, are redeemed and saved. Come let us give of ourselves to him, that in him we will know God. Thus is the true meaning and mystery of Christmas!

Questions for private reflection . . .

What do you see when you look into that manger? What affect does Jesus, the newborn child have on your life?

Say a prayer at the manger asking God to help and inspire you to live the Christian life fully in following this infant in swaddling clothes through his Last Supper, cross, and Resurrection.

Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois is the principal of Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington. Msgr. Bourgeois may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
 
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