Let us return to the Wise Men from the East. These 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.
How can we not think, in this context, of the task of a Bishop in our own time? 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 mind-set 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.
Here I am reminded of an episode at the very beginning of Christianity which Saint Luke recounts in the Acts of the Apostles. After the speech of Gamaliel, who advised against violence in dealing with the earliest community of believers in Jesus, the Sanhedrin summoned the Apostles and had them flogged. It then forbade them from preaching in the name of Jesus and set them free. Saint Luke continues: “As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the name of Jesus. And every day… they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah” (Acts of the Apostles 5:40ff.). The successors of the Apostles 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 followed the star, and thus came to Jesus, to the great Light which enlightens everyone coming into this world (cf. John 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).
Dear friends, this holds true for us too. It holds true above all for you who are now to be ordained Bishops of the Church of Jesus Christ. If you live with Christ, bound to him anew in this sacrament, then you too will become wise men. Then you will become stars which go before men and women, pointing out to them the right path in life. All of us here are now praying for you, that the Lord may fill you with the light of faith and love. That that restlessness of God for man may seize you, so that all may experience his closeness and receive the gift of his joy. We are praying for you, that the Lord may always grant you the courage and humility of faith. We ask Mary, who showed to the Wise Men the new King of the world (cf. Matthew 2:11), as a loving mother, to show Jesus Christ also to you and to help you to be guides along the way which leads to him. Amen.
Acknowledgment: We thank the Vatican Publisher for allowing us to publish the Homily of Pope Benedict XVI, so that it could be accessed by more people all over the world; as a source of God’s encouragements to all of us.
12 January 2013
20 January 2013
Extracted from the prophet Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7:
Thus says the Lord:
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom my soul delights.
I have endowed him with my spirit
that he may bring true justice to the nations.
He does not cry out or shout aloud,
or make his voice heard in the streets.
He does not break the crushed reed,
nor quench the wavering flame.
Faithfully he brings true justice;
he will neither waver, nor be crushed
until true justice is established on earth,
for the islands are awaiting his law.
I, the Lord, have called you to serve the cause of right;
I have taken you by the hand and formed you;
I have appointed you as covenant of the people and light of the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to free captives from prison,
and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.
1 Bless Yahweh, my soul, Yahweh, my God, how great you are! Clothed in majesty and splendour,
2 wearing the light as a robe! You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
3 build your palace on the waters above, making the clouds your chariot, gliding on the wings of the wind,
4 appointing the winds your messengers, flames of fire your servants.
5 You fixed the earth on its foundations, for ever and ever it shall not be shaken;
6 you covered it with the deep like a garment, the waters overtopping the mountains.
7 At your reproof the waters fled, at the voice of your thunder they sped away,
8 flowing over mountains, down valleys, to the place you had fixed for them;
9 you made a limit they were not to cross, they were not to return and cover the earth.
10 In the ravines you opened up springs, running down between the mountains,
11 supplying water for all the wild beasts; the wild asses quench their thirst,
12 on their banks the birds of the air make their nests, they sing among the leaves.
13 From your high halls you water the mountains, satisfying the earth with the fruit of your works:
14 for cattle you make the grass grow, and for people the plants they need, to bring forth food from the earth,
15 and wine to cheer people's hearts, oil to make their faces glow, food to make them sturdy of heart.
16 The trees of Yahweh drink their fill, the cedars of Lebanon which he sowed;
17 there the birds build their nests, on the highest branches the stork makes its home;
18 for the wild goats there are the mountains, in the crags the coneys find refuge.
19 He made the moon to mark the seasons, the sun knows when to set.
20 You bring on darkness, and night falls, when all the forest beasts roam around;
21 young lions roar for their prey, asking God for their food.
22 The sun rises and away they steal, back to their lairs to lie down,
23 and man goes out to work, to labour till evening falls.
24 How countless are your works, Yahweh, all of them made so wisely! The earth is full of your creatures.
25 Then there is the sea, with its vast expanses teeming with countless creatures, creatures both great and small;
26 there ships pass to and fro, and Leviathan whom you made to sport with.
27 They all depend upon you, to feed them when they need it.
28 You provide the food they gather, your open hand gives them their fill.
29 Turn away your face and they panic; take back their breath and they die and revert to dust.
30 Send out your breath and life begins; you renew the face of the earth.
31 Glory to Yahweh for ever! May Yahweh find joy in his creatures!
32 At his glance the earth trembles, at his touch the mountains pour forth smoke.
33 I shall sing to Yahweh all my life, make music for my God as long as I live.
34 May my musings be pleasing to him, for Yahweh gives me joy.
35 May sinners vanish from the earth, and the wicked exist no more! Bless Yahweh, my soul.