JOHN PAUL II
Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord
1. On today's Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, Matthew's Gospel speaks of a mysterious "star" that guided the Magi to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem, where they adored the Child Jesus (cf. 2: 18.104.22.168).
The star that led the Magi to Christ recalls the rich symbolism of light, vividly present at Christmas. God is light and the Word made man is "the light of the world" (John 8: 12), the light that guides the peoples on their journey: "Lumen gentium".
2. My venerable Predecessor Paul VI was moved by this great truth when he made his historical pilgrimage to the Holy Land exactly 40 years ago. Precisely on 6 January 1964 he spoke memorable words in the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem. He said, among other things: "Let us look at the world with immense sympathy. If the world feels foreign to Christianity, Christianity does not feel foreign to the world" (Insegnamenti, Vol. II, 1964, p. 32). And he added that Christianity's mission in humanity's midst is a mission of friendship, understanding, encouragement, promotion, exaltation: in other words, a mission of salvation (cf. ibid., pp. 32-33).
From the place that saw the birth of the Prince of Peace, he urged the leaders of nations to closer collaboration in order to "establish peace in truth, in justice, freedom and fraternal love" (ibid., pp. 34-35).
3. I wholeheartedly make my own these words of the Servant of God Paul VI as I invoke the intercession of Mary Most Holy, Star of humanity on its pilgrimage through time. With the motherly help of the Virgin, may every human being reach Christ, the Light of truth, and may the world advance on the path to justice and peace.
After leading the recitation of the Angelus, the Holy Father said:
I extend a cordial greeting to my brothers and sisters of the Eastern Churches who are celebrating Christmas in these days in accordance with the Julian calendar, assuring them of my constant remembrance in prayer.
I greet the pilgrims present, in particular the participants in the historical and folkloric procession "Viva la Befana!", this year dedicated to the traditions of the town of Anagni and its surroundings.
My best wish to everyone is that you always walk in Christ's light.
JOHN PAUL II
Solemnity of the Epiphany
Adoring Christ with a child's heart
1. "We... have come to worship him" (Matthew 2: 2). These words of the Magi which we heard in the Gospel are the theme of the next World Youth Day that will be held in Cologne this August. I invite the young people of Germany and their peers across the world to set out in spirit toward this important rendezvous, to discover the Face of God in Christ and in the Magi.
As I renew my prayers for the small victims of the tsunami in Asia, I cannot forget the children who are victims of hunger and disease, of war and terrorism, nor, in addition, those who are kidnapped, disappear or are exploited by despicable trafficking.
"Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it" (Mark 10: 15).
May Mary Most Holy, who today presents Christ to the peoples, help us to adore him with a child's heart.
I extend my cordial greetings of peace and joy in the Lord to our brothers and sisters of the Eastern Churches who are celebrating Holy Christmas in these days.
I greet the pilgrims present, especially those taking part in the historical and folkloric procession that is inspired this year by the traditions of the Fiumicino area. I also greet the candidates for Confirmation from Villafranca Padovana with their parish priest, catechists and parents.
I wish you a happy feast day!
Acknowledgment: We thank the Vatican Publisher for allowing us to publish the Homilies of Blesses Pope John Paul II, so that it could be accessed by more people all over the world; as a source of God’s encouragements to all of us.
«CAPPELLA PAPALE» ON THE SOLEMNITY OF THE EPIPHANY
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
The light that shone in the night at Christmas illuminating the Bethlehem Grotto, where Mary, Joseph and the shepherds remained in silent adoration, shines out today and is manifested to all. The Epiphany is a mystery of light, symbolically suggested by the star that guided the Magi on their journey. The true source of light, however, the "sun that rises from on high" (cf. Luke 1: 78), is Christ.
In the mystery of Christmas, Christ's light shines on the earth, spreading, as it were, in concentric circles. First of all, it shines on the Holy Family of Nazareth: the Virgin Mary and Joseph are illuminated by the divine presence of the Infant Jesus. The light of the Redeemer is then manifested to the shepherds of Bethlehem, who, informed by an Angel, hasten immediately to the grotto and find there the "sign" that had been foretold to them: the Child, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger (cf. Luke 2: 12).
The shepherds, together with Mary and Joseph, represent that "remnant of Israel", the poor, the anawim, to whom the Good News was proclaimed.
Finally, Christ's brightness shines out, reaching the Magi who are the first-fruits of the pagan peoples.
The palaces of the rulers of Jerusalem, to which, paradoxically, the Magi actually take the news of the Messiah's birth, are left in the shade. Moreover, this news does not give rise to joy but to fear and hostile reactions. The divine plan was mysterious: "The light came into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were wicked" (John 3: 19).
But what is this light? Is it merely an evocative metaphor or does this image correspond to reality? The Apostle John writes in his First Letter: "God is light; in him there is no darkness" (I John 1: 5); and further on he adds: "God is love". These two affirmations, taken together, help us to understand better: the light that shone forth at Christmas, which is manifested to the peoples today, is God's love revealed in the Person of the Incarnate Word. Attracted by this light, the Magi arrived from the East.
In the mystery of the Epiphany, therefore, alongside an expanding outward movement, a movement of attraction toward the centre is expressed which brings to completion the movement already written in the Old Covenant. The source of this dynamism is God, One in Three Persons, who draws all things and all people to himself. The Incarnate Person of the Word is presented in this way as the beginning of universal reconciliation and recapitulation (cf. Ephesians 1: 9-10).
He is the ultimate destination of history, the point of arrival of an "exodus", of a providential journey of redemption that culminates in his death and Resurrection. Therefore, on the Solemnity of the Epiphany, the liturgy foresees the so-called "Announcement of Easter": indeed, the liturgical year sums up the entire parable of the history of salvation, whose centre is "the Triduum of the Crucified Lord, buried and risen".
In the liturgy of the Christmas season this verse of Psalm 98 frequently recurs as a refrain: "The Lord has made his salvation known: in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice" (v. 2).
These are words that the Church uses to emphasize the "epiphanic" dimension of the Incarnation: the Son of God becoming human, his entry into history, is the crowning point of God's revelation of himself to Israel and to all the peoples. In the Child of Bethlehem, God revealed himself in the humility of the "human form", in the "form of a slave", indeed, of one who died on a cross (cf. Phiippiansl 2: 6-8). This is the Christian paradox.
Indeed, this very concealment constitutes the most eloquent "manifestation" of God. The humility, poverty, even the ignominy of the Passion enable us to know what God is truly like. The Face of the Son faithfully reveals that of the Father. This is why the mystery of Christmas is, so to speak, an entire "epiphany". The manifestation to the Magi does not add something foreign to God's design but unveils a perennial and constitutive dimension of it, namely, that "in Christ Jesus the Gentiles are now coheirs... members of the same body and sharers of the promise through... the Gospel" (Ephesians 3: 6).
At a superficial glance, God's faithfulness to Israel and his manifestation to the peoples could seem divergent aspects; they are actually two sides of the same coin. In fact, according to the Scriptures, it is precisely by remaining faithful to his Covenant of love with the people of Israel that God also reveals his glory to other peoples. Grace and fidelity (cf. Ps 89: 2), "mercy and truth" (cf. Ps 85: 11), are the content of God's glory, they are his "name", destined to be known and sanctified by people of every language and nation.
However, this "content" is inseparable from the "method" that God chose to reveal himself, that is, absolute fidelity to the Covenant that reaches its culmination in Christ. The Lord Jesus, at the same time and inseparably, is "a light revealing to the Gentiles the glory of your people Israel" (Luke 2: 32), as the elderly Simeon was to exclaim, inspired by God, taking the Child in his arms when his parents presented him at the temple. The light that enlightens the peoples - the light of the Epiphany - shines out from the glory of Israel - the glory of the Messiah born, in accordance with the Scriptures, in Bethlehem, "the city of David" (cf. Luke 2: 4).
The Magi worshipped a simple Child in the arms of his Mother Mary, because in him they recognized the source of the twofold light that had guided them: the light of the star and the light of the Scriptures. In him they recognized the King of the Jews, the glory of Israel, but also the King of all the peoples.
The mystery of the Church and her missionary dimension are also revealed in the liturgical context of the Epiphany. She is called to make Christ's light shine in the world, reflecting it in herself as the moon reflects the light of the sun.
The ancient prophecies concerning the holy city of Jerusalem, such as the marvellous one in Isaiah that we have just heard: "Rise up in splendour! Your light has come.... Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance" (Isaiah 60: 1-3), have found fulfilment in the Church.
This is what disciples of Christ must do: trained by him to live in the way of the Beatitudes, they must attract all people to God through a witness of love: "In the same way, your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your deeds and give praise to your heavenly Father" (Matthew 5: 16). By listening to Jesus' words, we members of the Church cannot but become aware of the total inadequacy of our human condition, marked by sin.
The Church is holy, but made up of men and women with their limitations and errors. It is Christ, Christ alone, who in giving us the Holy Spirit is able to transform our misery and constantly renew us. He is the light of the peoples, the lumen gentium, who has chosen to illumine the world through his Church (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 1).
"How can this come about?", we also ask ourselves with the words that the Virgin addresses to the Archangel Gabriel. And she herself, the Mother of Christ and of the Church, gives us the answer: with her example of total availability to God's will - "fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum" (Luke 1: 38) - she teaches us to be a "manifestation" of the Lord, opening our hearts to the power of grace and faithfully abiding by the words of her Son, light of the world and the ultimate end of history.
12 January 2014