Listen to this story:

ROME – In his homily for the Catholic feast of the Epiphany, which commemorates the visit of the three Magi to the infant Jesus, Pope Francis urged believers to take stock of their own faith, asking themselves if they still desire God, or whether they have lost their spiritual zeal.

Speaking at his Jan. 6 Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope said it was a desire for God that prompted the three Magi to set out in search of the infant Jesus, insisting that “The journey of life and faith demands a deep desire and inner zeal.”

“As a Church, we need this,” he said, asking believers, “where are we on our journey of faith? Have we been stuck all too long, nestled inside a conventional, external, and formal religiosity that no longer warms our hearts and changes our lives? Do our words and our liturgies ignite in people’s hearts a desire to move towards God, or are they a ‘dead language’ that speaks only of itself and to itself?”

It is sad, Francis said, when a community of believers “loses its desire and is content with ‘maintenance’ rather than allowing itself to be startled by Jesus and by the explosive and unsettling joy of the Gospel.”

However, the Magi, he said, did not allow themselves “to retreat into the caves of gloom and apathy; they longed to see the light. They were not content to plod through life but yearned for new and greater horizons.”

The individual and societal crisis of faith so many are facing is largely rooted in an “eclipse of desire for God,” the pope said. “It is related to a kind of slumbering of the spirit, to the habit of being content to live from day to day, without ever asking what God really wants from us.”

Communities who fall into this often have everything they want or need, but still feel empty, because “the lack of desire leads only to sadness and indifference,” he said.

If faith is to grow, it “has to begin ever anew. It needs to be sparked by desire, to take up the challenge of entering into a living and lively relationship with God,” he said, telling believers to look to the Magi as an example of how to nurture the desire for a better faith life.

Pope Francis then highlighted several steps the Magi took in the biblical account of their journey to find Jesus, the first of which was the decision to set out.

Like them, believers must set out on their own search for God each day, he said, “for faith is not a suit of armor that encases us; instead, it is a fascinating journey, a constant and restless movement, ever in search of God.”

Throughout their journey the Magi also asked questions about what direction to take and where Jesus could be found, the pope said, insisting that each person must, like the Magi, listen to the questions in their own hearts, because God “addresses us more with questions than with answers.”

“Yet let us also be unsettled by the questions of our children, and by the doubts, hopes and desires of the men and women of our time. We need to entertain questions,” he said.

Francis also noted that the Magi defied King Herod, who had asked them to send word once they found Jesus, so he could kill Jesus in an attempt to safeguard his own power.

By refusing to comply with Herod’s orders, the Magi offer the lesson “that we need a courageous and prophetic faith, one that is unafraid to challenge the sinister logic of power, and become seeds of justice and fraternity in societies where in our day modern Herods continue to sow death and slaughter the poor and innocent, amid general indifference,” the pope said.

Noting that the Magi, after finding Jesus, decided to return home ‘by another way’ in order to avoid Herod, Francis said this is a challenge to believers to be open to new paths, and to be unafraid to take them.

“This is also one of the tasks of the Synod,” he said, referring to the 3-stage Synod of Bishops on Synodality that he inaugurated in October.

The goal of the synod, he said, is “to journey together and to listen to one another, so that the Spirit can suggest to us new ways and paths to bring the Gospel to the hearts of those who are distant, indifferent or without hope, yet continue to seek” the joy the Magi found when they reached Jesus.

Once the Magi found Jesus, they worshipped him, Pope Francis said, insisting that “the journey of faith finds renewed strength and fulfilment only when it is made in the presence of God.”

“Our desire for God can only grow when we place ourselves in his presence,” he said, saying Jesus is the only one capable of healing hearts from “the tyranny of needs.”

“Indeed, our hearts grow sickly whenever our desires coincide merely with our needs,” he said. “God, on the other hand, elevates our desires; he purifies them and heals them of selfishness, opening them to love for him and for our brothers and sisters.”

This, the pope said, “is why we should not neglect adoration,” and urged believers to spend more time praying in front of the Eucharist and allowing themselves to be transformed by Jesus.

By doing this, believers will gain the confidence “that even in the darkest nights a star continues to shine. It is the star of Jesus, who comes to care for our frail humanity,” he said.

Pope Francis closed his homily urging believers not to give “apathy and resignation the power to drive us into a cheerless and banal existence.”

“The world expects from believers a new burst of enthusiasm for the things of heaven,” he said, urging faithful, like the Magi, to “lift up our eyes, listen to the desire lodged in our hearts, and follow the star that God makes shine above us.”

“As restless seekers, let us remain open to God’s surprises. Let us dream, let us seek and let us adore,” he said.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen