By Christopher Wells
“In our day, it is particularly necessary for us, both as individuals and communities, to devote more time to worship,” said Pope Francis at the Mass on Epiphany. “We need to learn ever better how to contemplate the Lord,” following the example of the Wise Men, the Magi, who came to Bethlehem to worship the Baby Jesus. “Like them,” the Pope said, “we want to fall down and worship the Lord.”
Taking his cue from the liturgical readings for the day, Pope Francis focused on three phrases “that can help us to understand more fully what it means to be worshippers of the Lord: ‘to lift up our eyes,’ ‘to set out on a journey,’ and ‘to see.’”
To lift up our eyes
The first expression is taken from the prophet Isaiah, who encouraged the people of Israel, after they had returned from exile, to “lift up” their eyes and look around, despite their problems.
This prophetic call to “look around” does not mean ignoring difficulties and troubles, much less denying reality. Rather, “it is a matter of viewing problems and anxieties in a new way, knowing that God is aware of our troubles, attentive to our prayers, and not indifferent to the tears we shed.”
This is an invitation to trust continually in God, which in turn leads to “filial gratitude,” the Pope said. “When we lift our eyes to God, our problems do not go away, but we feel certain that the Lord grants us the strength to deal with them.” Filial gratitude, and joy based on confidence in God “awaken within us a desire to worship the Lord.”
To set out on a journey
Pope Francis noted that before the Magi could worship Jesus in Bethlehem, they had to undertake a long journey. “A journey,” he said, “always involves a change.” For us, too, our journey through life involves many changes, even mistakes and failures that can nonetheless become learning experiences. “With the passage of time,” the Pope said, “life’s trials and difficulties, experience in faith, help to purify our hearts, making them humbler and thus more open to God.”
Instead of becoming discouraged by the difficulties we experience in life, he continued, “we should make them opportunities to progress towards the Lord Jesus… By keeping our gaze fixed on the Lord, we will find the strength needed to persevere with renewed joy.”
This leads to the third phrase: “to see.” When the Magi arrived in Bethlehem and found Jesus with His mother Mary, “they fell down and worshipped him.”
Pope Francis highlighted how remarkable this was: “Worshipping was an act of homage reserved for sovereigns and high dignitaries.” But although the Magi knew Jesus to be the King of the Jews, they saw only “a poor Child and His mother.” “They were able to ‘see’ beyond appearances,” the Pope said.
In order to worship the Lord, Pope Francis explained, we, too, “need to ‘see’ beyond the veil of things visible, which often prove deceptive.” In the Gospel, Herod and the people of Jerusalem “represent a worldliness enslaved to appearances, and immediate attractions,” and so are unable to recognize Jesus for Who He really is.
The Magi, however, look at things differently, with an approach that the Pope describes as “theological realism”: “a way of perceiving the objective reality of things… a way of ‘seeing’ that transcends the visible and makes it possible to worship the Lord who is often hidden in everyday situations, in the poor, and in those on the fringes… a way of seeing things that is not impressed by sound and fury, but seeks in every situation the things that truly matter.”
Pope Francis concluded his homily with the prayer that the Lord “might make us true worshippers, capable of showing by our lives His loving plan for all humanity.”