|The humility and the courage to believe
On Wednesday, 6 January
, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, the Holy Father celebrated Mass
in St Peter's Basilica. The following is a translation of his Homily,
which was given in Italian.
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, which we just heard,
juxtapose the promise and its fulfilment in that particular tension
noted when reading passages from the Old and New Testaments in
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
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
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 (cf. Mt 2:13-18)
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
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
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
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" (Sermo 202.
In Epiphania Domini, 3,4).
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
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" (Sermo 199. In Epiphania Domini,
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
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.