“Setting out, the second thing the Magi do, is essential if we are to find Jesus,” the Pope said Jan. 6, on the Feast of the Epiphany.
“His star demands a decision to take up the journey and to advance tirelessly on our way,” he said. “It demands that we free ourselves from useless burdens and unnecessary extras that only prove a hindrance, and accept unforeseen obstacles along the map of life.”
Jesus, the Pope said, allows himself to be found by those who are looking for him, however, in order to find him ourselves, “we need to get up and go, not sit around but take risks, not stand still, but set out.”
“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.”
Francis noted that “setting out” isn’t always easy, as can be seen by various characters in the Gospel, including Herod, who organized meetings and sent people to gather information about the royal birth that had been prophesied, but himself “does not budge; he stays locked up in his palace.”
Even the priests and scribes, who had the ancient texts and knew the prophesy, were able to tell Herod exactly where to go, yet made no move themselves.
Their temptation, Francis said, is the same as those who have grown accustomed 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.”
“The Magi, on the other hand, talk little and journey much,” he said. “Ignorant of the truths of faith, they are filled with longing and set out. So the Gospel tells us: they ‘came to worship him,’ ‘they set out; they went in, and fell down and worshiped him; they went back.’ They kept moving.”
Pope Francis spoke during Mass for the Feast of the Epiphany, which he celebrated inside St. Peter’s Basilica. In his homily, the Pope focused on three key actions carried out by the Magi in the day’s Gospel: they first saw the star, they set out to follow it, and they then bring gifts to the infant Jesus.
Questioning whether anyone else saw the star that night, Francis observed that “few people raised their eyes to heaven.”
“We often make do with looking at the ground: it’s enough to have our health, a little money and a bit of entertainment,” he said, and wondered aloud if people still dream or long for God and the newness that he brings.
He also asked why, if the star was so bright, no one else had followed it. “Perhaps because the star was not eye-catching, did not shine any brighter than other stars,” he said, noting that Jesus’ star “does not dazzle or overwhelm, but gently invites.”
Asking those present which star they have chosen to follow, Francis noted that some of the stars we choose are bright, but don’t point the way.
“So it is with success, money, career, honors and pleasures when these become our life,” he said, calling them meteors that “blaze momentarily,” but quickly burn out and fade away.
“The Lord’s star, however, may not always overwhelm by its brightness, but it is always there: it takes you by the hand in life and accompanies you. It does not promise material reward, but ensures peace and grants, as it did to the Magi, ‘exceedingly great joy.’”
After seeing the star, the Magi then set out and follow it to Bethlehem, he said, explaining that to do so meant taking a risk, which we are all required to do if we want to find Jesus.
“Following Jesus is not a polite etiquette to be observed, but a journey to be undertaken,” he said, adding that if we ourselves 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.”
Pope Francis then noted how when the Magi they arrived to Bethlehem, they offered Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, saying the Gospel “becomes real when the journey of life ends in giving.”
“To give freely, for the Lord’s sake, without expecting anything in return: this is the sure sign that we have found Jesus,” he 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.”
Jesus, who became small and vulnerable for our sake, also asks us to offer something to “the least of our brothers and sisters,” he said, explaining that these are the people who have nothing to give in return, such as the hungry, the needy, the prisoner, the sick and the stranger.
“We give a gift pleasing to Jesus when we care for a sick person, spend time with a difficult person, help someone for the sake of helping, or forgive someone who has hurt us,” he said, stressing that “these are gifts freely given, and they cannot be lacking in the lives of Christians.”
Francis closed his homily urging those present to look at their hands, which are “so often empty of love,” and to think of a free gift they can give without expecting anything in return. This, he said, “will please the Lord.”
After celebrating Mass, Pope Francis led pilgrims in praying the traditional Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square. Speaking from the window of the papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace, he pointed to the “attentive search” for Jesus made by the Magi, the fear of Herod for losing his power and the indifference of the priests and scribes to the prophesy they see being fulfilled.
Of these attitudes, “we must choose which of the three to assume,” Francis said, explaining that selfishness and the desire to follow human ambitions can make Jesus’ coming seem like a threat or an obstacle.
Indifference recognizes the Savior, but prefers to ignore him and live as if he didn’t exist, the Pope said, explaining that Christians are called to follow the example of the Magi, who are “ready to be inconvenienced” in order to find Jesus, to adore him and to follow him.
“If we have this attitude, Jesus truly saves us, and we can live a beautiful life, we can grow in faith, hope and love toward God and toward our brothers,” he said, and prayed that Mary would intercede in helping each person to reach Christ, and helping the world to “proceed on the path of justice and peace.”