THE EPIPHANY: THREE KINGS AND A LONGING FOR GOD
Today, the feast of the Epiphany, is both a holy day and holiday in the Vatican and in Italy. As is traditional, it is marked by the Holy Father presiding at Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and praying the Angelus afterwards from his study window in the Apostolic Palace overlooking St. Peter’s Square.
Epiphany is celebrated throughout the country in an extraordinarily festive way, from small hamlets and ancient villages to the great metropolises of this land. What takes place in the Vatican, starting with the papal Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and ending with the joyous festivities in St. Peter’s Square, fairly well mirrors what happens around Italy on this day, although perhaps to a larger extent.
In addition to tens of thousands of faithful and tourists, the square is traditionally filled with scores of costumed citizens representing civil and religious organizations, regions and towns of Italy, troubadors, ancient Roman soldiers and flag throwers. Costumed horse riders – including the Three Magi, of course! – strut their finery and groups bearing statues and religious images and crosses and banners march through the square and down Via della Conciliazione at the end of the Angelus. Bands play and spectators applaud.
Although today’s festivities took place under a delft-blue sky, temperatures were rigid and the winds challenged those of the so-called Windy City of Chicago. As I’m still fighting a cold, I thought it wise to remain at home and thus missed one of my favorite celebrations of the year – but isn’t that why we have television to bring us events we cannot attend in person.
The word epiphany, by the way, refers not only to today’s religious feast but comes from the late Greek word meaning an appearance or manifestation, especially of a divine being, and/or a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essence or essential nature or meaning of something.
In his homily at Mass, Pope Francis began by quoting Matthew’s Gospel: “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we have observed his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” (photo: news.va)
“With these words,” he continued, “the Magi, come from afar, tell us the reason for their long journey: they came to worship the newborn King. To see and to worship. These two actions stand out in the Gospel account. We saw a star and we want to worship.
Francis explained that “these men saw a star that made them set out. The discovery of something unusual in the heavens sparked a whole series of events. The star did not shine just for them, nor did they have special DNA to be able to see it. As one of the Church Fathers rightly noted, the Magi did not set out because they had seen the star, but they saw the star because they had already set out (cf. Saint John Chrysostom). Their hearts were open to the horizon, … They were open to something new. Thus, the Magi personify all those who believe, 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 anesthetized.”
“A holy longing for God,” stated Francis, “wells up in the heart of believers because they know that the Gospel is not an event of the past but of the present. A holy longing for God helps us keep alert in the face of every attempt to reduce and impoverish our life. A holy longing for God is the memory of faith, which rebels before all prophets of doom. That longing keeps hope alive in the community of believers, which from week to week continues to plead: “Come, Lord Jesus”.
The Holy Father noted that “longing for God draws us out of our iron-clad isolation, which makes us think that nothing can change. Longing for God shatters our dreary routines and impels us to make the changes we want and need. Longing for God has its roots in the past yet does not remain there: it reaches out to the future. 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 evangelized, to encounter their Lord. Nor do they do this out of a sense of superiority, but rather as beggars who cannot ignore the eyes of those who for whom the Good News is still uncharted territory.”
Referring then to Herod, whose place was a short distance from Bethlehem, the Pope said, “he slept, anesthetized by a cauterized conscience. He was bewildered, afraid. It is the bewilderment which, when faced with the newness that revolutionizes history, closes in on itself and its own achievements, its knowledge, its successes. The bewilderment of one who sits atop his wealth yet cannot see beyond it. The bewilderment lodged in the hearts of those who want to control everything and everyone. The bewilderment of those immersed in the culture of winning at any cost, in that culture where there is only room for ‘winners’, whatever the price. A bewilderment born of fear and foreboding before anything that challenges us, calls into question our certainties and our truths, our ways of clinging to the world and this life. Herod was afraid, and that fear led him to seek security in crime.
“Herod is unable to worship,” continued Pope Francis, “because he could not or would not change his own way of looking at things. He did not want to stop worshiping himself, believing that everything revolved around him. He was unable to worship, because his aim was to make others worship him. Nor could the priests worship, because although they had great knowledge, and knew the prophecies, they were not ready to make the journey or to change their ways.
The Magi experienced longing; they were tired of the usual fare. 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.”
LET US CLOTHE OURSELVES IN LIGHT AND FOLLOW THE STAR OF JESUS
At today’s Angelus, in a sunny but bitter cold St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis again highlighted the meaning of the feast of the Epiphany, saying, “like the Magi, let us set out, clothe ourselves in the light following the star of Jesus, and love the Lord with all our might.”
He told the multitude of faithful in the square, “As the Magi chose to be guided by the star of Jesus, even in our life there are several stars. It’s up to us to choose which to follow. There are flashing lights that come and go, like the small pleasures of life: although good, they are not enough.”
Francis said, “the Magi invite us to follow the true light that is Lord, a light that does not dazzle, but accompanies and gives a unique joy. Follow today, among the many shooting stars in the world, the bright star of Jesus! Following it, we will have the joy, like that of the Magi. ”
As he concluded his Angelus reflections, the Holy Father announced that he had a gift for those in square, and he held up a small booklet called “Icons of Mercy.”
“The Magi offered their gifts to Jesus, And speaking of gifts, I thought I’d give you a little gift: The “Icons of Mercy” booklet. The gift of God is Jesus, the Father’s mercy; and so, to remember this gift of God, I will give this gift that will be distributed by the poor, the homeless and refugees along with many volunteers and religious whom I cordially greet and thank you wholeheartedly.”
He especially pointed out that “the booklet is pocket size, so you can always have it with you”
Three hundred poor and homeless passed the booklets out and were later treated to lunch, another gift from Pope Francis.
VATICAN INSIDER LOOKS AT THE V ENCUENTRO WITH ARCHBISHOP GUSTAVO GARCIA SILLER
Notwithstanding the fact that a huge snow storm has blanketed the EWTN Irondale campus and large areas of Alabama, creating hazardous travel conditions, and notwithstanding an employee alert that the Irondale offices will be closed today, a number of employees in engineering, operations, production, safety and security and radio are present to assure that “the show will go on” (in most cases).
My stalwart colleague Jeff Burson put together the elements of “Vatican Insider,” thus assuring that you will hear a new show this first weekend of the New Year.
The interview segment will feature my conversation with San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia Siller as we talk about the V Encuentro and other topics during a visit he made to Rome.
The V Encuentro, as its website explains, is a four-year process of ecclesial reflection and action that invites all Catholics in the United States to intense missionary activity, consultation, leadership development, and identification of best ministerial practices in
the spirit of the New Evangelization. The process has been proposed as a priority activity of the USCCB’s Strategic Plan for 2017-2020.
The V Encuentro (Encounter) starts this very month of January 2017 at the grass roots level and calls for the development of resources and initiatives to better serve the fast growing Hispanic population in dioceses, parishes, ecclesial movements, and other Catholic organizations and institutions in light of its theme Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of God’s Love.
The main goal of the V Encuentro is to discern ways in which the Church in the United States can better respond to the Hispanic/Latino presence, and to strengthen the ways in which Hispanics/Latinos respond to the call to the New Evangelization as missionary disciples serving the entire Church.
In the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at www.ewtn.com) or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio. Outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:00am (ET). On the SKY satellite feed to the UK and parts of Europe, VI airs on audio channel 0147 at 11:30 am CET on Saturdays, and 5:30am and 10pm CET on Sundays. It’s also available on demand on the EWTN app and on the website. CHECK YOUR TIME ZONE. Here’s a link to download VI to your iTunes library: http://www.ewtn.com/se/pg/DatService.svc/feed/~LE.xml For VI archives: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=