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Traditions associated with Epiphany vary based on location

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For The Dialog

Father Stanislao Esposito didn’t anxiously await Christmas morning to see what Santa had left him while growing up in Italy. Instead, he awaited a Jan. 6 visit by La Befana, a good witch, who brought gifts for boys and girls.

“The idea was that since Jesus got his gifts on the Epiphany, so did we,” said the pastor of St. Mary Star of the Sea-Holy Savior in Ocean City, Md. Read more »

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Magi’s hearts were open to something new, pope says on Epiphany

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Magi had the courage to set out on a journey in the hope of finding something new, unlike Herod who was full of himself and unwilling to change his ways, Pope Francis said.

The Wise Men who set out from the East in search of Jesus personify all those who long for God and reflect “all those who in their lives have let their hearts be anesthetized,” the pope said Jan. 6, the feast of the Epiphany.

People in traditional attire endure cold weather during the annual parade marking the feast of the Epiphany in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Jan. 6. (CNS/Paul Haring)

People in traditional attire endure cold weather during the annual parade marking the feast of the Epiphany in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Jan. 6. (CNS/Paul Haring)

“The Magi experienced longing; they were tired of the usual fare. They were all too familiar with, and weary of, the Herods of their own day. But there, in Bethlehem, was a promise of newness, of gratuity,” he said.

Thousands of people were gathered in St. Peter’s Basilica as the pope entered to the sounds of the choir singing “Angels we have heard on high” in Latin. Before taking his place in front of the altar, the pope stood in front of a statue of baby Jesus, spending several minutes in veneration before kissing it.

The pope said that the Magi adoring the newborn king highlight two specific actions: seeing and worshipping.

Seeing the star of Bethlehem did not prompt them to embark on their journey but rather, “they saw the star because they had already set out,” he said.

“Their hearts were open to the horizon and they could see what the heavens were showing them, for they were guided by an inner restlessness. They were open to something new,” the pope said.

This restlessness, he continued, awakens a longing for God that exists in the hearts of all believers who know “that the Gospel is not an event of the past but of the present.”

It is holy longing for God “that helps us keep alert in the face of every attempt to reduce and impoverish our life. A holy longing for God is the memory of faith, which rebels before all prophets of doom,” the pope said.

Recalling the biblical figures of Simeon, the prodigal son, and Mary Magdalene, the pope said this longing for God “draws us out of our iron-clad isolation, which makes us think that nothing can change,” and helps us seek Christ.

However, the figure of King Herod presents a different attitude of bewilderment and fear that, when confronted with something new, “closes in on itself and its own achievements, its knowledge, its successes.”

The quest of the Magi led them first to Herod’s palace that, although it befits the birth of king, is only a sign of “power, outward appearances and superiority. Idols that promise only sorrow and enslavement,” he said.

“There, in the palace, they did not see the star guiding them to discover a God who wants to be loved. For only under the banner of freedom, not tyranny, is it possible to realize that the gaze of this unknown but desired king does not abase, enslave, or imprison us,” the pope said.

Unlike the Magi, the pope added, Herod is unable to worship the newborn king because he was unwilling to change his way of thinking and “did not want to stop worshiping himself, believing that everything revolved around him.”

Christians are called to imitate the wise men who, “weary of the Herods of their own day,” set out in search of the promise of something new.

“The Magi were able to worship, because they had the courage to set out. And as they fell to their knees before the small, poor and vulnerable infant, the unexpected and unknown child of Bethlehem, they discovered the glory of God,” the pope said.

After the Mass, Pope Francis greeted tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany.

A colorful parade led by the sounds of trumpets and drums, people dressed in traditional and festive clothing contributed to the cheerful atmosphere despite the chilly weather.

Explaining the significance of the Wise Men who presented their gifts to Christ after adoring him, the pope gave the crowds a gift: a small booklet of reflections on mercy.

The book, entitled “Icons of Mercy,” presents “six Gospel episodes that recall the experience of people transformed by Jesus’ love: the sinful woman, Zacchaeus, Matthew, the publican, the Samaritan, the good thief and the apostle Peter. Six icons of mercy,” the papal almoner’s office said.

Together with the homeless, poor men and women and refugees, religious men and women distributed the books to the crowd. As a thank you, Pope also offered more than 300 homeless men and women sandwiches and drinks.

 

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Avoid temptation with ‘spiritual shrewdness,’ says pope on feast of Epiphany

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Christians should go out into the world to follow God but use “holy cunning” to guard against the snares of temptation, Pope Francis said.

The pope made the remarks at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Jan. 6 on the feast of the Epiphany, which marks the manifestation of Jesus as savior to the world.

A woman dressed as royalty walks under a canopy as period enactors participate in an Epiphany parade in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Jan. 6. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In his homily, the pope said that life is a journey, and like the three Wise Men, or Magi, people are looking for the “fullness of truth and of love which we Christians recognize in Jesus, the light of the world.”

Jesus is found by reading the world of God’s creation and the sacred Scripture, which nourishes the soul and “enables us to encounter the living Jesus, to experience him and his love,” the pope said.

On life’s journey, we need to be “attentive, alert and listen to God who speaks to us,” and be prepared when we encounter “darkness, suspicion, fear and jealousy.”

This happened to the Magi when they briefly lost sight of the star to Bethlehem and passed through Jerusalem where they encountered King Herod, who was “distrustful and preoccupied with the birth of a frail child whom he thought of as a rival,” the pope said.

Jesus wasn’t interested in usurping the king, “a wretched puppet,” the pope said, but in overthrowing the devil.

Nonetheless, the king and his counselors felt threatened and feared “a whole world built on power, on success, on possession, on corruption was being thrown into crisis by a child,” the pope said.

“The Magi were able to overcome that dangerous moment of darkness before Herod, because they believed in the Scriptures,” and believed the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, he said.

They were able to flee the darkness and resume their journey toward God because of a “holy cunning, that is, a spiritual shrewdness which enables us to recognize danger and to avoid it.”

Pope Francis said Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” means Christians must welcome God into their hearts and “cultivate that spiritual cunning which is able to combine simplicity with astuteness.”

The Magi “teach us how not to fall into the snares of darkness and how to defend ourselves from the shadows which seek to envelop our life,” the pope said.

Like the Magi, we need to “safeguard the faith with holy cunning, guard it from that darkness which, many times, is also disguised as light,” he said.

“Shield it from the song of the Sirens,” who seek to distract us from taking the right path, guarding one’s faith “with prayer, with love, with charity.”

The Magi also teach us “not to be content with a life of mediocrity, of playing it safe, but to let ourselves be attracted always by what is good, true and beautiful, by God,” he said.

Look to the heavens as they did, aim high and “follow the great desires of our heart” while also being wise to the deception of appearances, by what the “world considers great, wise and powerful.”

“We must not be content with appearances,” but press on, past the darkness and worldly temptations, to the periphery, to Bethlehem, to find the true light and king of the universe, the pope said.

After the Mass, tens of thousands of people streamed to St. Peter’s Square to listen to the pope’s noon prayer and to visit the Vatican’s Nativity scene.

Like the star that appeared in the night sky over Bethlehem, God is the first to appear and signal to the world his presence, the pope said.

God is always the first to take the initiative; he is the one who invites and then patiently waits.

“The Lord calls you, the Lord looks for you, the Lord waits for you,” the pope said. “The Lord doesn’t proselytize. He gives love and this love looks for you and waits for you, you! Even if right now you don’t believe or you are far” from God.

The pope noted Jan. 6 marked World Day of Missionary Childhood, and he praised the efforts by Christian children to spread the Gospel and reach out to the less fortunate.

The pope also extended a Christmas greeting to Eastern Christians who follow the Julian calendar and were preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ Jan. 7.

He asked that Jesus “strengthen in everyone their faith, hope and love, and give comfort to the Christian communities experiencing ordeals.”

 

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