Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Follo: Epiphany – Manifestation to the Pilgrims of Heaven

With the invitation to imitate the Wise Men who were looking for a King and found the Son of God who held out his arms to them.

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  January 5 – 6, 2020

 Roman Rite

Is 60:1-6; Ps 72; Eph 3:2-3a; Mt 2:1-12

Ambrosian Rite

Is 60; Ps 72: Tt 2:11-3:2: Mt 2:1-12

  • Epiphany of the Magi, the wise pilgrims of Heaven

When we say Epiphany, we immediately think about the manifestation of Jesus Christ to all people, represented by the Magi,[1] who knelt in front of the Child King and adored him. However, the Epiphany celebrates three manifestations: the one of the Magi that convey the adoration of the entire world to the King of Kings, the one on the Jordan’s banks where the Savior is baptized and indicated as the favorite son of the Father and as the lamb who takes away the sins of the world, and the one of the wedding at Cana that- I think- we can consider the symbol of the wedding between Christ and the Church. I’m writing this because I’ve been prompted by the antiphon at the “Benedictus” of the liturgy of the Hours of today’s solemnity “Today the Bridegroom claims his bride, the Church, since Christ has washed her sins away in Jordan’s waters: the Magi hasten with their gifts to the loyal wedding and the wedding guests rejoice, for Christ has changed the water into wine, alleluia”.

      Let’s go step by step and contemplate the manifestation of Jesus to the three wise men that have come from afar and that adore him recognizing God in a poor child.

Thanks to the eyes of the heart consumed by the desire of light, they could go beyond what the eyes of the body were seeing. Thanks to their heart broaden by the encounter with the King of Kings, they could kneel in a stable and give to Him gifts fit for a king. This “poor” child is a King and the three Wise Kings pay to him the homage fit for a king: they knelt in front of the one that will subdue the Science of words and numbers to the Wisdom of Love: their science is humbled in front of the Innocence.

Kneeling in their luxurious cloaks on straw spread on the floor of the barn, these powerful scholars also offered themselves as pledge of the obedience of the world. Let’s do the same in celebrating the solemnity of the Epiphany in the liturgy and in life as pledge not only to give to God something precious but also giving ourselves to the Word of God. In this way, He will take on himself all of us and through us all things. Let’s give ourselves to Him.  It is the feast of the Magi: we too must offer our gifts to Him. All we are, all we have. Only the one, whom He takes on, is saved. Let’s give ourselves to Him and let’s renew today our consecration to the Lord, our donation to Him.

  • Epiphany: the Christmas of the Church

The manifestation of Jesus to the Magi, pagans that have come from afar, becomes the birth of the “universal” Church to salvation. No one can be outside the heart of God anymore and consequently outside his Kingdom.  This is the reason why the Orthodox Church considers Epiphany the Christmas of the Church and celebrates it with solemnity. It is also our Christmas. We should listen today as if they were told to us, to the words of the prophet Isaiah “the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples;
but upon you, the LORD shines, and over you appears his glory. Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.” (
Is 60:1-6)

The Magi, the first pagans, were introduced to the great King they were looking for and today we all follow them. The Baby smiles at us in the same way he smiles at them and so the fatigue of the long journey is forgotten: the Emmanuel stays with us and us with him. Bethlehem that has welcomed us, keeps us forever because in Bethlehem we receive as a gift the Child and Mary his Mother.  At the moment when we approach the altar where the star has taken us, let’s pray this incomparable Mother to present to us her Son who is our light, our love, our Bread of life. Let’s offer to the Newborn our gold, our incense, our myrrh. He likes these gifts of goodness that are the sing of the gift of ourselves. After Mass, we will exit the church in the same way the Magi left the stable and like them we will leave our hearts under the power of the love of the divine Child king. We too through another road, a new road, will go home, temporary mortal place where we are called to live up to the day when eternal life and light will come to disperse in us all that is shade and transience.

Brothers and sisters, my dearest friends, let’s follow the Magi, let’s abandon our “pagan” ways. Let’s go! Let’s make a long journey to see Christ. If the Magi had not gone far from their Country, they would have not seen Christ. Until they remained in their own country they could not see anything except the star. When they left their Country, they saw the Sun of justice (Mt 3:20). Let’s put it better: if they had not started their journey with generosity, they would not have seen the star (see Saint John Crisostomo- Homely on Matthew, 7-8). Let’s get up and if in Jerusalem all are shocked, let’s run where the Child is and we will see God on earth and Man in heaven and us with Him who is the God with us: the Emmanuel.

What we can give to Him it is not important; Jesus Christ doesn’t need the gold, the myrrh and the incense that we can give to Him. It is Christ that gives value to our actions because if we don’t refer every human activity to Christ, it becomes in itself enough to threaten the unity of the human person, to impair the last and final result of the history of the world.

Did the Magi leave empty-handed? No. They had found the precious pearl: Christ. Let’s do the same!

I think that they understood and believed that the Child was the firstborn of many siblings, that God loves all peoples and loves every one of us with infinite love.

God is the Father of every one of us. In front of Him, we are not foreigners or slaves anymore: we are his children in the Son whom He “today” has given to us forever.

Let’s ask for the grace to understand and live this truth as in the teaching of a short story of the 17th century about a French shepherdess and her noble and educated peer. The poor young shepherdess seemed so ignorant that a peer, pious and educated noblewoman offered to teach her the catechism. The shepherdess humbly answered “I thank you. Please teach me to finish the “Our Father.” In fact, every time that I start this prayer when I think that a poor creature like me can call Father the Almighty powerful God, my heart bursts with gratitude. I cannot go beyond the words: Our Father and I spend my day guarding my sheep crying for happiness.” The noblewomen understood that the poor girl didn’t need any teaching. Let’s take advantage from this lesson and in praying the Father of Heaven who is Our Father, we will understand that the Magi take us to the living God that is present in our souls: bright light of Love where every one of us has his cradle.

The consecrated Virgins[2] too have found the Treasure to whom with the donation of virginity they have given all. God has seduced them as in Jeremiah: “You seduced me, LORD, and I let myself be seduced “(Jer 20:7). To possess the precious Pearl, they have offered to Christ all of themselves. Their body, that had welcomed Christ, completely consumes like a host so that the people of God may live in Christ and Christ may live now and forever in this people of redeemed sinners. The one who lives is the one who walks towards what he loves and with the one who loves him in the mercy and fidelity of the God of grace and truth.


Patristic Reading

St Augustine of Hyppo

sermon 200

( 1 ) Magi come from the East to adore the Virgin’s Child.  Today we celebrate this event; we pay our respects and deliver a sermon in keeping with the feast. This day first shone resplendently for the Magi; its anniversary is renewed by us with festal rejoicing. They were the first-fruits of the

Gentiles; we are a nation of Gentiles. The words of Apostles announced His birth to us; a star was, as it were, the language of heaven for them; like the heavens, therefore, the Apostles announced the glory of God to us. 1 Why should we not recognize as heavens those who have become the abode

of God, as it is written: ‘The soul of the just is the seat of wisdom 5 ? 2 For, through these heavens [the Apostles], the One who made and who dwells in the heavens has sounded forth.

The earth trembled at the sound and now, behold, it believes.

O mighty mystery! The Lord lay in a manger, yet He drew the Magi from the East. He was hidden in a stable, yet He was acknowledged in the heavens, so that, thus recognized in the heavens, He might be manifested in the stable and that this day might be called the Epiphany or, in the Latin derivative, the Manifestation. Thus, at one and the same time, He set His seal of approval on His high and His lowly estate, so that He to whom the heavens bore witness by a starry sign might, when sought, be found in an insignificant dwelling where, helpless in His tiny frame and wrapped in swaddling clothes, He might be adored by the Magi and feared by the wicked.

For King Herod feared the Infant Saviour when these same Magi announced to him that they were seeking the Child of whose birth they had learned through the testimony of the heavens. What will be the judgment seat of Him whose infant cradle so terrified haughty kings? How much more wisely kings now do not, like Herod, seek to kill Him, but, like the Magi, rather delight in adoring Him who, for His enemies and at the hands of His enemies, endured that very death which the hostile Herod desired to inflict upon Him and thus, by His own supreme sacrifice, vanquished death. Let kings now devoutly fear Him as He sits at the right hand of His Father, since that wicked king feared Him as, a babe at the breast of His Mother. Let them hearken to the Scriptures: ‘And now, O ye kings, understand: receive instruction, you that judge the earth. Serve ye the Lord with fear: and rejoice unto Him with trembling.

For that King, the avenger of wicked kings and the ruler of the good, was not born as kings are born in this world. He was born as One whose kingdom is not of this world: 4 the nobility of the Child attested by the virginity of the Mother; the nobility of the Mother, by the divinity of her Child. Finally, although many kings of the Jews had previously been born and laid to rest, never before had Magi sought to adore any one of them, because they had not been apprised of the birth of any one of them by a heavenly message.

(2) Nevertheless, we must not lose sight of the fact that the enlightenment of the Magi bears definite witness to the blindness of the Jews. For it was in their land that the Magi sought Him whom the Jews did not recognize in their own land. The Magi found Him as a child among those who later denied Him when He taught in their midst. These strangers from afar adored the Infant Christ, when He was not yet capable of uttering a word, in the land where His  own fellow citizens crucified Him as a young Man working miracles for them. The Magi recognized God in His tiny human frame; the Jews, notwithstanding His mighty deeds, did not spare Him as a Man, as if it were a greater thing to see a new star blaze forth at His birth than to witness the sun mourning at His death. Then, in truth, the star which had led the Magi to the country where the Infant God was

with His Mother and which could likewise have guided them to the city itself, withdrew and did not appear again until the Jews had been questioned about the city in which Christ was born, so that they might be the ones to name it in accordance with the testimony of sacred Scripture: e ln Beth-

lehem, of Judea, for thus it is written . . . «And thou, Bethlehem, of the land of Juda, art by no means least among the princes of Juda ; For out of thee shall come forth a leader who shall rule my people Israel.» ‘ What else did Divine Providence indicate in this passage except that the sacred

Scriptures would remain in the hands of the Jews so that by them the pagans might be enlightened and the Jews themselves blinded ; that the Jews might bear them, not as a help in securing their own salvation, but as a testimony of ours? For, when we today bring forth the prophecies about Christ uttered in anticipation of His coming and now confirmed in the light of the accomplished facts, if, by chance, the pagans whom we wish to convert declare that the prophecies were not uttered so far in advance but were fabricated by us after the actual events, so that what really did happen might appear to have been prophesied, we read aloud the scrolls of the Jews to remove this doubt of the pagans. For they were prefigured by the Magi whom the Jews, by means of their sacred writings, instructed about the city in which Christ was born, although they themselves neither sought nor acknowledged Him.

Now, then, my dearly beloved sons and heirs of grace, look to your vocation and, since Christ has been revealed to both Jews and Gentiles as the cornerstone, cling together with most constant affection. For He was manifested in the very cradle of His infancy to those who were near and to those who w r ere afar -to the Jews whose shepherds were nearby; to the Gentiles whose Magi were at a great distance.

The former came to Him on the very day of His birth; the latter are believed to have come on this day. He was not revealed, therefore, to the shepherds because they were learned, nor to the Magi because they were righteous, for ignorance abounds in the rusticity of shepherds and impiety amid the sacrileges of the Magi. He, the cornerstone, joined both groups to Himself since He came to choose the foolish things of the world in order to put to shame the wise 6 and «to call sinners,not the just,’ so that the mighty would not be lifted up nor the lowly be in despair.

Hence, the Scribes and Pharisees, while they seemed exceedingly wise and just in their own estimation, by reading the sacred words pointed out the city of the Child’s birth, but in building they rejected Him. However, because He has ‘become the head of the corner’ 8 and because He fulfilled by His passion what He indicated by His birth, let us cleave to Him with that other wall which maintains the remnant of the Jews who have been saved through the gift of grace. 9 For the shepherds coming from nearby typified these Jews who deserve to be united to Him so that both they and we, whose vocation from afar was but fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God, built up on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets with Jesus Christ Himself the chief cornerstone.  He ‘has made both one’ so that in Him alone we might cherish unity and display untiring charity in collecting the branches which, once engrafted from the wild olive and now broken off by pride, have become heretical, for God is able to graft them back again.

1 Cf. Ps. 18.1.

2 Cf. Wisd. 7.

3 PS. 2.10-12.

4 CL John 18.36.

5 Matt. 2.5-7.

6 Cf. 1 Cor. 1.27.

7 Matt. 9.13.

8 Ps. 117.22.

9 Cf. Rom. 11.5.

[1] The word Magi comes from the Greek ‘magoi” and indicates above all the members of a Persian priestly caste (later also Babylonian) that was interested in astronomy and astrology. We could call them “scholars of celestial phenomena”. In the Old Persian tradition the Magi were the most loyal and intimate disciples of Zoroaster and the guardians of his doctrine. The also had a very important role in religion and politics.

The Magi have been understood as Kings because of Isaiah 60:3 and they have been given the names of Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar. In Matthew 2:2 the Magi (an unknown number of them) guided to Judea by a star, carried as gifts to the Baby Jesus recognized as the “ king of the Jews, gold ( an homage to his royalty), incense ( as homage to his divinity) and myrrh ( as anticipation of his future  redeeming suffering and death) and adored him.

[2] In the Church with persistence of virginal vocations- through the sign of renunciation of the marriage and the consequent loneliness and apparent infertility-, it is vitally and experimentally  transmitted the certainty that:

  • The heart of the human being can be filled only by God and its solitude can be overcome only by His “company”;
  • Jesus Christ, true and alive now and here, is the incarnate God that has offered and offers his true love;
  • In this love every other love is included and required: it is an inextricable love “ Christ is what is his”;
  • It is a love whose peculiar fecundity is visible also in this life

In the Christian community the two vocations – the one to consecrated virginity and the other to matrimony – must be understood and taught not in opposition but in complementarity (it is important however to remember that every one of them is a total and totalizing vocation and to affirm that clearly virginity better testifies the splendor of the solicitude and of the finality of the love due to Christ). To succeed in this education it is essential that the two vocations be not described reductively- as if only concerning the emotional and sexual sector- but completely. They are vocation to a way of life and they need all, time, resources, energy, choices, decisions, etc. to serve the mission of the Church.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

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

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