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Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord 2010

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

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, the great light that radiates from the Cave of Bethlehem inundates all of mankind through the Magi from the East. The first reading, taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, and the passage from the Gospel of Matthew juxtapose the promise and its fulfilment in that particular tension noted when reading passages from the Old and New Testaments in succession. Following the humiliations undergone by the people of Israel at the hands of worldly powers, the splendid vision of the Prophet Isaiah appears before us. He sees the moment when the great light of God that seems powerless and incapable of protecting his people will rise to shine on all the earth so that the kings of nations bow before him, coming from the ends of the earth to deposit their most precious treasures at his feet. And the heart of the people will tremble with joy.

Compared to this vision, the one the Evangelist Matthew presents to us appears poor and humble: it seems impossible for us to recognize in it the fulfilment of the Prophet Isaiah's words. In fact, those who arrived in Bethlehem were not the powerful and the kings of the earth, but the Magi, unknown men, perhaps regarded with suspicion, and in any case, not deemed worthy of special attention. The inhabitants of Jerusalem learned of the event but did not think it worth bothering about. Not even in Bethlehem did anyone seem to take any notice of the birth of this Baby, called King of the Jews by the Magi, nor about these men who had come from the East to visit him. Soon after, in fact, when Herod made it clear that he was effectively the one in power forcing the Holy Family to flee to Egypt and offering proof of his cruelty by the massacre of the innocents the episode of the Magi seemed to have been disregarded and forgotten. It is therefore understandable that the hearts and souls of believers throughout the centuries have been attracted more by the vision of the prophet than by the sober narration of the evangelist, as the nativity scenes also show where there are camels, dromedaries and powerful kings of the world kneeling before the Child, laying down their gifts to him in precious caskets. But we must pay more attention to what the two texts communicate to us.

In fact, what did Isaiah see with his prophetic vision? In one single moment, he glimpsed a reality that was destined to mark all history. But even the event that Matthew narrates is not a brief and negligible episode that closes with the Magi hastening back to their own lands. On the contrary, it is the beginning. Those figures who came from the East were not the last but the first of a great procession of those who, throughout the epochs of history, are able to recognize the message of the Star, who know how to walk on the paths indicated by Sacred Scripture. Thus they also know how to find the One who seems weak and fragile but instead has the power to grant the greatest and most profound joy to the heart of man. In him, indeed, is made manifest the stupendous reality that God knows us and is close to us, that his greatness and power are not expressed according to the world's logic, but to the logic of a helpless baby whose strength is only that of the love which he entrusts to us. In the journey of history, there are always people who are enlightened by the light of the Star, who find the way and reach him. They all live, each in his or her own way, the experience of the Magi.

They had brought gold, incense and myrrh. These are certainly not gifts that correspond to basic, daily needs. At that moment, the Holy Family was far more in need of something different from incense or myrrh, and not even the gold could have been of immediate use to them. But these gifts have a profound significance: they are an act of justice. In fact, according to the mentality prevailing then in the Orient, they represent the recognition of a person as God and King, that is, an act of submission. They were meant to say that from that moment, the donors belonged to the sovereign and they recognize his authority. The consequence is immediate. The Magi could no longer follow the road they came on, they could no longer return to Herod, they could no longer be allied with that powerful and cruel sovereign. They had always been led along the path of the Child, making them ignore the great and the powerful of the world, and taking them to him who awaits us among the poor, the road of love which alone can transform the world.

Therefore, not only did the Magi set out on their journey, but their deed started something new they traced a new road, and a new light has come down on earth which has never faded. The Prophet's vision is fulfilled: that light could no longer be ignored by the world. People would go towards that Child and would be illumined by that joy that only he can give. The light of Bethlehem continues to shine throughout the world. To those who have welcomed this light, St Augustine said: "Even we, recognizing Christ our King and Priest who died for us, have honoured him as if we had offered him gold, incense and myrrh. But what remains is for us to bear witness to him by taking a different road from that on which we came."

Thus if we read together the promise of the Prophet Isaiah and its fulfilment in the Gospel of Matthew in the great context of all history, it is evident that what we have been told which we seek to reproduce in our nativity scenes is neither a dream nor a vain play on sensations and emotions, devoid of vigour and reality, but is the Truth that irradiates in the world, although Herod always seems stronger, and that Infant seems to be found among people of no importance or who are even downtrodden. But in that Baby is expressed the power of God, who brings together all people through the ages, because under his lordship, they may follow the course of love which transfigures the world. Nevertheless, even if the few in Bethlehem have become many, believers in Jesus Christ always seem to be few. Many have seen the star, but only a few have understood its message. Scripture scholars in the time of Jesus knew the word of God perfectly well. They were able to say without hesitation what could be found in Scripture about the place where the Messiah would be born, but as St Augustine said: "They were like milestones along the road though they could give information to travellers along the way, they remained inert and immobile."

Therefore, we can ask ourselves: what is the reason why some men see and find, while others do not? What opens the eyes and the heart? What is lacking in those who remain indifferent, in those who point out the road but do not move? We can answer: too much self-assurance, the claim to knowing reality, the presumption of having formulated a definitive judgment on everything closes them and makes their hearts insensitive to the newness of God. They are certain of the idea that they have formed of the world and no longer let themselves be involved in the intimacy of an adventure with a God who wants to meet them. They place their confidence in themselves rather than in him, and they do not think it possible that God could be so great as to make himself small so as to come really close to us.

Lastly, what they lack is authentic humility, which is able to submit to what is greater, but also authentic courage, which leads to belief in what is truly great even if it is manifested in a helpless Baby. They lack the evangelical capacity to be children at heart, to feel wonder, and to emerge from themselves in order to follow the path indicated by the star, the path of God. God has the power to open our eyes and to save us. Let us therefore ask him to give us a heart that is wise and innocent, that allows us to see the Star of his mercy, to proceed along his way, in order to find him and be flooded with the great light and true joy that he brought to this world. 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 great feast of the Epiphany, the mystery of the Lord's Manifestation to all the peoples, represented by the Magi who came from the East to worship the King of the Jews (cf. Mt 2: 1-2). St Matthew, who recounts the event, stresses that they arrived in Jerusalem following a star that they had seen rising and interpreted as a sign of the birth of the King proclaimed by the Prophets, in other words the Messiah. However, having arrived in Jerusalem, the Magi needed the priests and scribes to direct them in order to know exactly where to go, namely, Bethlehem, the city of David (cf. Mt 2: 5-6; Mic 5: 1). On their journey, the star and the Sacred Scriptures were the two lights that guided the Magi, who appear to us as models of authentic seekers of the truth.

They were Wise Men who scrutinized the stars and knew the history of the peoples. They were men of science in the broad sense, who observed the cosmos, considering it almost as a great open book full of divine signs and messages for human beings. Their knowledge, therefore, far from claiming to be self-sufficient, was open to further divine revelations and calls. In fact, they were not ashamed to ask the religious leaders of the Jews for directions. They could have said: "we will do it on our own, we do not need anyone", thereby avoiding, according to our mentality today, all "contamination" between science and the word of God. Instead, the Magi listened to the prophecies and accepted them; and, no sooner had they continued on their way towards Bethlehem than they saw the star again, as if to confirm the perfect harmony between human seeking and the divine Truth, a harmony that filled the hearts of these genuine Wise Men with joy (cf. Mt 2: 10). The culmination of their quest was the moment when they found themselves before "the Child with Mary his Mother" (Mt 2: 11). The Gospel says that they "fell down and worshipped him". They might have been disappointed, or even shocked. Instead, as the true Wise Men that they were, they were open to the mystery that had manifested itself in a surprising manner and, with their symbolic gifts, they showed that they recognized Jesus as the King and Son of God. Precisely in that gesture were fulfilled the messianic oracles that proclaimed the homage of nations to the God of Israel.

A final detail confirms the unity in the Magi of intelligence and faith: it is the fact that "being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way" (Mt 2: 12). It would have been natural to return to Jerusalem, to Herod's Palace and to the Temple to spread the news of their discovery. Instead, the Magi, who had chosen the Child as their Sovereign, kept this hidden, in accordance with Mary's, or rather with God's own style. And thus just as they had appeared they disappeared in silence, content but also transformed by their meeting with the Truth. They had discovered a new Face of God, a new kingship: that of love. May the Virgin Mary, model of true wisdom, help us to be authentic seekers of God's truth, ever capable of living the profound harmony that exists between reason and faith, science and revelation."

After the Angelus

"Sono lieto di indirizzare il mio augurio più cordiale ai fratelli e alle sorelle delle Chiese Orientali che celebrano domani il santo Natale. Il mistero di luce sia fonte di gioia e di pace per ogni famiglia e comunità.

Nella solennità dell’Epifania ricorre la Giornata Missionaria dei Bambini, con il motto “I bambini aiutano i bambini”. Promossa dal Venerabile Papa Pio XII nel 1950, questa iniziativa educa i bambini a formarsi una mentalità aperta al mondo e ad essere solidali con i loro coetanei più disagiati. Saluto con affetto tutti i piccoli missionari presenti nei cinque continenti e li incoraggio ad essere sempre testimoni di Gesù e annunciatori del suo Vangelo.

En ce jour de l’Épiphanie, la prière de l’Angélus me donne la joie de saluer les pèlerins francophones et particulièrement nos frères chrétiens d’Orient. Comme les Mages guidés par l’étoile nous sommes invités à marcher vers la lumière de Dieu. En venant adorer l’Enfant de Bethléem, acceptons de nous faire humbles et pauvres. Il indique à tous les hommes de bonne volonté un chemin pour les rassembler dans l’unité et la fraternité. à la suite des Mages et avec la Vierge Marie sachons accueillir Dieu qui s’est rendu visible à nos yeux et marchons avec joie vers la clarté de son aurore !

I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present for this Angelus. Today we celebrate the solemnity of the Epiphany of our Lord. As the wise men of old followed a star and knelt before the Christ child, we too are called to welcome him who today reveals the loving face of God to the nations. May the example of the wise men encourage us to give our very best to God and to our neighbours. Upon each of you and your loved ones at home, I invoke God’s abundant blessings!

Einen herzlichen Gruß richte ich an die Pilger aus den Ländern deutscher Sprache. Als die Sterndeuter aus dem Osten das Jesuskind und Maria, seine Mutter, fanden, fielen sie vor ihm nieder und beteten ihn an (vgl. Mt 2,11). Wie sie sollen auch wir uns in tiefer Anbetung vor dem Herrn, unserem Schöpfer, niederwerfen und ihm allein dienen. Mit unserem Lob und Dank bringen wir dem menschgewordenen Sohn Gottes uns selber als geistige Opfergabe dar, indem wir unser Leben in Glaube, Hoffnung und Liebe auf ihn ausrichten. Die Freude des neugeborenen Erlösers erfülle euch und eure Familien!

Saludo con afecto a los peregrinos de lengua española presentes en esta oración mariana. La Iglesia celebra hoy la solemnidad de la Epifanía del Señor, la manifestación del Mesías a todos los pueblos. San Mateo nos narra en su evangelio como unos personajes, venidos de Oriente, son guiados por una estrella hasta Belén y, adorando al Niño Jesús, le reconocen como el único Salvador del Mundo. Queridos hermanos, os invito a imitar la obediencia de estos Magos que, gracias a su docilidad a la acción providente de Dios, pudieron recibir la luz sin ocaso: Cristo, el Señor. Feliz fiesta de la Epifanía. Muchas gracias.

Serdecznie pozdrawiam Polaków. Dzisiejsza uroczystość przypomina nam, że Bóg objawił się światu w swoim Synu, odpowiedział na ludzkie pytania o sens i cel życia. Jak Mędrcom, którzy Go szukali wskazał drogę swoim światłem, tak nas prowadzi drogą wiary. Pozwala się znaleźć tym, którzy Go szukają, daje dowody swej obecności. Bądźmy Jego świadkami!

Infine, saluto con affetto i pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare i giovani del Movimento “Tra Noi” e i partecipanti al consueto corteo storico-folcloristico, ispirato quest’anno alle tradizioni delle città di Alatri, Fiuggi e Vico nel Lazio. Mentre rivolgo un pensiero affettuoso ai bambini di Roma, auguro a tutti una buona festa dell’Epifania."

BXVI - Wednesday, 6 January 2010 - © Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana