Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Christ--the Center of Cosmos and History



Here is Pope Benedict's homily from yesterday's Mass in celebration of Epiphany. Translation via Papa Ratzinger Forum. It's a particularly beautiful homily and certain passages really struck me which I've highlighted in bold.


Dear brothers and sisters!

The Epiphany - the 'manifestation' of our Lord Jesus Christ - is a multiform mystery.

Latin tradition identifies it with the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem, and therefore interpreted it above all as the revelation of Israel's Messiah to pagan peoples.

Oriental tradition, instead, prefers to identify it with the baptism of Jesus on the river Jordan, when he manifested himself as the only-begotten Son of the heavenly Father, consecrated by the Holy Spirit.

But the Gospel of John asks us to consider even the marriage of Cana as an epiphany, when Jesus, changing water into wine, "revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him" (Jn 2,11).

What should we say, dear brothers, especially we who are priests of the new Covenant, who are daily witnesses and ministers of the 'epiphany' of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist?

In this most holy and most humble sacrament - which reveals and hides his glory at the same time - the Church celebrates all the mysteries of the Lord. "Adoro te devote, latens Deitas" – thus, in adoration, we pray along with St. Thomas Aquinas.

In this year, 2009, which is specially dedicated to astronomy, on the 4th centenary of Galileo Galilei's first observations on the telescope, we cannot fail to pay attention to the symbol of the star, so important in the Gospel account of the Magi (cfr Mt 2,1-12).

In all likelihood, they were astronomers. From their observatories, in the east relative to Palestine, probably in Mesopotamia, they noted the appearance of a new star, and interpreted this celestial phenomenon as the announcement of the birth of a new king, specifically, according to Sacred Scriptures, the king of the Jews (cfr Nm 24,17).

The Fathers of the Church ALSO saw in this singular episode narrated by St. Matthew a sort of cosmological 'revolution' caused by the entry into the world of the Son of God.

For example, St. John Chrysostom writes; "When the star came over the baby, it stopped, and this could be done only by a power that stars do not have: first, to hide itself, then to appear as a new star, and finally to stop" (Homily on the Gospel of Matthew, 7, 3).

St. Gregory Nazianzene states that the birth of Christ 'imposed new orbits on the stars' (cfr Poemi dogmatici, V, 53-64: PG 37, 428-429). Which is clearly to be understood in the symbolic and theological sense.

In effect, while pagan theology divinized the elements and the forces of the cosmos, the Christian faith, bringing Biblical revelation to fulfillment, contemplates one God, Creator and Lord of the entire universe.

It is divine love, incarnated in Christ, that is the fundamental and universal law of Creation. And this must be understood not in a poetic sense, but in a real sense.

That, too, was what Dante meant, when, in the sublime verse that concludes the Paradise section and the entire Divine Comedy, he defines God as "the love that moves the sun and other stars" (Paradise, XXIII, 145).

This means that the stars, the planets, the entire universe, are not governed by a blind force, they do not obey the dynamics of bare matter alone. Therefore, it is not the cosmic elements that must be divinized, but on the contrary, in everything and above everything, there is a personal will, the Spirit of God, which in Christ is revealed as Love (cfr Enc. Spe salvi, 2).

If this is so, then men - as St. Paul writes to the Colossians - are not slaves of the 'cosmic elements' (cfr Col 2,8), but are free, capable of relating themselves to the creative freedom of God.

God is at the origin of everything, and governs everything, not as a cold, anonymous motor, but as Father, Spouse, Friend, Brother, as Logos, 'Word-Reason', who has united himself to our mortal flesh once and for all time and fully shared our condition, manifesting the super-abundant power of his grace.

There is thus in Christianity a particular cosmological conception which found its highest expression in medieval philosophy and theology. Even in our time, this concept shows interesting signs of a new flowering, thanks to the passion and faith of not a few scientists who, in the footsteps of Galileo, renounce neither reason nor faith but value both to the utmost in their reciprocal fecundity.

Christian thought compares the cosmos to a 'book' - even Galileo said so - considering it as the work of an Author who expresses himself through the 'symphony' of Creation. Within this symphony, one finds, at a certain point, that which one would call in musical language a 'solo' [assolo in Italian], a theme entrusted to one instrument or to one voice, which is so important that the significance of the entire work depends on it.

This 'assolo' is Jesus, to whom a regal sign corresponds: the appearance of a new star in the firmament.
Jesus was compared by the early Christian authors to a new sun. According to present astrophysical knowledge, we should compare him to a star that is even more central, not only for our solar system, but for the entire known universe.

In this mysterious design, which is both physical and metaphysical, which led to the appearance of the human being as the crowning element of creation, Jesus came to the world: 'born of woman' (Gal 4,4), as St. Paul writes.

The Son of man assumes into himself heaven and earth, Creation and Creator, flesh and the Spirit. He is the center of the cosmos and of history, because in him are united without confusion the Author and his work.

The earthly Jesus was the peak of creation and history, but the risen Christ goes beyond: the passage, through death, to eternal life anticipates the 'recapitulation' of everything in Christ (cfr Eph 1,10).

Indeed, the Apostle writes, "all things were created through him and for him" (Col 1,16). And precisely through his resurrection from the dead, he became 'preeminent in all things" (Col, 1,18).

Jesus himself affirms this, appearing to his disciples after the resurrection: "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Mt 28,18).

This knowledge sustains the pilgrimage of the Church, Body of Christ, along the paths of history. There is no shadow, however dark, that can obscure the light of Christ.

That is why, for those who believe in Christ, hope never fades, even today, in the face of the great social and economic crises which afflict mankind; in the face of hatred and destructive violence which do not cease to cause bloodshed in many regions of the earth; in the face of the selfishness of man and his pretension of setting himself up as his own god, which can lead to dangerous distortion of the divine design of life and human dignity, of family and the harmony of creation.

Our efforts to free our life and the world from the poisons and contaminations that could destroy the present and the future have value and sense - as I noted in the aforementioned encyclical Spe salvi- even if we apparently are not succeeding or appear to be impotent against overwhelming hostile forces, because our great hope is "based upon God's promises that give us courage and direct our action in good times and bad" (No. 35).

The universal Lordship of Christ is exercised in a special way over the Church. "And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way" (Eph 1,22-23).

Epiphany is the manifestation of the Lord, and by reflection, it is the manifestation of the Church, because the Body cannot be separated from the Head.

The first Reading today, taken from the so-called Third Isaiah, offers us the precise perspective for understanding the reality of the Church as a mystery of reflected light: "Rise up in splendor!", the prophet says, addressing Jerusalem, "Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you" (Is 60,1).

The Church is mankind enlightened, 'baptized' in the glory of God, that is, in his love, in his beauty, in his lordship. The Church knows that mankind itself, with its limitations and its miseries, brings to relief the work of the Holy Spirit.


She cannot boast of anything except her Lord: the light does not come from her, the glory is not hers. But her very joy that no one can take away is this: to be the 'sign and instrument' of him who is 'lumen gentium', light of the people (cfr Conc. Vat. II, Cost. dogm. Lumen gentium, 1).

Dear friends, in this Pauline Year, the Feast of the Epiphany invites the Church, and in her, every community and every single faithful, to imitate - as the Apostle of the Gentiles did - the service which the star rendered to the Magi from the East, leading them to Jesus (cfr St. Leo the Great, Disc. 3 per l’Epifania, 5: PL 54, 244).

What was Paul's life, after his conversion, if not a 'race' to bring to the peoples [of the known world] the light of Christ, and vice versa, to lead the peoples to Christ?

The grace of God made Paul into a 'star' to lead people. His ministry is an example and a stimulus for the Church to rediscover herself as essentially missionary, and to renew her commitment to proclaim the Gospel, especially to those who do not know it yet.

But, looking at St. Paul, we cannot forget that all his preaching was nourished by Sacred Scriptures. Therefore, in the light of the recent General Assembly of the Bishops' Synod, it must be reaffirmed forcefully that the Church and individual Christians can be a light that leads to Christ only if they nourish themselves assiduously and intimately in the Word of God.

It is the Word which enlightens, purifies, converts - not us, certainly. We are nothing but servants of the Word of life. That is how Paul thought of himself and his ministry: a service to the Gospel. "All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it" (1 Cor 9,23)

And so should the Church, every ecclesial community, every bishop and every priest, be able to say: I will do everything for the Gospel.

Dear brothers and sisters, pray for us, the pastors of the Church, so that, by assimilating daily the Word of God, we can transmit it faithfully to our brothers. We too, pray for you, the faithful, because every Christian is called to Baptism and Confirmation in order to announce Christ, the light of the world, in words and with the testimony of his life.

May the Virgin Mary, Star of Evangelization, help us to fulfill this mission together, and may St. Paul, Apostle of the Gentiles, intercede for us in heaven. Amen.

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