ROME – Pope Francis on the feast of the Epiphany lamented the sharp division among Catholics of differing views, saying believers must imitate the three wise men in putting God at the center of their lives, rather than their own ideas of the faith.

Speaking to attendees of his Jan. 6 Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope said that as members of the church, “instead of splitting into groups based on our own ideas, we are called to put God back at the center.”

“We need to abandon ecclesial ideologies to find the meaning of holy mother church, the ecclesial attitude. Ecclesial ideologies no, ecclesial vocation yes,” he said, saying, “The Lord, not our own ideas or our own projects,” must be the focus.

“Let us set out anew from God; let us seek from him the courage not to lose heart in the face of difficulties, the strength to surmount all obstacles, the joy to live in harmonious communion,” he said.

The pontiff’s comments came amid a burgeoning controversy over a recent Vatican declaration permitting non-liturgical blessings of same-sex unions, which has revealed strong divisions within Catholicism.

Pope Francis spoke during his Mass for the Catholic feast of the Epiphany, which commemorates the biblical narrative when the three Magi, also called the Three Wise Men or the “Three Kings,” follow a star that leads them to Jesus and the discovery of his identity as the Messiah.

In Italy, the feast also marks the commemoration of what is known in Italian folklore as La Befana, an old witch who delivers gifts to children throughout the country. The holiday is celebrated on the eve of the Epiphany, and is reminiscent of the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh given to Jesus by the Magi.

Pope Francis in his homily said the Magi are a reflection of the world’s peoples who are “journeying in search of God…of all those who were lost and now hear the beckoning of a friendly voice.”

Focusing on three aspects of the biblical narrative of the Magi, Francis noted that they are described as having their “eyes are raised to the heavens.”

The Magi “do not pass their lives staring at their feet, self-absorbed, confined by earthly horizons, plodding ahead in resignation or lamentation,” but rather, they “lift their heads high and await the light that can illumine the meaning of their lives,” he said.

“If we remain closed in the narrow confines of earthly things, if we waste away, heads bowed, hostages of our failures and our regrets; if we thirst for wealth and worldly comforts rather than becoming seekers of life and love, our life slowly loses its light,” he said.

What the Magi illustrate is the necessity to fix one’s eyes on heaven in order to discover the meaning of life, the pope said, saying humanity needs God’s word and friendship to move forward.

“We need to set out on this journey, so that our faith will not be reduced to an assemblage of religious devotions or mere outward appearance, but will instead become a fire burning within us, making us passionate seekers of the Lord’s face and witnesses to his Gospel,” he said.

Francis then lamented that the church is often split into groups based on various interpretations of the faith and stressed the importance of communion, saying God must be at the center of faith, rather than one’s own ideas about it.

Noting how the Magi also completed a journey on earth, the pope said they chose to follow God’s sign in the star, and ultimately their journey culminates in finding God “in man, in a little Child lying in a manger.”

“That is where the God who is infinitely great has revealed himself: in the little, the infinitely little,” he said, and stressed the importance of journeying in the world as witnesses to the Gospel.

Jesus was given to the world, Pope Francis said, “not to warm our nights, but to let rays of light break through the dark shadows that envelop so many situations in our societies.”

In this sense, he said God is found “not by basking in some elegant religious theory, but by setting out on a journey, seeking the signs of his presence in everyday life, and above all in encountering and touching the flesh of our brothers and sisters,” just as the Magi themselves found a real child.

“This is important: to find God in flesh and bone, in the faces of those we meet each day, and especially in the poor,” Francis said, saying this encounter with God opens faithful to something bigger and “makes us change our way of life and transform our world.”

Pope Francis also reflected on how the Magi, after finding the infant Jesus, bowed down in adoration before him.

“They observe the star in the heavens, but they do not take refuge in otherworldly devotion; they set out, but they do not wander about, like tourists without a destination,” he said.

When the Magi found Jesus, they gave him gifts that point to his identity not as a powerful king, but as a king “who came to serve us, a God who became man, who has mercy on us, suffers with us and dies for us,” he said.

Like the Magi, believers are also called to “bow our heart and bend our knee in worship: to worship the God who comes in littleness, who dwells in our homes, who dies for love,” the pope said, urging faithful to “rediscover our taste for the prayer of adoration.”

“We have lost the attitude of adoring, we have lost the ability to adore…Let us acknowledge Jesus as our God and Lord, and adore,” he said.

Francis closed his homily urging believers to pray for the grace to “never to lose courage: the courage to be seekers of God, men and women of hope, intrepid dreamers, gazing at the heavens and journeying along the roads of this world, in order to bring to all the light of Christ, which illumines every man and woman.”

The pope is scheduled to deliver a special noontime Angelus address for the Epiphany, during which a special parade is traditionally held with persons representing the Magi processing to St. Peter’s Square on live animals.

Prior to Mass, Pope Francis greeted a group of Benedictine nuns from Argentina, who this week arrived to live in the Vatican’s Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, where Benedict XVI lived from his retirement in 2013 until his death on Dec. 31 last year.

The six nuns belong to the Abbey of Santa Scholastica in Victoria, Buenos Aires, and were welcomed at the airport by Cardinal Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, President of the Vatican Governorate.

They were invited to come live in the monastery in keeping with the wishes of Pope John Paul II, who canonically established the monastery to house contemplative religious in 1994 to “support the Holy Father in his daily care for the whole Church through the ministry of prayer, adoration, praise, and reparation, thus being a praying presence in silence and solitude.”

Per the monastery’s statutes, there was a rotation of different monastic orders every five years, until restoration work began on the monastery in November 2012.

When Benedict XVI went to live there after his historic resignation, he was accompanied by four Memores Domini lay consecrated women until his passing.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on X: @eliseannallen