Vatican City (AsiaNews) - " the Wise Men from the East who, guided by the star, made their way to the manger of Bethlehem, are only the beginning of a great procession which winds throughout history," a "pilgrimage of the nations to Jesus Christ ... The Bishop has the duty not only to walk on this journey together with others, but to go before them, showing them the way".
On the Solemnity of the Epiphany ("the appearance of the divine") of the Lord Benedict XVI offered a reflection on "what kind of men" Magi were, but also "how a man who will receive the laying on the hands in episcopal ordination must be". The link between the feast and the figure becomes a real "identikit" of the bishop is the fact that today - in a tradition desired by John Paul II - the pope ordained some priests to the episcopate. In addition to Msgr. Georg Gänswein, secretary of the Holy Father, who was elected Titular Archbishop of Urbisaglia and appointed prefect of the papal household, he ordained Msgr. Angelo Vincenzo Zani, Titular Archbishop of Volturno and Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Msgr. Fortunatus Nwachukwu, Titular Archbishop of Acquaviva and Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua, Msgr. Nicolas Henry Marie Denis Thevenin, Titular Archbishop of Eclano and Apostolic Nuncio in Guatemala.
In his masterful homily, the Pope
first explains the meaning of the feast. The
Magi who go to Bethlehem, " the men from the
East embody the world of the peoples, the Church of the Gentiles - the men and
women who in every age set out on the way which leads to the Child of
Bethlehem, to offer him homage as the Son of God and to bow down before him. The
Church calls this feast "Epiphany" - the appearance of the Godhead. If we
consider the fact that from the very beginning men and women of every place, of
every continent, of all the different cultures, mentalities and lifestyles,
have been on the way to Christ, then we can truly say that this pilgrimage and
this encounter with God in the form of a Child is an epiphany of God's goodness
and loving kindness for humanity (cf. Tit 3:4)".
The pope first outlines "what kind of men" the Magi were. " These men who set out towards the unknown were, in any event, men with a restless heart. Men driven by a restless quest for God and the salvation of the world. They were filled with expectation, not satisfied with their secure income and their respectable place in society. They were looking for something greater. They were no doubt learned men, quite knowledgeable about the heavens and probably possessed of a fine philosophical formation. But they desired more than simply knowledge about things. They wanted above all else to know what is essential. They wanted to know how we succeed in being human. And therefore they wanted to know if God exists, and where and how he exists. Whether he is concerned about us and how we can encounter him. Nor did they want just to know. They wanted to understand the truth about ourselves and about God and the world. Their outward pilgrimage was an expression of their inward journey, the inner pilgrimage of their hearts. They were men who sought God and were ultimately on the way towards him. They were seekers after God".
Immediately the Pope then asks "what sort of man must he be, upon whom hands are laid in episcopal ordination in the Church of Jesus Christ? We can say that he must above all be a man concerned for God, for only then will he also be truly concerned about men. Inversely, we could also say that a Bishop must be a man concerned for others, one who is concerned about what happens to them. He must be a man for others. But he can only truly be so if he is a man seized by God, if concern for God has also become for him concern for God's creature who is man. Like the Wise Men from the East, a Bishop must not be someone who merely does his job and is content with that. No, he must be gripped by God's concern for men and women. He must in some way think and feel with God. Human beings have an innate restlessness for God, but this restlessness is a participation in God's own restlessness for us. Since God is concerned about us, he follows us even to the crib, even to the Cross. "Thou with weary steps hast sought me, crucified hast dearly bought me, may thy pains not be in vain", the Church prays in the Dies Irae. The restlessness of men for God and hence the restlessness of God for men must unsettle the Bishop. This is what we mean when we say that, above all else, the Bishop must be a man of faith. For faith is nothing less than being interiorly seized by God, something which guides us along the pathways of life. Faith draws us into a state of being seized by the restlessness of God and it makes us pilgrims who are on an inner journey towards the true King of the world and his promise of justice, truth and love. On this pilgrimage the Bishop must go ahead, he must be the guide pointing out to men and women the way to faith, hope and love.
Faith's inner pilgrimage towards God occurs above all in prayer. Saint Augustine once said that prayer is ultimately nothing more than the realization and radicalization of our yearning for God. Instead of "yearning", we could also translate the word as "restlessness" and say that prayer would detach us from our false security, from our being enclosed within material and visible realities, and would give us a restlessness for God and thus an openness to and concern for one another. The Bishop, as a pilgrim of God, must be above all a man of prayer. He must be in constant inner contact with God; his soul must be open wide to God. He must bring before God his own needs and the needs of others, as well as his joys and the joys of others, and thus in his own way establish contact between God and the world in communion with Christ, so that Christ's light can shine in the world.. "
Still, the Magi were "also, and above all, men of courage, the courage and humility born of faith. Courage was needed to grasp the meaning of the star as a sign to set out, to go forth - towards the unknown, the uncertain, on paths filled with hidden dangers. We can imagine that their decision was met with derision: the scorn of those realists who could only mock the reveries of such men. Anyone who took off on the basis of such uncertain promises, risking everything, could only appear ridiculous. But for these men, inwardly seized by God, the way which he pointed out was more important than what other people thought. For them, seeking the truth meant more than the taunts of the world, so apparently clever".
The bishop is a man of "courage": "the humility of faith, of sharing the faith of the Church of every age, will constantly be in conflict with the prevailing wisdom of those who cling to what seems certain. Anyone who lives and proclaims the faith of the Church is on many points out of step with the prevalent way of thinking, even in our own day. Today's regnant agnosticism has its own dogmas and is extremely intolerant regarding anything that would question it and the criteria it employs. Therefore the courage to contradict the prevailing mindset is particularly urgent for a Bishop today. He must be courageous. And this courage or forcefulness does not consist in striking out or in acting aggressively, but rather in allowing oneself to be struck and to be steadfast before the principles of the prevalent way of thinking. The courage to stand firm in the truth is unavoidably demanded of those whom the Lord sends like sheep among wolves. "Those who fear the Lord will not be timid", says the Book of Sirach (34:16). The fear of God frees us from the fear of men. It liberates".
Benedict XVI recalls the experience of the apostles, flogged because of the name of Jesus and yet they proclaimed the Good News (cf. Acts 5.40 ff.) "The successors of the Apostles" continued the Pope "must also expect to be repeatedly beaten, by contemporary methods, if they continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that can be heard and understood. Then they can rejoice that they have been considered worthy of suffering for him. Like the Apostles, we naturally want to convince people and in this sense to obtain their approval. Naturally, we are not provocative; on the contrary we invite all to enter into the joy of that truth which shows us the way. The approval of the prevailing wisdom, however, is not the criterion to which we submit. Our criterion is the Lord himself. If we defend his cause, we will constantly gain others to the way of the Gospel. But, inevitably, we will also be beaten by those who live lives opposed to the Gospel, and then we can be grateful for having been judged worthy to share in the passion of Christ".
"The Wise Men - concluded the pope - followed the star, and thus came to Jesus, to the great Light which enlightens everyone coming into this world (cf. Jn 1:9). As pilgrims of faith, the Wise Men themselves became stars shining in the firmament of history and they show us the way. The saints are God's true constellations, which light up the nights of this world, serving as our guides. Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Philippians, told his faithful that they must shine like stars in the world (cf. 2:15).".
The bishops, if they live "with Christ, bound to him anew in this sacrament" they too will become "stars that go before men and show them the right path of life."