By Susan Gately - 07 January, 2017
The Magi did not set out because they had seen the star, but they saw the star because they had already set out, said Pope Francis yesterday in his homily for the feast of the Epiphany. “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 Magi thus personify all those who believe, he continued, those who long for God, who yearn for their home, their heavenly homeland. They reflect the image of all those who in their lives have not let their hearts become anesthetised.
Believers who feel this longing are led by faith to seek God, as the Magi did, in the most distant corners of history, for they know that there the Lord awaits them. “They go to the peripheries, to the frontiers, to places not yet evangelised, to encounter their Lord,” the Pope told the congregation in St Peter’s Basilica.
By contrast, an “entirely different attitude” reigned in the palace of Herod. Jerusalem, like Herod, slept “anesthetised by a cauterised conscience,” Pope Francis said. Herod was bewildered and afraid. His fear led him to seek security in crime. The Magi came from the East to worship, and “they came to do so in the place befitting a king: a palace”.
But in that palace the Magi 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 realise that the gaze of this unknown but desired king does not abase, enslave, or imprison us.” The gaze of God “lifts up, forgives and heals”.
The Pope spoke of what it means “To realise that God wanted to be born where we least expected, or perhaps desired, in a place where we so often refuse him. To realise that in God’s eyes there is always room for those who are wounded, weary, mistreated and abandoned. That his strength and his power are called mercy. For some of us, how far Jerusalem is from Bethlehem!”
Herod was unable to worship because he could not change his own way of looking at things. His aim was to make others worship him.
The Magi experienced longing; 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 gratuitousness. There something new was taking place.
“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,” he concluded.
Afterwards, speaking from his balcony for the noon Angelus, Pope Francis invited people to “set out, clothe ourselves in the light following the star of Jesus, and love the Lord with all our might”. He told people “not to be afraid of this light. Above all I would say to those who have lost the strength to look, to those who are dominated by the darkness of life, …Courage, the light of Jesus can overcome the darkest darkness.”
The Pope offered 300 homeless people and refugees a sandwich and a drink to thank them for helping to hand out religious pamphlets at the feast day service. Comparing the pamphlets handed out to the roughly 35,000 faithful in St. Peter’s Square to the gifts the wise men – or Magi – brought to Jesus, he said “I thought I would give you a little gift too. The camels are missing but I will give you the gift. I wish you a year of justice, forgiveness, serenity, but above all mercy. Reading this book will help – it fits in your pocket!”