5. For this reason the Church rejoices today, exulting in the summons of Isaiah: “Arise, shine forth, for your light has come... And nations shall come to your light” (Isaiah 60:1, 3). This sense of joy contains no vain triumphalism. How could we possibly succumb to this temptation, precisely at the end of such an intensely penitential year? The Great Jubilee has offered us an extraordinary opportunity to carry out “the purification of memories”, seeking God’s forgiveness for the infidelities of the Church’s children during these two thousand years.
Before Christ crucified we remembered that, in contrast to the overflowing grace which makes the Church “holy”, we her children are deeply marked by sin, and cast a shadow upon the face of the Bride of Christ: no self-exaltation therefore but a deep sense of our limitations and weaknesses. Yet we cannot but be filled with joy, with that inner joy to which the Prophet calls us, a joy rich in thanksgiving and praise, because it is based on our awareness of the gifts received and our certainty of Christ’s enduring love.
6. Now it is time to look to the future, and the story of the Wise Men can in a certain way give us our spiritual bearings. First of all, they tell us that when we encounter Christ, we must learn to stop and experience deeply the joy of intimacy with him. “When they entered the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and bowing down they worshipped him”: from now on their lives would be for ever given to the Child for whom they had endured the rigours of the journey and the deceitfulness of men. Christianity is born, and continually draws new life, from this contemplation of the glory of God shining on the face of Christ.
A face to be contemplated, seeing in his eyes the “features” of the Father and allowing ourselves to be filled with the Spirit’s love. The great Jubilee pilgrimage has reminded us of this fundamental Trinitarian aspect of the Christian life: in Christ we also meet the Father and the Spirit. The Trinity is the origin and the fulfilment. From the Trinity all things come, and to the Trinity all things return.
And yet, as in the case of the Wise Men, this immersion in contemplation of the mystery does not stop us from journeying on, indeed it compels us to start out afresh on a new stage of the journey on which we become proclaimers and heralds. “They returned to their own country by a different way”. The Wise Men were in a sense the first missionaries. Their encounter with Christ did not keep them in Bethlehem, but made them set out anew on the paths of the world. We need to set out anew from Christ and, in so doing, to set out anew from the Trinity.
7. This is precisely what is asked of us, dear Brothers and Sisters, as the fruit of the Jubilee which concludes today.
In connection with this commitment which awaits us, in a short while I will sign the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, in which I offer some reflections which can help the whole Christian community to “set out” with fresh enthusiasm after the Jubilee event. Of course, it is not a question of organizing, in the short term, other major initiatives. We return to our normal activities, but this is something quite different from taking a rest. Rather, we need to draw from the experience of the Jubilee useful lessons which can give inspiration and effective direction to our new commitment.
8. I offer these reflections to the particular Churches, as a sort of “legacy” of the Great Jubilee, so that the Churches can incorporate them in their pastoral planning. There is an urgent need first of all to build on the desire to contemplate Jesus Christ which the experience of this year has given us. In the human face of the Son of Mary we recognize the Word made flesh, in the fullness of his divinity and his humanity. The greatest artists – of East and West – have striven to capture the mystery of that Face. But is the Spirit, the divine “iconographer”, who etches that Face in the hearts of all who contemplate him and love him. We need to “set out anew from Christ”, with the zeal of Pentecost, with renewed enthusiasm. To set out from him above all in a daily commitment to holiness, with an attitude of prayer and of listening to his word. To set out from him in order to testify to his Love by living a Christian life marked by communion, charity, and witness before the world. This is the programme which I suggest in the present Apostolic Letter. It can all be reduced to one word: “Jesus Christ!”.
At the very beginning of my Pontificate, and countless times since, I have exclaimed to the sons and daughters of the Church and to the world: “Open wide the doors to Christ”. I wish to do so yet again, at the conclusion of this Jubilee, at the beginning of this new millennium.
9. “All the peoples of the earth will adore you, O Lord!”. This prophecy is already fulfilled in the heavenly Jerusalem, where all the just of the world, and especially so the many witnesses to the faith, are mysteriously gathered in that holy city where the sun is no more, since the Lamb is its sun. There above, angels and saints join their voices in singing the praises of God.
The pilgrim Church on earth, in her Liturgy, in her proclamation of the Gospel, in her witness, echoes each day that heavenly song. May the Lord grant that, in the new millennium, the Church will grow ever more in holiness, that she may become in history a true epiphany of the merciful and glorious face of Christ the Lord. Amen!
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
That child, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, came not only for the people of Israel, represented by the shepherds of Bethlehem, but also for all humanity, represented today by the wise men from the East. It is on the Magi and their journey in search of the Messiah that the Church today invites us to meditate and pray.
These wise men from the East were the first in that great procession of which the prophet Isaiah spoke in today’s first reading (cf. 60:1-6): a procession which from that time on has continued uninterrupted; in every age it hears the message of the star and finds the Child who reveals the tenderness of God. New persons are always being enlightened by that star; they find the way and come into his presence.
According to tradition, the wise men were sages, watchers of the constellations, observers of the heavens, in a cultural and religious context which saw the stars as having significance and power over human affairs. The wise men represent men and woman who seek God in the world’s religions and philosophies: an unending quest. Men and women who seek God.
The wise men point out to us the path of our journey through life. They sought the true Light. As a liturgical hymn of Epiphany which speaks of their experience puts it: “Lumen requirunt lumine”; by following a light, they sought the light, “Lumen requirunt lumine”. They set out in search of God. Having seen the sign of the star, they grasped its message and set off on a long journey.
It is the Holy Spirit who called them and prompted them to set out; during their journey they were also to have a personal encounter with the true God.
Along the way, the wise men encountered many difficulties. Once they reached Jerusalem, they went to the palace of the king, for they thought it obvious that the new king would be born in the royal palace. There they lost sight of the star. How often sight of the star is lost! And, having lost sight of the star, they met with a temptation, placed there by the devil: it was the deception of Herod. King Herod was interested in the child, not to worship him but to eliminate him. Herod is the powerful man who sees others only as rivals. Deep down, he also considers God a rival, indeed the most dangerous rival of all. In the palace the wise men experience a moment of obscurity, of desolation, which they manage to overcome thanks to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, who speaks through the prophecies of sacred Scripture. These indicate that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David.
At that point they resume their journey, and once more they see the star; the evangelist says that they “rejoiced exceedingly” (Matthew 2:10). Coming to Bethlehem, they found “the child with Mary his mother” (Matthew 2:11). After that of Jerusalem, this was their second great temptation: to reject this smallness. But instead, “they fell down and worshiped him”, offering him their precious symbolic gifts. Again, it is the grace of the Holy Spirit which assists them. That grace, which through the star had called them and led them along the way, now lets them enter into the mystery. The star which led them on the journey allows them to enter into the mystery. Led by the Spirit, they come to realize that God’s criteria are quite different from those of men, that God does not manifest himself in the power of this world, but speaks to us in the humbleness of his love. God’s love is great. God’s love is powerful. But the love of God is humble, yes, very humble. The wise men are thus models of conversion to the true faith, since they believed more in the goodness of God than in the apparent splendour of power.
And so we can ask ourselves: what is the mystery in which God is hidden? Where can I find him? All around us we see wars, the exploitation of children, torture, trafficking in arms, trafficking in persons… In all these realities, in these, the least of our brothers and sisters who are enduring these difficult situations, there is Jesus (cf. Matthew 25:40,45). The crib points us to a different path from the one cherished by the thinking of this world: it is the path of God’s self-abasement, that humility of God’s love by which he abases himself, he completely lowers himself, his glory concealed in the manger of Bethlehem, on the cross upon Calvary, in each of our suffering brothers and sisters.
The wise men entered into the mystery. They passed from human calculations to the mystery: this was their conversion. And our own? Let us ask the Lord to let us undergo that same journey of conversion experienced by the wise men. Let us ask him to protect us and to set us free from the temptations which hide the star. To let us always feel the troubling question: “Where is the star?”, whenever – amid the deceptions of this world – we lose sight of it. To let us know ever anew God’s mystery, and not to be scandalized by the “sign”, that sign spoken of by the angels, which points to “a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12), and to have the humility to ask the Mother, our Mother, to show him to us. To find the courage to be liberated from our illusions, our presumptions, our “lights”, and to seek this courage in the humility of faith and in this way to encounter the Light, Lumen, like the holy wise men. May we enter into the mystery. So may it be. Amen.
Saint John Paul II
Homily 6 January 1999 (Encouragements-351),
Homily 6 January 2002 (Encouragements-351),
Angelus 6 January 2004 (Encouragements-352) &
Angelus 6 January 2005 (Encouragements-352).
Pope Benedict XVI
Homily 6 January 2006 (Encouragements-352),
Homily 6 January 2007 (Enouragements-353) &
Homily 6 January 2013 (Encouragements-183).
Pope Francis I
Homily 6 January 2014 (Encouragemnts-353).
Acknowledgment: We thank the Vatican Publisher for allowing us to publish the Homilies of Saint Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI & Pope Francis I, so that they could be accessed by more people all over the world; as a source of God’s encouragements to all of us.