ROME – During a Mass celebrating the feast of the Epiphany at the Vatican Jan. 6, Pope Francis called faithful to be like the Magi, who, he said, continued to look upward at the sky, took risks and set out bearing gifts for Christ.
“If we want to find Jesus, we have to overcome our fear of taking risks, our self-satisfaction and our indolent refusal to ask anything more of life,” Francis said. “We need to take risks simply to meet a Child.”
“Those risks are immensely worth the effort,” the pope said, “since in finding that Child, in discovering his tenderness and love, we rediscover ourselves.”
The Three Wise Men, also traditionally called the Magi, were the only ones who saw the star leading the way to the manger, the pope said, because they were among the few people who raised their eyes to the heavens.
“We often make do with looking at the ground: it’s enough to have our health, a little money and a bit of entertainment,” Francis added. “I wonder if we still know how to look up at the sky. Do we know how to dream, to long for God, to expect the newness he brings, or do we let ourselves be swept along by life, like dry branches before the wind?”
The Magi, he continued, were not satisfied with “just getting by, with keeping afloat” and continued instead to look up and follow the path. Many others who instead raised their eyes toward the heavens chose not to follow the star to Bethlehem, maybe, the pope explained, because it wasn’t as bright as others.
“Jesus’ star does not dazzle or overwhelm, but gently invites,” he said, calling faithful to beware of the “meteors” and “shooting stars” that promise success, wealth and fortune only to quickly fade away and “mislead rather than lead.”
The Lord’s star, he said, while not shining as bright as others, is a reliable and constant light that “takes you by the hand in life and accompanies you” to peace and joy as it did with the Magi.
Another quality the pope encouraged massgoers to borrow from the Three Wise Men is to “set out” in order to find Jesus. In order to do this, faithful must also free themselves from unnecessary burdens and push through life’s obstacles. “Jesus allows himself to be found by those who seek him, but to find him we need to get up and go, not sit around but take risks, not stand still, but set out,” Francis said.
“Jesus makes demands: he tells those who seek him to leave behind the armchair of worldly comforts and the reassuring warmth of hearth and home. Following Jesus is not a polite etiquette to be observed, but a journey to be undertaken.”
The pope admitted that setting out is not easy. Herod stayed locked in his palace, sending others to gather information in his stead, and all of Jerusalem was afraid of the changes that would be brought in by the Son of God. Worse still, the pope continued, were the scribes and priests, who knew about the ancient prophecy and told Herod, but did not set out to go to Bethlehem.
“Theirs can be the temptation of those who are used to being believers: they can talk at length about the faith they know so well, but will not take a personal risk for the Lord. They talk, but do not pray; they complain, but do no good,” Francis said.
On the other hand, the Magi “talk little and journey much,” and once they arrive at the manger they gave gifts, imitating Jesus who came to the world to offer His life. “To give freely, for the Lord’s sake, without expecting anything in return: this is the sure sign that we have found Jesus,” the pope said. “To do good without counting the cost, even when unasked, even when you gain nothing thereby, even if it is unpleasant. That is what God wants.”
Just as Jesus gave everything for the poor, hungry and needy, so are Catholics encouraged to be close and help the sick and downtrodden. “These are gifts freely given, and they cannot be lacking in the lives of Christians,” he added.
Francis concluded the Mass by inviting faithful to think of a free gift to give without expecting anything in return and to ask the Lord to help them rediscover the joy of giving.