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ROME – In his traditional Angelus address on the Catholic feast of the Epiphany, Pope Francis said the reaction of the Magi in discovering that the Messiah was a poor child illustrates the humility that is indicative of genuine faith.
Speaking to pilgrims and faithful present in St. Peter’s Square on Jan. 6, the pope noted that the Magi, also known as the “Three Kings” or the “Three Wise Men,” endured a long and complicated journey following the star in their search for Jesus.
When they finally found him lying in a manger in Bethlehem, what they discovered was not a powerful king, but a poor child and his mother, Francis said, noting that their reaction could have been resentment or even protest to God.
However, despite being wealthy and educated men, they instead chose to lay on the ground and prostrate themselves before the infant Jesus as an act of worship, he said.
“Such a humble action performed by such illustrious men is surprising,” he said, because “To prostrate oneself before a leader who presented himself with the trappings of power and glory was something normal at that time. And even today this would not be strange.”
Yet to do so for an infant in a small town “was not that easy,” he said, saying, “It is not easy to adore this God, whose divinity remains hidden and who does not appear triumphant. It means accepting God’s greatness that manifests itself in littleness.”
“The Magi humbled themselves before the unheard-of logic of God, they accepted the Savior not the way they had imagined him to be, but as he was, small and poor. Their prostration is the sign of those who place their own ideas aside and make room for God,” the pope said.
Francis highlighted the fact that they not only worshipped, but fell down and worshipped, saying this is a sign of their humility and openness to God.
“The treasures they open are images of their open hearts: their true wealth does not consist in their fame, their success, but in their humility, their awareness of their need of salvation,” he said.
The same is true for every believer, Pope Francis said, insisting that “if we always remain at the center of everything with our ideas, and if we presume to have something to boast of before God, we will never fully encounter him, we will never end up worshipping him.”
“If our pretensions, vanity, stubbornness, competitiveness do not fall by the wayside, we may well end up worshipping someone or something in life, but it will not be the Lord!” he said.
Yet if believers instead “abandon our pretense of self-sufficiency” and embrace their own littleness, they will “rediscover the wonder of worshipping Jesus,” the pope said, saying this is because “adoration comes from humility of heart.”
“Those who are obsessed with winning will never be aware of the Lord’s presence. Jesus passes nearby and is ignored, as happened to many at that time, but not to the Magi,” he said.
Pope Francis then questioned those present about their own faith, urging them to ask themselves tough questions about their own ability to be humble, such as: “what is my humility like? Am I convinced that pride impedes my spiritual progress?”
“Am I working on docility to be open to God and others, or am I rather centered on myself and my pretenses? Do I know how to set aside my own perspective to embrace that of God and others? Finally: do I pray and worship only when I need something, or do I consistently do so because I believe that I am always in need of Jesus?” he asked.
He closed his address asking that the Virgin Mary would help believers to rediscover “our vital need for humility and the vibrant desire to worship.”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen