Benedict XVI’s sermon for Epiphany and consecration of bishops

“Let yourselves be touched by God’s unrest, so that God’s longing for man may be fulfilled.”

The Holy Father’s sermon for Epiphany and consecration of bishops.  My emphases and comments:

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The Epiphany is a feast of light. “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Is 60:1). With these words of the prophet Isaiah, the Church describes the content of the feast. [“The content of the feast”… a nice way to think about it.  Light.  Indeed… Light from Light.] He who is the true light, and by whom we too are made to be light, has indeed come into the world. He gives us the power to become children of God (cf. Jn 1:9,12). The journey of the wise men from the East [stella duce] is, for the liturgy, just the beginning of a great procession that continues throughout history. [Classic Ratzinger.  The wise and simple of the world must still journey continuously so that they can adore the Lord.] With the Magi, humanity’s pilgrimage to Jesus Christ begins – to the God who was born in a stable, who died on the Cross and who, having risen from the dead, remains with us always, until the consummation of the world (cf. Mt 28:20). The Church reads this account from Matthew’s Gospel alongside the vision of the prophet Isaiah that we heard in the first reading: the journey of these men is just the beginning. Before them came the shepherds – simple souls, who dwelt closer to the God who became a child, and could more easily “go over” to him (Lk 2:15) and recognize him as Lord. But now the wise of this world are also coming. Great and small, kings and slaves, men of all cultures and all peoples are coming. The men from the East are the first, followed by many more throughout the centuries. After the great vision of Isaiah, the reading from the Letter to the Ephesians expresses the same idea in rather sober and simple terms: the Gentiles share the same heritage (cf. Eph 3:6). Psalm 2 puts it like this: “I shall bequeath you the nations, put the ends of the earth in your possession” (v. 8).

The wise men from the East lead the way. They open up the path of the Gentiles to Christ. During this holy Mass, I will ordain two priests to the episcopate, I will consecrate them as shepherds of God’s people. According to the words of Jesus, part of a shepherd’s task is to go ahead of the flock (cf. Jn 10:4). [procedere] So, allowing for all the differences in vocation and mission, we may well look to these figures, the first Gentiles to find the pathway to Christ, for indications concerning the task of bishops. What kind of people were they? The experts tell us that they belonged to the great astronomical tradition that had developed in Mesopotamia over the centuries and continued to flourish. But this information of itself is not enough. No doubt there were many astronomers in ancient Babylon, but only these few set off to follow the star that they recognized as the star of the promise, pointing them along the path towards the true King and Saviour. They were, as we might say, men of science, but not simply in the sense that they were searching for a wide range of knowledge: they wanted something more. [This is the scientia et sapientia discussion.] They wanted to understand what being human is all about. [Nisi credideritis non intelligetis.] They had doubtless heard of the prophecy of the Gentile prophet Balaam: “A star shall come forth out of Jacob and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel” (Num 24:17). They explored this promise. They were men with restless hearts, not satisfied with the superficial and the ordinary. They were men in search of the promise, in search of God. And they were watchful men, capable of reading God’s signs, his soft and penetrating language. [Ah. The apophatic.] But they were also courageous, yet humble: we can imagine them having to endure a certain amount of mockery for setting off to find the King of the Jews, at the cost of so much effort. [And so too anyone seeking the Lord today.] For them it mattered little what this or that person, what even influential and clever people thought and said about them. For them it was a question of truth itself, not human opinion. Hence they took upon themselves the sacrifices and the effort of a long and uncertain journey. Their humble courage was what enabled them to bend down before the child of poor people and to recognize in him the promised King, the one they had set out, on both their outward and their inward journey, to seek and to know. [So, he is also describing the life of bishops.]

Dear friends, how can we fail to recognize in all this certain essential elements of episcopal ministry? [See?] The bishop too must be a man of restless heart, [Cf. Augustine, Confessions.] not satisfied with the ordinary things of this world, but inwardly driven by his heart’s unrest to draw ever closer to God, to seek his face, to recognize him more and more, to be able to love him more and more. [Augustine, as a man of his time, understood that a things weight came from the things desire or need to go to the place it belongs, rather than a force working on it from outside.  Therefore, the heart is drawn from its own need toward God and it will be restless until it reaches its point of rest.  Augustine says “Amor meus pondus meum… My love is my weight.”] The bishop too must be a man of watchful heart, who recognizes the gentle language of God and understands how to distinguish truth from mere appearance. The bishop too must be filled with the courage of humility, [A great paring, that.] not asking what prevailing opinion says about him, but [like the Magi] following the criterion of God’s truth and taking his stand accordingly – opportune – importune. [2 Timothy 4.  This is a phrase often repeated in the celebration of Holy Mass with the Extraordinary Form during weekdays.] He must be able to go ahead and mark out the path. He must go ahead, in the footsteps of him who went ahead of us all because he is the true shepherd, the true star of the promise: Jesus Christ. And he must have the humility to bend down before the God who made himself so tangible and so simple that he contradicts our foolish pride in its reluctance to see God so close and so small. He must devote his life to adoration of the incarnate Son of God, which constantly points him towards the path.

The liturgy of episcopal ordination interprets the essential features of this ministry in eight questions addressed to the candidates, each beginning with the word “Vultis? – Do you want?” These questions direct the will and mark out the path to be followed. Here I shall briefly cite just a few of the most important words of this presentation, where we find explicit mention of the elements we have just considered in connection with the wise men of today’s feast. The bishops’ task is praedicare Evangelium Christi, it is custodire et dirigere, it is pauperibus se misericordes praebere, it is indesinenter orare. Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, going ahead and leading, guarding the sacred heritage of our faith, showing mercy and charity to the needy and the poor, thus mirroring God’s merciful love for us, and finally, praying without ceasing: these are the fundamental features of the episcopal ministry. Praying without ceasing means: never losing contact with God, letting ourselves be constantly touched by him in the depths of our hearts and, in this way, being penetrated by his light. Only someone who actually knows God can lead others to God. Only someone who leads people to God leads them along the path of life.

The restless heart of which we spoke earlier, echoing Saint Augustine, is the heart that is ultimately satisfied with nothing less than God, and in this way becomes a loving heart. Our heart is restless for God and remains so, even if every effort is made today, by means of most effective anaesthetizing methods, to deliver people from this unrest. [Anaestitizing!  When we are distracted by myriad signs, for example, we cannot encounter the mystery which transforms (or light that penetrates or God who speaks softly).] But not only are we restless for God: God’s heart is restless for us. [Metaphorically, of course.] God is waiting for us. He is looking for us. He knows no rest either, until he finds us. God’s heart is restless, and that is why he set out on the path towards us – to Bethlehem, to Calvary, from Jerusalem to Galilee and on to the very ends of the earth. [And the father went down the road to meet his prodigal son.] God is restless for us, he looks out for people willing to “catch” his unrest, his passion for us, people who carry within them the searching of their own hearts and at the same time open themselves to be touched by God’s search for us. Dear friends, this was the task of the Apostles: to receive God’s unrest for man and then to bring God himself to man. And this is your task as successors of the Apostles: let yourselves be touched by God’s unrest, so that God’s longing for man may be fulfilled.

The wise men followed the star. Through the language of creation, they discovered the God of history. To be sure – the language of creation alone is not enough. [Scientia et sapientia… reason and faith…  intellect and authority…] Only God’s word, which we encounter in sacred Scripture, was able to mark out their path definitively. Creation and Scripture, reason and faith, [There it is!] must come together, so as to lead us forward to the living God. There has been much discussion over what kind of star it was that the wise men were following. Some suggest a planetary constellation, or a supernova, [NB…] that is to say one of those stars that is initially quite weak, in which an inner explosion releases a brilliant light [There is that contrast again of weak and strong.] for a certain time, or a comet, etc. This debate we may leave to the experts. The great star, [Remember the Exsultet.] the true supernova that leads us on, is Christ himself. He is as it were the explosion of God’s love, which causes the great white light of his heart to shine upon the world. [Sacred Heart as supernova.] And we may add: the wise men from the East, who feature in today’s Gospel, like all the saints, have themselves gradually become constellations of God that mark out the path. In all these people, being touched by God’s word has, as it were, released an explosion of light, through which God’s radiance shines upon our world and shows us the path. The saints are stars of God, by whom we let ourselves be led to him for whom our whole being longs. [Augustine remarks that saints are perhaps better models for us than Christ Himself is. Christ is perfect and His model is impossible.  Saints are closer to the possible for us.] Dear friends: you followed the star Jesus Christ when you said “yes” to the priesthood and to the episcopacy. And no doubt smaller stars have enlightened and helped you not to lose your way. In the litany of saints we call upon all these stars of God, that they may continue to shine upon you and show you the path. As you are ordained bishops, you too are called to be stars of God for men, leading them along the path towards the true light, towards Christ. So let us pray to all the saints at this hour, asking them that you may always live up to this mission you have received, to show God’s light to mankind.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. FrCharles says:

    Sapientia sapida scientia est.

  2. Centristian says:

    Fiddlebacks for everyone! And would you get a load of that miter? Two thumbs up.

  3. irishgirl says:

    Wow-simply wow. Both the Holy Father’s homily and the picture of the new Bishop about to be consecrated.

  4. Johnno says:

    In regard to the star… I’d read that apparently the actual Greek texts do not refer to what we commonly know as the Star of Bethlehem with the word ‘star’, but more accurately ‘light’, so the wise men followed a ‘light’ in the sky and not a star though it could be perceived as one, which rather goes on to suggest that it is not some known astronomical body, but rather something supernatural. Likely an angel… or as others suggest, that light is the Hebrew ‘shekelah’ glory (if I’m getting that right), a manifestation of God’s glory, His own divine presence as light, the same light present at the beginning of Creation when God said, “Let there be Light”, and the source of that light was God Himself. God Himself acted as the sun to the earth so there would be evening and morning, until He created the heavenly bodies which are the actual sun and moon to rule these periods. The angelic hosts are also said to have been created in that light, and the actions of God separating the light from the darkness, calling the light day and the darkness night are also said to be allusions to the separating of Satan and the rebellious angels from Michael and the faithful angels. The stars are also used in symbolic terms to refer to the saints, the brighter ones being more holy, and in cases to holy men in the symbolic sense on Earth. In Revelation we read about the Dragon swiping away a third of the stars in the sky, this alludes to Satan corrupting a third of the angels, as well as his corrupting some of the holy men on earth: priests, bishops etc. So the Scriptures warn us about these things. Anyway, just tossing that out there since it’s fascinating stuff…

  5. thereseb says:

    Dear me – that bishop looks younger than me. Now I know I am getting old.

  6. xsosdid says:

    Wow, tremendous sermon!

  7. benedetta says:

    Quite an amazing homily to read. And thanks for the beautiful photos. Happy Feast.

  8. SimonDodd says:

    An interesting picture, he paints, of the Mass as a participation of a great journey, a procession, a pilgrimage, one that was begun by the Magi and which continues throughout history. And it begs the question: In which journey, procession, or pilgrimage has the guide or leader ever stood at the front of the group facing the pilgrims?

  9. Tom T says:

    As an interesting side-note, a recent article from CathNews dated Dec. 21 2011 states that an ancient document found in the Vatican Archives cast new light on the story on the Nativity and the three wise men. According to researchers, reports the Times, in an article published by the Australian, the revelation of the Magi, reputedly a first hand account of their journey to pay tribute to the son of God, only now has been translated from ancient Syriac. It is an eighth-century copy of a story that was written less than 100 years after the Gospel of Matthew, the original source of the Bible story. The newly translated tale differs in major respects from Matthews very brief account. The Magi of the Bible have long been associated with Persian mystics, but those in the Revelation are from much farther afield-from the semi mythical land of Shir, now associated with China. They are said to be descendants of Seth, the third son of Adam, and to belong to a sect that believed in silent prayer. The biggest divergence is that
    according to the revelation there were scores of Magi and it gives detailed account of their prayers and rituals. The story relates that Seth passed down a prophecy that a star would appear that would signal the birth of God in human form. The Magi waited thousands of years until the day the star appeared. Pax.

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