Benedict XVI's Homily for Feast of Three Kings

«They Were Men ‘in Search’ of Something More»

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 6, 2011 ( Here is the homily Benedict XVI delivered today, the solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, during the Mass he presided over in St. Peter’s Basilica. 

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

During the solemnity of the Epiphany the Church continues to contemplate and to celebrate the mystery of the birth of Jesus the Savior. In particular, today’s feast underlines the destiny and universal meaning of this birth. Becoming man in the womb of Mary, the Son of God came not only for the people of Israel, represented by the shepherds of Bethlehem, but also for the whole of humanity, represented by the Magi. And it is precisely on the Magi and on their journey in search of the Messiah (cf. Matthew 2:1-12) that the Church invites us today to meditate and to pray. In the Gospel we heard that they, arriving in Jerusalem from the East, asked: «Where is he who is born, the king of the Jews? We saw his star arise and we have come to adore him» (v. 2). What kind of persons were they and what kind of star was that? They were probably wise men who scrutinized the sky but not to try to «read» the future in the stars, eventually to extract some gain; rather, they were men «in search» of something more, in search of the true light, which would be able to indicate the way to follow in life. They were persons who were certain that in creation there is what we could define as the «signature» of God, a signature that man can and must try to discover and decipher. Perhaps the way to know these Magi better and to take up their desire to let themselves be guided by God’s signs is to pause to consider what they found, on their way, in the great city of Jerusalem.

First of all they found king Herod. He certainly was interested in the child of whom the Magi spoke; not, however, for the purpose of adoring him, as he, lying, wished to make understood, but to do away with him. Herod was a man of power, who in the other sees only a rival to combat. At bottom, if we reflect well, even God seems a rival to him, in fact a particularly dangerous rival, who wished to deprive men of the vital space, of their autonomy, of their power; a rival who indicates the way to follow in life and thus impedes one’s doing whatever one wishes. Herod hears from his experts in the Sacred Scriptures the words of the prophet Micah (5:1), but his only thought is the throne. Hence God himself must be obfuscated and persons must be reduced to being simple pawns to be moved in the great chess-board of power. Herod is not a likable personality, someone whom we instinctively judge in a negative way because of his brutality. But we must ask ourselves: is there perhaps something of Herod also in us? Perhaps we too at times see God as a sort of rival? Perhaps we too are blind before his signs, deaf to his words, because we think he puts limits on our life and does not allows us to dispose of our existence as we please? Dear bothers and sisters, when we see God in this way we end up by feeling dissatisfied and unhappy, because we do not let ourselves be guided by Him who is the foundation of everything. We must remove from our mind and heart the idea of rivalry, the idea that to give space to God is to limit ourselves; we must open ourselves to the certainty that God is the omnipotent love that does not take anything away, does not threaten, rather, He is the only One capable of giving us the possibility of living in fullness, of experiencing true joy.

The Magi then meet with the scholars, the theologians, the experts that know everything about the Sacred Scriptures, who know the possible interpretations, who are able to recite by heart every passage and hence are a precious help to those who wish to follow the way of God. But, Saint Augustine affirms, they love to be guides for others, showing the way, but they do not walk, they remain immobile. For them the Scriptures become a sort of atlas to read with curiosity, an ensemble of words and concepts to examine and to discuss learnedly. But again we can ask ourselves: is there not also in us the temptation to hold the Sacred Scriptures, this very rich and vital treasure for the faith of the Church, more as an object for study and the discussions of specialists, than as the Book that indicates to us the way to reach life? I think that, as I indicated in the apostolic exhortation «Verbum Domini,» the profound disposition must always be reborn in us to see the word of the Bible, read in the living Tradition of the Church (No. 18), as the truth that tells us what man is and how he can realize himself fully, the truth that is the way to follow daily, together with others, if we wish to build our existence on a rock and not on sand.

And thus we come to the star. What type of star was that which the Magi saw and followed? Throughout the centuries this question has been the object of discussions among astronomers. Kepler, for example, held that it was a «nova» or a «supernova,» that is, one of those stars that normally emanate a weak light, but which can have unexpectedly a violent internal explosion that produces an exceptional light. Certainly, interesting things, but which do not lead us to what is essential in order to understand that star. We must return to the fact that those men were seeking the traces of God; they were seeking to read his «signature» in creation; they knew that «the heavens tell the glory of God» (Psalm 19:2); they were certain, namely, that God can be perceived in creation. But, from wise men they also knew that it is not with any telescope but with the profound eyes of reason in search of the ultimate meaning of reality and with the desire of God moved by faith, that it is possible to find him, more than that, rendered possible is that God comes close to us. The universe is not the result of chance, as some would have us believe. Contemplating it, we are invited to read in it something profound: the wisdom of the Creator, the inexhaustible imagination of God, his infinite love for us. We must not let our minds be limited by theories which come only to a certain point and that — if we look well — are not in fact in concurrence with the faith, but do not succeed in explaining the ultimate meaning of reality. In the beauty of the world, in its mystery, in its grandeur and its rationality we cannot but read the eternal rationality, and we cannot but let ourselves be guided by it to the one God, creator of heaven and earth. If we have this look, we will see that He who has created the world is he who is born in a cave in Bethlehem and continues to dwell in our midst in the Eucharist, it is the same living God who interpellates us, loves us, and wishes to lead us to eternal life.

Herod, the experts of Scripture, the star, but we follow the way of the Magi who arrive in Jerusalem. The star disappears over the great city, it is no longer seen. What does it mean? Also in this case we must read the sign in depth. For those men it was logical to seek the new king in the royal palace, where the wise counselors of the court were found. But, probably to their astonishment, they would have seen that the newborn was not found in the places of power and culture, even if in those places they were given precious information about him. They realized, instead, that, at times, power, including that of learning, bars the way to the encounter with that Child. Hence, the star guided them to Bethlehem, a small city, it guided them among the poor, the humble, to find the King of the world. God’s criteria are different from those of men; God does not manifest himself in the power of this world, but in the humility of his love, that love which asks our liberty to be heard to transform us and make us capable of coming to Him who is Love. However even for us things are not as diverse as they were for the Magi. If we were asked our opinion as to how God should have saved the world, perhaps we would have answered that he should have manifested all his power to give the world a more just economic system, in which everyone co
uld have what he wanted. In reality, this would be a sort of violence to man, because it would deprive him of fundamental elements that characterize him. In fact, neither our liberty nor our love would have been called into question. God’s power is manifested in an altogether different way: in Bethlehem, where we find the apparent impotence of his love. And it is there that we must go, and it is there that we again find God’s star.

Thus a last important element of the event of the Magi appears very clear to us: the language of creation enables us to follow a good portion of the way to God, but it does not give us the definitive light. In the end, for the Magi it was indispensable to hear the voice of the Sacred Scriptures: they alone could indicate the way to them. It is the Word of God that is the true star, that, in the uncertainty of human discourses, offers us the immense splendor of the divine truth. Dear brothers and sisters, let us allow ourselves to be guided by the star, which is the Word of God, let us follow it in our life, walking with the Church, where the Word has pitched its tent. Our way will always be illumined by a light that no other sign can give us. And we too will be able to become stars for others, reflection of that light that Christ made to shine over us. Amen.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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