16th-century unknown painters, Epiphany, Wikimedia Commons

Epiphany: Homesickness and Fidelity to the Sign

To celebrate the Epiphany means to live this feast as engagement to give ourselves to Christ as He accepts us in his love and we show Him to the world.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

Roman Rite
Is 60, 1-6; Ps 72; Eph 3, 2-3.5-6; Mt 2, 1-12?
Ambrosian Rite
Is 60: 1-6; Ps 72; Tt 2, 11-3, 2; Mt 2: 1-12
God, the Three Kings and us
 1) Three questions and a story to understand the Epiphany
The celebrations of the Christmas season have in the feast of the Epiphany[1] their fulfillment that gives to the mystery of the Incarnation the new perspective of the universality of salvation, its most comforting meaning of infinite hope. In fact, to the question: «To whom God wants to make known his incarnate Son?» the answer that is given is «To all». Then «Why do not all recognize him?» «Why is it not enough just to know what the Scripture says about the Messiah to believe in Jesus?» This is what happened to the priests questioned by Herod about the birth of the Messiah. They gave the right answer but did not go to the cave of Bethlehem. It is not possible to encounter Him for the ones that consider him a potential enemy, like Herod who wanted to know where Jesus was born to eliminate him.
Like the shepherds and the simple people at Christmas, only the Magi – and today those who have their same attitude – find Jesus who reveals himself to them as the primary goal of their journey. Let us set ourselves on the journey and let not happen to us, who are near, to miss meeting and welcoming him, while people come from far away asking where the King is born.
What did the Shepherds and the Magi have in common? The desire for salvation, recognized in a Child to whom the first donated milk and wool, and the latter gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They donated themselves kneeling and worshiping.
Today we are called to have the same attitude of seekers of infinity and worshipers of Truth, manifested in the love of a child. God does not reveal himself «as» a child. He is this Child that revealed the heart of the Father giving him to us to become food for our journey, medicine for our weakness, friend of our conversation.
This child will grow; he will be young, adult, Master and miracle worker; he will be mocked, rejected, abandoned, buried, resurrected from the dead, and will live eternally. In all this, He is the «epiphany» in which God manifests himself. Like the Magi, let us worship this God.
Every human being is, in a sense, an epiphany of God. God has decided to reveal himself «hiding» in every man, as we are reminded by this story by an anonymous writer, who invites us to seek and find fragments of the face of God in the face of the brothers in humanity:
«There once was a monk named Epiphanes. One day he discovered in himself a gift from God that he never suspected to possess: he could paint beautiful icons. However he wasn’t anymore at peace: he wanted, at all costs, to portray the face of Christ. Where to find a suitable model that would express at the same time suffering and joy, death and resurrection, divinity and humanity? Epiphanes then set off on a journey. He traversed Italy, France, Germany, Spain, scrutinizing every face. Nothing. The face suitable to represent Christ was not there. Tired he fell asleep repeating the words of the psalm ‘Lord, I seek Your face. Show me your face!’  He then had a dream. An angel appeared to him who brought him back to the people he had met and for each person, pointed out  the one detail that made that face similar to Christ: the joy of a lover, the innocence of a child, the strength of a farmer, the suffering of a patient, the fear of a condemned man, the tenderness of a mother, the dismay of an orphan, the hope of a young man, the joy of a jester, the mercy of a confessor, the mystery of the bandaged face of a leper … Epiphanes understood and returned to his monastery. He set to work and after a while the icon was ready and he presented it to his abbot. The abbot was astonished: it was wonderful. He wanted to know which model he had used because he wanted to show him to the other artists of the monastery. But Epiphanes said “Nobody, father, was the model because no one is equal to Christ, but Christ is similar to all. You cannot find Christ in the face of one man, but in every man is a fragment of the face of Christ. »
2) A journey consistent with the ideal.
The Magi are a model for us not only because they were seekers of the Infinite, but because they found it recognizing a child or, rather, the Child. They were great in their fidelity to the fragile sign of a star without being influenced by the nostalgia of their palaces (see TS Eliot).They were able to continue the search of the Exceptional on the roads of everyday life.
These three walkers, who were not satisfied with their wealth and wisdom, did not want to know many things, but the essential. They had felt their heart vibrate and set out on a journey hooking a star to their animals, bred in the stables of the East: «Where is the newborn King of the Jews?» It is a hunt for the ‘fundamental’ in the streets of the almost trivial. They chose the risk of the unknown to the security of the calculations with the anxiety of going to look for a child, «the search for Truth was more important for the Magi than the derision of the world seemingly intelligent» (Benedict XVI).  In the humility of their curious steps resounds the echo of a thousand voices, even of voices that were «singing in their ears, saying that all this is madness.» The risk of madness or the safety of ignorance: the Magi preferred the fragile route of Heaven to the customary map drawn by men. They used their intelligence and wisdom in a way that could seem humanly absurd and unscientific and left for Bethlehem, swapping the safety of their habits with the risk of a journey which became a pilgrimage.
The pilgrim has as his goal not a tourist spot but a sacred place: the Temple where God is. This was very well understood by Paul Claudel «things are no longer the furniture of our prison, but those of our temple,» where the baby Jesus sanctifies even the straw. The cave, the straw made pallet, the essential clothing for a travel to Judea unify and transfigure around the core of the mystery of the Incarnation in a birth.
The Epiphany is not only the revelation of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God and Redeemer of all mankind, but it is also the feast of adoration and donation.
The text of today’s Gospel reminds us of the coming of the Magi to the cave of Bethlehem and of the three very important actions done by these Kings in front of the King of the Jews: prostration, adoration, and donation.
Prostration is the attitude of humble reverence to the moral and spiritual authority. Jesus is recognized by scholars of His time as the moral and religious authority with which to compare themselves.
Adoration. This is the other action that the Magi did before Jesus. One worships the god that is so in his nature and essence. The ancient civilizations worshiped idols; Israel formed a golden calf and worshiped it while Moses was in contact with God on Mount Sinai. Men have always built false idols and cultivated them as a possible solution of their existential problems. Even today the idols of success, wealth, career, of economic, military, political and religious power and many others of the kind, put the man in a position to offend or even destroy other men to reach these goals. The Magi instead worship the living God who in that poor and humble Child lying in a manger, deserves all their attention and their prayer.
Donation. When there is goodness in one’s heart and willingness to open to the other, the donation of something of oneself to those in front of us happens almost instinctively. The Magi are in front of the King of the Jews, and as a gesture of recognition of the identity and the true nature of the Child Jesus, offer him three gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh just to bring out his kingship, his mission and his death and resurrection. Even in these gifts, there is a specific meaning that can be attributed to the Child Jesus as the Son of God and Redeemer of mankind. In addition to the gifts, as I said above, they give themselves.
Here is the feast of the Epiphany which opens indirectly on another and most important feast of the Catholic Church: the Passover of Jesus, who gave himself completely. We will be as wise as the Magi if we take Christ as the way, the road of faith, the way to conversion and the way of love.
A special example of this way of love is given by Consecrated Virgins in the world. Their whole life belongs to the Lord. With their consecration, they made themselves available to God without reserve, so that their whole life expresses prostration, adoration and full and pure donation to God. The life of a consecrated person in the world testifies that one can live of Christ in any moment and live in the hope that comes from the stable of Bethlehem. In this regard it is still illuminating what is stated in the post-synodal exhortation at number 27: «Those who vigilantly await the fulfillment of the promises of Christ are able to bring hope to their brothers and sisters who are often discouraged and pessimistic about the future. Theirs is a hope founded on God’s promise contained in the revealed word: the history of humanity walks toward the new heaven and the new earth «(Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation» Consecrated Life «, 1996, no. 27).
Patristic Reading
Leo the Great, pope
Sermo 3 in Epiphania Domini, 1-3. 5: PL 54, 240-244
The Lord has made his salvation known to the whole world
The loving providence of God determined that in the last days he would aid the world, set on its course to destruction. He decreed that all nations should be saved in Christ.
A promise had been made to the holy patriarch Abraham in regard to these nations. He was to have a countless progeny, born not from his body but from the seed of faith. His descendants are therefore compared with the array of the stars. The father of all nations was to hope not in an earthly progeny but in a progeny from above.
Let the full number of the nations now take their place in the family of the patriarchs. Let the children of the promise now receive the blessing in the seed of Abraham, the blessing renounced by the children of his flesh. In the persons of the Magi let all people adore the Creator of the universe; let God be known, not in Judea only, but in the whole world, so that his name may be great in all Israel.
Dear friends, now that we have received instruction in this revelation of God’s grace, let us celebrate with spiritual joy the day of our first harvesting, of the first calling of the Gentiles. Let us give thanks to the merciful God, who has made us worthy, in the words of the Apostle, to share the position of the saints in light, who has rescued us from the power of darkness, and brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. As Isaiah prophesied: the people of the Gentiles, who sat in darkness, have seen a great light, and for those who dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, a light has dawned. He spoke of them to the Lord: The Gentiles, who do not know you, will invoke you, and the peoples, who knew you not, will take refuge in you.
This is the day that Abraham saw and rejoiced to see, when he knew that the sons born of his faith would be blessed in his seed, that is, in Christ. Believing that he would be the father of the nations, he looked into the future, giving glory to God, in full awareness that God is able to do what he has promised.
This is the day that David prophesied in the psalms when he said: All the nations that you have brought into being will come and fall down in adoration in your presence, Lord, and glorify your name. Again, the Lord has made known his salvation; in the sight of the nations, he has revealed his justice.
This came to be fulfilled, as we know, from the time when the star beckoned the three wise men out of their distant country and led them to recognize and adore the King of heaven and earth. The obedience of the star calls us to imitate its humble service: to be servants, as best we can, of the grace that invites all men to find Christ.
Dear friends, you must have the same zeal to be of help to one another; then, in the kingdom of God, to which faith and good works are the way, you will shine as children of the light: through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with God the Father and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.
[1] Epiphany is a Greek word meaning “manifestation.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation