Benedict XVI Homilies 16120
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
“You are my son, this day I have begotten you” – with this passage from Psalm 2 the Church begins the liturgy of this holy night. She knows that this passage originally formed part of the coronation rite of the kings of Israel. The king, who in himself is a man like others, becomes the “Son of God” through being called and installed in his office. It is a kind of adoption by God, a decisive act by which he grants a new existence to this man, drawing him into his own being. The reading from the prophet Isaiah that we have just heard presents the same process even more clearly in a situation of hardship and danger for Israel: “To us a child is born, to us a son is given. The government will be upon his shoulder” (Is 9,6). Installation in the office of king is like a second birth. As one newly born through God’s personal choice, as a child born of God, the king embodies hope. On his shoulders the future rests. He is the bearer of the promise of peace. On that night in Bethlehem this prophetic saying came true in a way that would still have been unimaginable at the time of Isaiah. Yes indeed, now it really is a child on whose shoulders government is laid. In him the new kingship appears that God establishes in the world. This child is truly born of God. It is God’s eternal Word that unites humanity with divinity. To this child belong those titles of honour which Isaiah’s coronation song attributes to him: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Is 9,6). Yes, this king does not need counsellors drawn from the wise of this world. He bears in himself God’s wisdom and God’s counsel. In the weakness of infancy, he is the mighty God and he shows us God’s own might in contrast to the self-asserting powers of this world.
Truly, the words of Israel’s coronation rite were only ever rites of hope which looked ahead to a distant future that God would bestow. None of the kings who were greeted in this way lived up to the sublime content of these words. In all of them, those words about divine sonship, about installation into the heritage of the peoples, about making the ends of the earth their possession (Ps 2,8) were only pointers towards what was to come – as it were signposts of hope indicating a future that at that moment was still beyond comprehension. Thus the fulfilment of the prophecy, which began that night in Bethlehem, is both infinitely greater and in worldly terms smaller than the prophecy itself might lead one to imagine. It is greater in the sense that this child is truly the Son of God, truly “God from God, light from light, begotten not made, of one being with the Father”. The infinite distance between God and man is overcome. God has not only bent down, as we read in the Psalms; he has truly “come down”, he has come into the world, he has become one of us, in order to draw all of us to himself. This child is truly Emmanuel – God-with-us. His kingdom truly stretches to the ends of the earth. He has truly built islands of peace in the world-encompassing breadth of the holy Eucharist. Wherever it is celebrated, an island of peace arises, of God’s own peace. This child has ignited the light of goodness in men and has given them strength to overcome the tyranny of might. This child builds his kingdom in every generation from within, from the heart. But at the same time it is true that the “rod of his oppressor” is not yet broken, the boots of warriors continue to tramp and the “garment rolled in blood” (Is 9,4f) still remains. So part of this night is simply joy at God’s closeness. We are grateful that God gives himself into our hands as a child, begging as it were for our love, implanting his peace in our hearts. But this joy is also a prayer: Lord, make your promise come fully true. Break the rods of the oppressors. Burn the tramping boots. Let the time of the garments rolled in blood come to an end. Fulfil the prophecy that “of peace there will be no end” (Is 9,7). We thank you for your goodness, but we also ask you to show forth your power. Establish the dominion of your truth and your love in the world – the “kingdom of righteousness, love and peace”.
“Mary gave birth to her first-born son” (Lc 2,7). In this sentence Saint Luke recounts quite soberly the great event to which the prophecies from Israel’s history had pointed. Luke calls the child the “first-born”. In the language which developed within the sacred Scripture of the Old Covenant, “first-born” does not mean the first of a series of children. The word “first-born” is a title of honour, quite independently of whether other brothers and sisters follow or not. So Israel is designated by God in the Book of Exodus (Ex 4,22) as “my first-born Son”, and this expresses Israel’s election, its singular dignity, the particular love of God the Father. The early Church knew that in Jesus this saying had acquired a new depth, that the promises made to Israel were summed up in him. Thus the Letter to the Hebrews calls Jesus “the first-born”, simply in order to designate him as the Son sent into the world by God (cf. He 1,5-7) after the ground had been prepared by Old Testament prophecy. The first-born belongs to God in a special way – and therefore he had to be handed over to God in a special way – as in many religions – and he had to be ransomed through a vicarious sacrifice, as Saint Luke recounts in the episode of the Presentation in the Temple. The first-born belongs to God in a special way, and is as it were destined for sacrifice. In Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross this destiny of the first-born is fulfilled in a unique way. In his person he brings humanity before God and unites man with God in such a way that God becomes all in all. Saint Paul amplified and deepened the idea of Jesus as first-born in the Letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians: Jesus, we read in these letters, is the first-born of all creation – the true prototype of man, according to which God formed the human creature. Man can be the image of God because Jesus is both God and man, the true image of God and of man. Furthermore, as these letters tell us, he is the first-born from the dead. In the resurrection he has broken down the wall of death for all of us. He has opened up to man the dimension of eternal life in fellowship with God. Finally, it is said to us that he is the first-born of many brothers. Yes indeed, now he really is the first of a series of brothers and sisters: the first, that is, who opens up for us the possibility of communing with God. He creates true brotherhood – not the kind defiled by sin as in the case of Cain and Abel, or Romulus and Remus, but the new brotherhood in which we are God’s own family. This new family of God begins at the moment when Mary wraps her first-born in swaddling clothes and lays him in a manger. Let us pray to him: Lord Jesus, who wanted to be born as the first of many brothers and sisters, grant us the grace of true brotherhood. Help us to become like you. Help us to recognize your face in others who need our assistance, in those who are suffering or forsaken, in all people, and help us to live together with you as brothers and sisters, so as to become one family, your family.
At the end of the Christmas Gospel, we are told that a great heavenly host of angels praised God and said: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” (Lc 2,14). The Church, in the Gloria, has extended this song of praise, which the angels sang in response to the event of the holy night, into a hymn of joy at God’s glory – “we praise you for your glory”. We praise you for the beauty, for the greatness, for your goodness, which becomes visible to us this night. The appearing of beauty, of the beautiful, makes us happy without our having to ask what use it can serve. God’s glory, from which all beauty derives, causes us to break out in astonishment and joy. Anyone who catches a glimpse of God experiences joy, and on this night we see something of his light. But the angels’ message on that holy night also spoke of men: “Peace among men with whom he is pleased”. The Latin translation of the angels’ song that we use in the liturgy, taken from Saint Jerome, is slightly different: “peace to men of good will”. The expression “men of good will” has become an important part of the Church’s vocabulary in recent decades. But which is the correct translation? We must read both texts together; only in this way do we truly understand the angels’ song. It would be a false interpretation to see this exclusively as the action of God, as if he had not called man to a free response of love. But it would be equally mistaken to adopt a moralizing interpretation as if man were so to speak able to redeem himself by his good will. Both elements belong together: grace and freedom, God’s prior love for us, without which we could not love him, and the response that he awaits from us, the response that he asks for so palpably through the birth of his son. We cannot divide up into independent entities the interplay of grace and freedom, or the interplay of call and response. The two are inseparably woven together. So this part of the angels’ message is both promise and call at the same time. God has anticipated us with the gift of his Son. God anticipates us again and again in unexpected ways. He does not cease to search for us, to raise us up as often as we might need. He does not abandon the lost sheep in the wilderness into which it had strayed. God does not allow himself to be confounded by our sin. Again and again he begins afresh with us. But he is still waiting for us to join him in love. He loves us, so that we too may become people who love, so that there may be peace on earth.
Saint Luke does not say that the angels sang. He states quite soberly: the heavenly host praised God and said: “Glory to God in the highest” (Lc 2,13f.). But men have always known that the speech of angels is different from human speech, and that above all on this night of joyful proclamation it was in song that they extolled God’s heavenly glory. So this angelic song has been recognized from the earliest days as music proceeding from God, indeed, as an invitation to join in the singing with hearts filled with joy at the fact that we are loved by God. Cantare amantis est, says Saint Augustine: singing belongs to one who loves. Thus, down the centuries, the angels’ song has again and again become a song of love and joy, a song of those who love. At this hour, full of thankfulness, we join in the singing of all the centuries, singing that unites heaven and earth, angels and men. Yes, indeed, we praise you for your glory. We praise you for your love. Grant that we may join with you in love more and more and thus become people of peace. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At the end of a year we meet this evening in the Vatican Basilica to celebrate First Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary Most Holy Mother of God and to raise a hymn of thanksgiving for the innumerable graces she has given us, but also and above all for Grace in person, namely for the living and personal Gift of the Father which is his beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is this gratitude for the gifts received from God in the time we are granted to live that helps us to discover a great value inscribed in time: marked in its annual, monthly, weekly and daily seasons, it is inhabited by the love of God, by his gifts of grace; it is the time of salvation. Yes, eternal God has entered and remains in human time. He has entered and remains in it with the Person of Jesus, the Son of God made man, the Saviour of the world. It is of this that the Apostle Paul has reminded us in the brief Reading just proclaimed: “When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son… so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Ga 4,4-5).
Thus the Eternal enters time and renews it from the roots, freeing man from sin and making him a son of God. Already “in the beginning”, that is, with the creation of the world and of man in the world, the eternity of God caused time — in which human history takes place from generation to generation — to unfold. With the coming of Christ and with his redemption, we are now in the time that has “fully come”.
As St Paul points out, with Jesus time fully comes, it reaches fulfilment, acquiring that meaning of salvation and grace for which it was desired by God before the creation of the world.
Christmas reminds us of this “fullness” of time, in other words of the renewing salvation which Jesus brought to all mankind. It reminds us of it and, mysteriously but really, gives it to us ever anew. Our human time is full of evil, of suffering, every kind of tragedy — from those caused by the wickedness of human beings to those that derive from inauspicious natural events, — but henceforth and in a definitive and indelible manner it contains the joyful and liberating newness of Christ the Saviour. Precisely in the Child of Bethlehem we can contemplate in a particularly luminous and eloquent way the encounter of eternity with time, as the Church’s Liturgy likes to express it. Christmas makes us rediscover God in the humble, frail flesh of a Child.
Is this not perhaps an invitation to rediscover God’s presence and his love which gives salvation even in the brief and stressful hours of our daily life? Is it not perhaps an invitation to discover that our human time — even in difficult and demanding moments — is ceaselessly enriched by the Lord’s grace, indeed by Grace, which is the Lord himself?
At the end of this year 2010, before consigning the days and hours to God and to his just and merciful judgement, I feel the need in my heart to raise our “thank you” to him for his love for us.
In this atmosphere of gratitude, I would like to address a special greeting to the Cardinal Vicar, to the Auxiliary Bishops, to the priests, to the consecrated people, as well as to the many lay faithful who are gathered here. I greet Hon. Mr Mayor and the Authorities present. A special remembrance goes to all those who are in difficulty and are spending these days of festivity in hardship and suffering. I assure each and every one of my affectionate thoughts, which I accompany with prayer.
Dear brothers and sisters, our Church of Rome is committed to helping all the baptized to live faithfully the vocation they have received and to witness to the beauty of faith. In order to be authentic disciples of Christ, an essential aid comes to us in the daily meditation of the word of God which “is the basis”, as I wrote in my recent Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini “of all authentic Christian spirituality” (n. 86).
For this reason I wish to encourage everyone to cultivate an intense relationship with it, in particular through the lectio divina, in order to have that light we need to discern the signs of God in the present time and to proclaim the Gospel effectively.
In Rome too, in fact, there is an ever greater need for a renewed proclamation of the Gospel so that the hearts of our city’s inhabitants may be opened to the encounter with that Child, who was born for us, with Christ, Redeemer of man. For, as the Apostle Paul recalls: “faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ” (Rm 10,17), a useful help in this evangelizing action can come — as was previously experienced during the City Mission in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 — from “Centres for listening to the Gospel”, whose refoundation or revitalization I encourage, not only in condominiums but also in hospitals, in work places and in those where the new generations are formed and where culture is elaborated.
Indeed, the Word of God became flesh for all and his truth is accessible to every human being and to every culture.
I learned with appreciation of the most recent commitment of the Vicariate in organizing the “Dialogues in the Cathedral”, which have been held in the Basilica of St John Lateran. These important meetings express the Church’s desire to encounter all those who are in search of answers to the deep questioning of human life.
The privileged place for listening to the Word of God is the celebration of the Eucharist. The Diocesan Convention last June, in which I took part, wanted to highlight the centrality of Holy Mass on Sundays in the life of every Christian community and offered guidelines so that the beauty of the divine mysteries might be more resplendent in the celebrative act and in the spiritual fruits that derive from it.
I encourage parish priests and priests to put into practice what was pointed out in the pastoral programme: the formation of a liturgical group to animate the celebration and a catechesis that helps everyone to become better acquainted with the Eucharistic Mystery from which flows the witness of charity.
Nourished by Christ, we too are attracted by the very act of total giving that impelled the Lord to give his life itself, revealing in this way the immense love of the Father. The witness of charity therefore possesses an essential theological dimension and is profoundly united with the proclamation of the word.
At this celebration of thanksgiving to God for the gifts received during the year, I remember in particular the Visit I made to the Caritas Hostel at Termini Station, where, through the service and generous dedication of numerous volunteers, so many men and women can tangibly feel God’s love.
The present time is still giving rise to anxiety about the precarious plight of many families and asks the entire diocesan community to be close to those who are living in conditions of poverty and hardship.
May God, infinite Love, enflame the heart of each one of us with that love which impelled him to give us his Only-Begotten Son.
Dear brothers and sisters, we are asked to look to the future and to look to it with that hope [trust] which is the last word of the “Te Deum”: “In te, Domine, speravi: non confundar in aeternum! — O Lord, in you have I trusted, let me never be confounded”. It is always Mary Most Holy, Mother of God, who gives us Christ our Hope. May her arms, and especially her heart, continue to offer to the world Jesus, her Son and our Saviour, as they did to the shepherds and to the Magi. All our hope is in him, because salvation and peace came from him for every human being. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Still immersed in the spiritual atmosphere of Christmas, in which we have contemplated the mystery of Christ’s birth, today we are celebrating the Virgin Mary, whom the Church venerates as Mother of God with the same sentiments since she gave flesh to the Son of the Eternal Father. The biblical Readings of this Solemnity put the emphasis mainly on the Son of God made man and on the “Name” of the Lord. The First Reading presents to us the solemn Blessing that the priests pronounced over the Israelites on the great religious feasts: it is marked, precisely, by the Name of the Lord, repeated three times, as if to express the fullness and power that derive from this invocation. This text of liturgical Blessing, in fact, calls to mind the riches of grace and peace that God gives to man, with a benevolent attitude to him, and which is expressed by the “shining” of the divine face and his “turning” it to us.
Today the Church listens once again to these words, while she asks the Lord to bless the New Year that has just begun, in the awareness that in the face of the tragic events that mark history, in the face of the logistics of war that unfortunately have not yet been fully overcome, God alone can move the human spirit in its depths and assure hope and peace to humanity. By now it is a firm tradition, on the first day of the year that, the Church throughout the world raise a unanimous prayer to invoke peace. It is good to begin a new stretch of the journey by setting out with determination on the path of peace. Today let us respond to the cry of so many men, women, children and elderly people who are the victims of war, which is the most appalling and violent face of history. Let us pray today that peace, which the Angels announced to the shepherds on Christmas night, may reach everywhere: “super terram pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis” (Lc 2,14). For this reason, especially with our prayers, we wish to help every person and every people, in particular all those who have the responsibility of government, to walk with ever grater determination on the path of peace.
In the Second Reading St Paul sums up in the adoption as sons the work of salvation brought about by Christ in which the figure of Mary is honoured. Thanks to her the Son of God, “born of woman” (Ga 4,4), was able to come into the world as a real man, in the fullness of time. This fulfilment, this fullness, concerns the past and the messianic expectations, which were brought about, but at the same time also refers to fullness in the absolute sense: in the Word made flesh, God said his ultimate and definitive word. Thus on the threshold of a new year, the invitation to walk joyfully towards the light of the “day that shall dawn... from on high” (Lc 1,78) resounds in this way, because in the Christian perspective all time is inhabited by God, there is no future that is not oriented to Christ and no fullness exists outside that of Christ.
Today’s Gospel passage ends with the imposition of the Name of Jesus, while Mary participates in silence, meditating in her heart upon the mystery of this Son of hers who in a completely unique way is a gift of God. But the Gospel passage we have heard particularly highlights the shepherds who returned “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Lc 2,20). The Angel had announced to them that in the city of David, that is, Bethlehem, the Saviour was born and that they would find the sign: a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (cf. Lc 2,11-12). Having left in haste, they had found Mary and Joseph and the Child. Let us note that the Evangelist speaks of Mary’s motherhood starting with the Son, with that “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes”, because it is he — the Word of God (Jn 1,14) — who is the reference point, the centre of the event that is being brought about, and it is he who ensures that Mary’s motherhood is described as “divine”.
This priority attention that today’s Readings pay to the “Son”, to Jesus, does not lessen the Mother’s role, on the contrary, it puts it in the right perspective: Mary, in fact, is the true Mother of God precisely by virtue of her total relationship to Christ. Therefore, in glorifying the Son one honours the Mother and in honouring the Mother one glorifies the Son. The title of “Mother of God” which the Liturgy highlights today, stresses the unique mission of the Blessed Virgin in the history of salvation: a mission that is at the root of the worship and devotion which the Christian people reserve for her. Indeed, Mary did not receive God’s gift for herself alone, but in order to bring him into the world: in her fruitful virginity, God gave men and women the gifts of eternal salvation (cf. Collect). And Mary continually offers her mediation to the People of God, on pilgrimage through history towards eternity, just as she once offered it to the shepherds of Bethlehem. She, who gave earthly life to the Son of God, continues to give human beings divine life, which is Jesus himself and his Holy Spirit. For this reason she is considered the Mother of every human being who is born to Grace and at the same time is invoked as Mother of the Church.
It is in the name of Mary, Mother of God and of men, that since 1 January 1968 the World Day of Peace has been celebrated throughout the world. Peace is a gift of God, as we heard in the First Reading: May “the Lord… give you peace” (Nb 6,26). It is a messianic gift par excellence, the first fruit of the love that Jesus gave us, it is our reconciliation and pacification with God. Peace is also a human value to be achieved at the social and political levels, but it is rooted in the mystery of Christ (cf. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes GS 77-90).
In this solemn celebration, on the occasion of the 44th World Day of Peace, I am glad to address my respectful greeting to the distinguished Ambassadors to the Holy See, with my best wishes for their mission. Then a cordial brotherly greeting goes to my Secretary of State and to the Heads of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, with a special thought for the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and for his collaborators. I would like to express to them my deep gratitude for their daily commitment to promote peaceful coexistence among the peoples and arouse an ever deeper awareness of peace in the Church and in the world. In this perspective, the ecclesial community is ever more committed to working, in accordance with the instructions of the Magisterium, to provide a reliable spiritual patrimony of values and principles in the continuous quest for peace.
I wished to recall in my Message for today’s Day, entitled “Religious freedom, the path to peace”: “The world needs God. It needs universal, shared ethical and spiritual values, and religion can offer a precious contribution to their pursuit, for the building of a just and peaceful social order at the national and international levels” (n. 15). I therefore stressed that “religious freedom… is an essential element of a constitutional State; it cannot be denied without at the same time encroaching on all fundamental rights and freedoms, since it is their synthesis and keystone” (n. 5).
Humanity cannot appear to be resigned to the negative power of selfishness and violence; it must not become accustomed to conflicts that claim victims and jeopardize the future of peoples. Before the threatening tensions of the moment and, especially, before the discrimination, abuse and religious intolerance that today are striking Christians in particular (cf. ibid., n. 1), I once again address a pressing invitation not to give in to discouragement and resignation. I urge everyone to pray so that the efforts made by various parties to promote and build peace in the world may be successful. For this difficult task words do not suffice; what is needed is the practical and constant effort of the leaders of Nations, and it is necessary above all that every person be motivated by the authentic spirit of peace, to be implored ever anew in prayer and to be lived in daily relations in every environment.
In this Eucharistic celebration we have before our eyes, for our veneration, the image of Our Lady of the Sacro Monte di Viggiano, so dear to the peoples of Basilicata. May the Virgin Mary give us her Son, may she show us the Face of her Son, the Prince of Peace. May she help us to remain in the light of this face that shines upon us (cf. Nb 6,25), in order to rediscover all the tenderness of God the Father; may it be she who supports us in invoking the Holy Spirit, so that he will renew the face of the earth and transform hearts, dissolving their hardness in the face of the disarming goodness of the Child who was born for us. May the Mother of God accompany us in this New Year; may she obtain for us and for the whole world the desired gift of peace.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On the Solemnity of Epiphany the Church continues to contemplate and to celebrate the mystery of the birth of Jesus the Saviour. In particular, this day stresses the universal destination and significance of this birth.
By becoming man in Mary’s womb, the Son of God did not only come for the People of Israel, represented by the Shepherds of Bethlehem, but also for the whole of humanity, represented by the Magi. And it is precisely on the Magi and their journey in search of the Messiah (cf. Mt 2,1-12) that the Church invites us to meditate and pray today.
We heard in the Gospel that having arrived in Jerusalem from the East they asked: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him” (Mt 2,2). What kind of people were they and what kind of star was it? They were probably sages who scrutinized the heavens, but not in order to try to “read” the future in the stars, possibly to profit by so doing. Rather, they were men “in search” of something more, in search of the true light that could point out the path to take in life. They were people certain that something we might describe as the “signature” of God exists in creation, a signature that man can and must endeavour to discover and decipher.
Perhaps the way to become better acquainted with these Magi and to understand their desire to let themselves be guided by God’s signs is to pause to consider what they find on their journey, in the great city of Jerusalem.
First of all they met King Herod. He was certainly interested in the Child of which the Magi spoke; not in order to worship him, as he wished to make them believe by lying, but rather to kill him. Herod was a powerful man who saw others solely as rivals to combat. Basically, on reflection, God also seemed a rival to him, a particularly dangerous rival who would like to deprive men of their vital space, their autonomy, their power; a rival who points out the way to take in life and thus prevents one from doing what one likes.
Herod listened to the interpretations of the Prophet Micah’s words, made by his experts in Sacred Scripture, but his only thought was of the throne. So God himself had to be clouded over and people had to be reduced to mere pawns to move on the great chessboard of power. Herod is a figure we dislike, whom we instinctively judge negatively because of his brutality.
Yet we should ask ourselves: is there perhaps something of Herod also in us? Might we too sometimes see God as a sort of rival? Might we too be blind to his signs and deaf to his words because we think he is setting limits on our life and does not allow us to dispose of our existence as we please?
Dear Brothers and Sisters, when we see God in this way we end by feeling dissatisfied and discontent because we are not letting ourselves be guided by the One who is the foundation of all things.
We must rid our minds and hearts of the idea of rivalry, of the idea that making room for God is a constraint on us. We must open ourselves to the certainty that God is almighty love that takes nothing away, that does not threaten; on the contrary he is the Only One who can give us the possibility of living to the full, of experiencing true joy.
The Magi then meet the scholars, the theologians, the experts who know everything about the Sacred Scriptures, who are familiar with the possible interpretations, who can quote every passage of it since they know it by heart and are therefore of valuable assistance to those who choose to walk on God’s path.
However, St Augustine says, they like being guides to others, they point out the way; but they themselves do not travel, they stand stock-still. For them the Scriptures become a sort of atlas to be perused with curiosity, a collection of words and concepts for study and for learned discussion.
However, once again we can ask ourselves: is not there a temptation within us to consider the Sacred Scriptures, this very rich and vital treasure for the faith of the Church, as an object of study and of specialists’ discussions rather than as the Book that shows us the way to attain life? I think, as I suggested in the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, that profound willingness must ceaselessly be born within them to see the words of the Bible interpreted in the Church’s living Tradition (n. 18), as the truth that tells us what man is and how he can fulfil himself totally, the truth that is the way to take every day, with others, if we wish to build our lives on rock and not on sand.
And so we come to the star. What kind of star was the star the Magi saw and followed? This question has been the subject of discussion among astronomers down the centuries. Kepler, for example, claimed that it was “new” or “super-new”, one of those stars that usually radiates a weak light but can suddenly and violently explode, producing an exceptionally bright blaze.
These are of course interesting things but do not guide us to what is essential for understanding that star. We must return to the fact that those men were seeking traces of God; they were seeking to read his “signature” in creation; they knew that “the heavens are telling of the glory of God” (Ps 19,2 :2); they were certain, that is, that God can be perceived in creation.
But, as sages, the Magi also knew that it is not with any kind of telescope but rather with the profound eyes of reason in search of the ultimate meaning of reality and with the desire for God, motivated by faith, that it is possible to meet him, indeed, becomes possible for God to come close to us.
The universe is not the result of chance, as some would like to make us believe. In contemplating it, we are asked to interpret in it something profound; the wisdom of the Creator, the inexhaustible creativity of God, his infinite love for us.
We must not let our minds be limited by theories that always go only so far and that — at a close look — are far from competing with faith but do not succeed in explaining the ultimate meaning of reality. We cannot but perceive in the beauty of the world, its mystery, its greatness and its rationality, the eternal rationality; nor can we dispense with its guidance to the one God, Creator of Heaven and of earth.
If we acquire this perception we shall see that the One who created the world and the One who was born in a grotto in Bethlehem and who continues to dwell among us in the Eucharist, are the same living God who calls us, who loves us and who wants to lead us to eternal life.
Herod, the Scriptural exegetes, the star: but let us follow the journey of the Magi to Jerusalem. Above the great city the star disappears, it is no longer seen. What does this mean? In this case too, we must interpret the sign in its depth. For those men it was logical to seek the new king in the royal palace, where the wise court advisors were to be found.
Yet, probably to their amazement, they were obliged to note that this newborn Child was not found in the places of power and culture, even though in those places they were offered precious information about him.
On the other hand they realized that power, even the power of knowledge, sometimes blocks the way to the encounter with this Child. The star then guided them to Bethlehem, a little town; it led them among the poor and the humble to find the King of the world.
God’s criteria differ from human criteria. God does not manifest himself in the power of this world but in the humility of his love, the love that asks our freedom to be welcomed in order to transform us and to enable us to reach the One who is Love.
Yet, for us too things are not so different from what they were for the Magi. If we were to be asked our opinion on how God was to save the world, we might answer that he would have to manifest all his power to give the world a fairer economic system in which each person could have everything he wanted. Indeed, this would be a sort of violence to man because it would deprive him of the fundamental elements that characterize him. In fact neither our freedom nor our love would be called into question. God’s power is revealed in quite a different way: in Bethlehem, where we encounter the apparent powerlessness of his love. And it is there that we must go and there that we find God’s star.
Thus, a final important element of the event of the Magi appears to us very clearly: the language of creation enables us to make good headway on the path towards God but does not give us the definitive light. In the end, it was indispensable for the Magi to listen to the voice of the Sacred Scriptures: they alone could show them the way. The true star is the word of God which, amidst of the uncertainty of human discourses, gives us the immense splendour of the Divine Truth.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us allow ourselves to be guided by the star that is the word of God, let us follow it in our lives, walking with the Church in which the Word has pitched his tent. Our road will always be illumined by a light that no other sign can give us. And we too shall become stars for others, a reflection of that light which Christ caused to shine upon us. Amen.
Benedict XVI Homilies 16120