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by Sr M.Pauline Burling

Today’s feast has several fine images which could provide the starting point for a good meditation: the guiding star, the three gifts, the camels, the wise men themselves or the mighty, yet fearful King Herod.

Instead I would like to take the lines of our reading from Paul’s letter to Titus 3:4-5

            ‘When the kindness and love of our Saviour appeared, he saved us.  It was not because of any good works we ourselves had done but because of his own mercy that he saved us through the washing by which the Holy Spirit gives us new birth and life.’


God himself presents the most touching image of his love and kindness by choosing to become a baby in all its helplessness.  ‘He who was in the form of God emptied himself … being born in the likeness of men’.   And we know how this sentence from the letter to the Philippians continues: ‘…and being found in human form humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.’ 

God’s mercy has come to us through outward poverty, weakness and degradation.  There isn’t much to see and that’s why people have shaken their heads and walked away from the crib and the cross in unbelief.  However, we as believers know that only by attending to Our Lord’s signs and words can we discover and respond to the hidden truths of the Christian call. 

Somehow the Magi did it before us:  Following their star, they first sought the new born king in the king’s palace, the proper and fitting place for a new born ruler –and found nothing but worldly power.  Moreover, the scientists of their day could deliver some hard facts about the exact place and the times - but no more.  And yet in faith guided by wisdom the Magi moved on, saw, believed and worshipped.

The act of worship,  ADORO in Latin (I adore) was one of the two key words the Jesuit Alfred Delp chose when meditating on the feast of the Epiphany in his prison cell in 1945.  The other word was SUSCIPE  (Receive).  So on this feast day, Alfred Delp who had been locked up in his prison cell and with bound hands for over 7 months, is kneeling on the floor uttering ADORO and SUSCIPE …

Four days later he was condemned to death and finally executed on 2 February 1945. 

In his meditation he reflected on the necessity of an inner freedom, which alone enables a person to withstand all kinds of exterior constraints.  If there is no freedom ‘within’, which is inaccessible to any outward condition or force, the person becomes an object or a number.  This happened and happens in any kind of dictatorship whether Nazi, Communist or other extremists.  Moreover, one could say that many people today being enslaved or addicted  -  also lack this inner freedom.

According to Delp a human being can have a share in this freedom only by going beyond his/her limitations, not in some form of rebellion, however, but rather as a response to a call from God, because 'the birth of human freedom is born in an encounter with God.' [1] 

For Delp these two words Adoro and Suscipe express man's real freedom and the right attitude towards God - which the Magi symbolise.

Adoro is also the beginning of the hymn 'Adoro te devote' attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas.  Delp recited this prayer of adoration frequently when adoring the Blessed Sacrament in his cell, (he managed to say Mass secretly on most days)  but ( as a good Jesuit) he also prayed St. Ignatius' Suscipe [2] as an act of dedication.   

“Lord Jesus Christ, take all my freedom,

My memory, my understanding and my will. 

All that I have and cherish you have given me.

I surrender it all to be guided by your will.

Your grace and your love are wealth enough for me.

Give me these, Lord Jesus, and I ask for nothing more.”







[1]Delp, A. Gesammelte Schriften, Bd. IV, ed. Bleistein, Knecht, Frankfurt, 1985, p. 217

[2] The Catholic Prayer Book from Downside Abbey, T&T Clark, Edinburgh, 1999,  p. 98 or  Breviary Vol I p.654* Self – Dedication