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Like the Magi: On a Journey to Worship and to Donate

Lectio Divina: Feast of the Epiphany

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January 6, 2016 or January 3, 2016 in the countries where January 6 is not marked as a feast


Roman and Ambrosian Rite

Is 60, 1-6; Ps 72; Eph 3, 2-3.5-6; Mt 2, 1-12

1) Two “theological” Stars.

The theme of light dominates the feasts of Christmas and Epiphany, which in ancient times – and still today in the East – were merged into one large “festival of lights”.

At Christmas the incarnate Son of God, born at night in a cave and manifested to some poor shepherds of the Bethlehem region, was revealed as light. A light not only on the outside of a person and in the history of the world, but also within man and in the personal history of each of us.

At Epiphany, the Savior continues to be a light for the peoples of every time and every place. To the Magi, coming from the East to worship him, the light of the newborn king takes the form of a star in the sky, so bright to attract their attention and guide them first ,to Jerusalem  then from the royal palace of Herod to new Royal Palace: the cave-stable in Bethlehem.

Everything around him looks like an extremely poor earthly reality. But those watching with eyes of faith, thanks to a bright sign, can see the King of kings. What is this royal sign by which the Magi then and we now can recognize the King of kings in the Son of Mary, in the humble condition of the child who lives in a poor stable? It is the Star that shows the way and the place where to meet the King who saves.

This star shows the way to these seekers of Infinity, because they look at the sky and try to well interpret the signs. The Magi are people who wonder about reality, not being satisfied with the response of others. They seek a deeper understanding of reality and of the meaning of life.

This extraordinary star, that could be called “theological” because it “speaks of God” and “teaches about God”, after leading the Magi from the East all the way to Bethlehem, Indicates and teaches that this Child is the Son the Most High God, the Prince of Peace.

This Star transforms the stable, where we contemplate God made man and placed in a manger, in a bright palace and illuminates Mary as royal throne: the Virgin Mary who has Jesus on her lap, holds Him with her maternal arms and shows Him to the Magi kneeling to worship Him. Mary, the “theological” Star of the Sea of ​​human life who with her light indicates the King of kings lying in the manger of Bethlehem.

2) The authority of love.

The Magi prostrate themselves to the authority of love. They believe in this infinite love contained in the infant Jesus.

In front of this baby, recognized as the awaited Messianic King, the Magi prostrate themselves in a sincere act of worship and then offer some symbolic gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts offered to the Messiah “symbolized true worship” (see Saint John Paul II). They are gifts that express a faith established by the encounter with Jesus, who is King to be honored with gold, God to be worshiped with incense and a prayer that rises to Him like the most pleasing incense, and the Man, Son of God, who died for our salvation.

Like the Magi, today we are invited to renew, before the Incarnate Word, our act of faithful adherence by offering not only the little or the lot that we have, but ourselves as a sacrifice holy and well-accepted to Him. It is thanks to this daily offering of self that we become, in the world and for the world, signs of the new humanity redeemed by Christ and witnesses of the mystery of love celebrated at Christmas.

Like the Magi, let us be amazed by the love of God that comes to us, and let’s kneel in front of the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives among us and in the Eucharist. Let’s go to church more often, let’s sit by the altar and humbly imitate the Holy Magi, offering the gold of our love for God and our brothers and sisters, the incense of our praise and our prayer, and the myrrh of the suffering that never fails in our lives.

It is the amazement seen as the ability to be surprised by God who in Christ gives himself entirely to us, letting us know the truth and meet the real love that is donated. Astonished by the light of a star, the Magi set forward. They had a wonder that made them go behind a star, a wonder that questions the meaning of life, a wonder that allows them to be attracted to the Child Jesus, and to be with him in adoration. The certainty of faith flourishes from the amazement in front of a divine presence in flesh that the pure eyes of the Magi can see.

3) What gift should be given to the One who has given everything to us?

To Him, who gave himself completely, let us give ourselves, starting with the offer of the little or the many material goods that we possess. To be more clear I’d like to use the words written by St. John Paul II for the young: ” My dear young people, you too offer to the Lord the gold of your lives, namely, your freedom to follow Him out of love, responding faithfully to His call; let the incense of your fervent prayer rise up to him, in praise of His glory; offer Him your myrrh, that is your affection of total gratitude to Him, true Man, who loved us to the point of dying as a criminal on Golgotha” (Message to the youth of the world on the occasion of the 20th World Youth Day- August 6, 2005).

On how to accept the invitation to donate themselves totally to God we have the example of the consecrated Virgins in the world. These women are aware that God gives the infinite richness of his divinity and they (and we too) bring to Him nothing else that the poverty of their (and our) human lives. The consecrated Virgins, however, know that what produces the nuptial union with Christ is not so much the size of the gift as the fact that the gift of themselves is total. It is the totality of the gift that makes the nuptial union, the non-keeping for themselves anything anymore, the not belonging to themselves anymore, and the will to be only for Him.

Living the gift of themselves in virginity the consecrated women testify that the gift of self to God is not a renounce to live, but “it is a renounce to what are the limits of a living like a poor and infirm creature to live the fullness of a life immense as the divine life “(Divo Barsotti, January 6, 1963).

Patristic Reading

Saint John Chrysostom (344 – 407)

Homily VI on Mt 2, 1-4

“When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.”

We have need of much wakefulness, and many prayers, that we may arrive at the interpretation of the passage now before us, and that we may learn who these wise men were, and whence they came, and how; and at whose persuasion, and what was the star. Or rather, if ye will, let us first bring forward what the enemies of the truth say. Because the devil hath blown upon them with so. violent a blast, as even from this passage try to arm them against the words of truth.

What then do they allege? “Behold,” say they, “even when Christ was born a star appeared; which is a sign that astrology may be depended on.” How then, if He had His birth according to that law, did He put down astrology, and take away fate, and stop the mouths of demons, and cast out error, and overthrow all such sorcery?

And what moreover do the wise men learn from the star of itself? That He was King of the Jews? And yet He was not king of this kingdom; even as He said also to Pilate, “My kingdom is not o
f this world.” At any rate He made no display of this kind, for He had neither guards armed with spear or shield, nor horses, nor chariots of mules, nor any other such thing around Him; but He followed this life of meanness and poverty, carrying about with Him twelve men of mean estate.

And even if they knew Him to be a king, for what intent are they come? For surely this is not the business of astrology, to know from the stars who are born, but from the hour when men are born to predict what shall befall them: so it is said. But these were neither present with the mother in her pangs, nor did they know the time when He was born, neither did they, beginning at that moment, from the motion of the stars compute what was to happen: but conversely, having a long time before seen a star appear in their own country, they come to see Him that was born.

Which circumstance in itself would afford a still greater difficulty even than the former. For what reason induced them, or the hope of what benefits, to worship one who was king so far off? Why, had He been to reign over themselves, most assuredly not even so would the circumstance be capable of a reasonable account. To be sure, if He had been born in royal courts, and with His father, himself a king, present by Him, any one would naturally say, that they, from a wish to pay court to the father, had worshipped the child that was born, and in this way were laying up for themselves beforehand much ground of patronage. But now when they did not so much as expect Him to be their own king, but of a strange nation, far distant from their country, neither seeing Him as yet grown to manhood; wherefore do they set forth on so long a journey, and offer gifts, and this when dangers were sure to beset their whole proceeding? For both Herod, when he heard it, was exceedingly troubled, and the whole people was confounded on being told of these things by them.

“But these men did not foresee this.” Nay, this is not reasonable. For let them have been ever so foolish, of this they could not be ignorant, that when they came to a city under a king, and proclaimed such things as these, and set forth another king besides him who then reigned, they must needs be bringing down on themselves a thousand deaths.

2. And why did they at all worship one who was in swaddling clothes? For if He had been a grown man, one might say, that in expectation of the succor they should receive from Him, they cast themselves into a danger which they foresaw; a thing however to the utmost degree unreasonable, that the Persian, the barbarian, and one that had nothing in common with the nation of the Jews, should be willing to depart from his home, to give up country, and kindred, and friends, and that they should subject themselves to another kingdom.

But if this be foolish, what follows is much more foolish. Of what nature then is this? That after they had entered on so long a journey, and worshipped, and thrown all into confusion, they went away immediately. And what sign at all of royalty did they behold, when they saw a shed, and a manger, and a child in swaddling clothes, and a poor mother? And to whom moreover did they offer their gifts, and for what intent? Was it then usual and customary, thus to pay court to the kings that were born in every place? and did they always keep going about the whole world, worshipping them who they knew should become kings out of a low and mean estate, before they ascended the royal throne? Nay, this no one can say.

And for what purpose did they worship Him at all? If for the sake of things present, then what did they expect to receive from an infant, and a mother of mean condition? If for things future, then whence did they know that the child whom they had worshipped in swaddling clothes would remember what was then done? But if His mother was to remind Him, not even so were they worthy of honor, but of punishment, as bringing Him into danger which they must, have foreseen. Thence at any rate it was that Herod was troubled, and sought, and pried, and took in hand to slay Him. And indeed everywhere, he who makes known the future king, supposing him in his earliest age in a private condition, doth nothing else than betray him to slaughter, and kindle against him endless warfare.

Seest thou how manifold the absurdities appear, if we examine these transactions according to the course of human things and ordinary custom? For not these topics only, but more than these might be mentioned, containing more matter for questions than what we have spoken of. But lest, stringing questions upon questions, we should bewilder you, come let us now enter upon the solution of the matters inquired of, making a beginning of our solution with the star itself.

3. For if ye can learn what the star was, and of what kind, and whether it were one of the common stars, or new and unlike the rest, and whether it was a star by nature or a star in appearance only, we shall easily know the other things also. Whence then will these points be manifest? From the very things that are written. Thus, that this star was not of the common sort, or rather not a star at all, as it seems at least to me, but some invisible power transformed into this appearance, is in the first place evident from its very course. For there is not, there is not any star that moves by this way, but whether it be the sun you mention, or the moon, or all the other stars, we see them going from east to west; but this was wafted from north to south; for so is Palestine situated with respect to Persia.

In the second place, one may see this from the time also. For it appears not in the night, but in mid-day, while the sun is shining; and this is not within the power of a star, nay not of the moon; for the moon that so much surpasses all, when the beams of the sun appear, straightway hides herself, and vanishes away. But this by the excess of its own splendor overcame even the beams of the sun, appearing brighter than they, and in so much light shining out more illustriously.

In the third place, from its appearing, and hiding itself again. For on their way as far as Palestine it appeared leading them, but after they set foot within Jerusalem, it hid itself: then again, when they had left Herod, having told him on what account they came, and were on the point of departing, it shows itself; all which is not like the motion of a star, but of some power highly endued with reason. For it had not even any course at all of its own, but when they were to move, it moved; when to stand, it stood, dispensing1 all as need required: in the same kind of way as the pillar of the cloud, now halting and now rousing up the camp of the Jews, when it was needful.

In the fourth place, one may perceive this clearly, from its mode of pointing Him out. For it did not, remaining on high, point out the place; it not being possible for them so to ascertain it, but it came down and performed this office. For ye know that a spot of so small dimensions, being only as much as a shed would occupy, or rather as much as the body of a little infant would take up, could not possibly be marked out by a star. For by reason of its immense height, it could not sufficiently distinguish so confined a spot, and discover it to them that were desiring to see it. And this any one may see by the moon, which being so far superior to the stars, seems to all that dwell in the world, and are scattered over so great an extent of earth,—seems, I say, near to them every one. How then, tell me, did the star point out a spot so confined, just the space of a manger and shed, unless it left that height and came down, and stood over the very head of the young child? And at this the evangelist was hinting when he said, “Lo, the star went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.”

4. Seest thou, by what store of proofs this star is shown not to be one of the many, nor to have shown itself according
to the order of the outward creation? And for what intent did it appear? To reprove the Jews for their insensibility, and to cut off from them all occasion of excuse for their willful ignorance. For, since He who came was to put an end to the ancient polity, and to call the world to the worship of Himself, and to be worshipped in all land and sea, straightway, from the beginning, He opens the door to the Gentiles, willing through strangers to admonish His own people. Thus, because the prophets were continually heard speaking of His advent, and they gave no great heed, He made even barbarians come from a far country, to seek after the king that was among them. And they learn from a Persian tongue first of all, what they would not submit to learn from the prophets; that, if on the one hand they were disposed to be candid, they might have the strongest motive for obedience; if, on the other hand, they were contentious, they might henceforth be deprived of all excuse. For what could they have to say, who did not receive Christ after so many prophets, when theysaw that wise men, at the sight of a single star, had received this same, and had worshipped Him who was made manifest. Much in the same way then as He acted in the case of the Ninevites, when He sent Jonas, and as in the case of the Samaritan and the Canaanitish women; so He did likewise in the instance of the magi. For this cause He also said, “The men of Nineveh shall rise up, and shall condemn:” and, “the Queen of the South shall rise up, and shall condemn this generation:”2 because these believed the lesser things, but the Jews not even the greater.

“And wherefore,” one may say, “did He attract them by such a vision?” Why, how should He have done? Sent prophets? But the magi would not have submitted to prophets. Uttered a voice from above? Nay, they would not have attended. Sent an angel? But even him they would have hurried by. And so for this cause dismissing all those means, God calleth them by the things that are familiar, in exceeding condescension; and He shows a large and extraordinary star, so as to astonish them, both at the greatness and beauty of its appearance, and the manner of its course.

In imitation of this, Paul also reasons with the Greeks from an heathen altar, and brings forward testimonies from the poets.3 And not without circumcision doth he harangue the Jews. Sacrifices he makes the beginning of his instruction to them that are living under the law. For, since to every one what is familiar is dear, both God, and the men that are sent by Him, manage things on this principle with a view to the salvation of the world. Think it not therefore unworthy of Him to have called them by a star; since by the same rule thou wilt find fault with all the Jewish rites also, the sacrifices, and the purifications, and the new moons, and the ark, and the temple too itself, For even these derived their origin from Gentile grossness.4 Yet for all that, God, for the salvation of them that were in error, endured to be served by these things, whereby those without were used to serve devils; only He slightly altered them; that He might draw them off by degrees from their customs, and lead them towards the highest wisdom. Just so He did in the case of the wise men also, not disdaining to call them by sight of a star, that He might lift them higher ever after. Therefore after He hath brought them, leading them by the hand, and hath set them by the manger; it is no longer by a star, but by an angel that He now discourses unto them. Thus did they by little and little become better men.

This did He also with respect to them of Ascalon, and of Gaza. For those five cities too (when at the coming of the ark they had been smitten with a deadly plague, and found no deliverance from the ills under which they lay)—the men of them called their prophets, and gathered an assembly, and sought to discover an escape from this divine scourge. Then, when their prophets said that they should yoke to the ark heifers untamed, and having their first calves, and let them go their way, with no man to guide them, for so it would be evident whether the plague was from God or whether it was any accident which brought the disease;—(“for if,” it is said, “they break the yoke in pieces for want of practice, or turn where their calves are lowing, ’it is a chance that hath happened;’5 but if they go on right, and err not from the way, and neither the lowing of their young, nor their ignorance of the way, have any effect on them, it is quite plain that it is the hand of God that hath visited those cities:”)—when, I say, on these words of their prophets the inhabitants of those cities obeyed and did as they were commanded, God also followed up the counsel of the prophets, showing condescension in that instance also, and counted it not unworthy of Himself to bring to effect the prediction of the prophets, and to make them seem trustworthy in what they had then said. For so the good achieved was greater, in that His very enemies themselves bore witness to the power of God; yea, their own teachers gave their voice concerning Him. And one may see many other such things brought about by God. For what took place with respect to the witch,6 is again like this sort of dispensation; which circumstance also you will now be able to explain from what hath been said.

1 oijkonomw`n).

2 Mt 12,40 Mt 12,42.

3 Ac 17,23 Ac 17,28 1Co 15,33 Tt 1,12.

4 See St. Iren. 4,28, 29; Tertull. adv. Marc. 1,18, 22; St. Chrys. adv. Jdt Hom. 1,t. 6, 318).

5 1S 6,9.

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Mgr Francesco Follo

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