SOLEMNITY OF THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS POPE JOHN PAUL II
Sunday, 6 January 2002
1. "Lumen gentium ... Christus", "Christ is the light of the nations" (Lumen gentium, n. 1).
The theme of light dominates the Solemnities of Christmas and Epiphany that in the first centuries - and still today in the East - were celebrated together in a single great "feast of lights". The light appears in the warm intimacy of the Holy Night of Christmas Eve; Christ, the Light of humanity, is born. He is the "sun that shall dawn upon us from on high" (Lk 1,78). He is the sun that came into the world to dispel the darkness of evil and flood it with the splendour of divine love. John the Evangelist writes: "The true light that enlightens every man came into the world" (Jn 1,9).
In becoming flesh, the Son of God was manifested as light. He is not just an external light in the history of the world, but a light within the human person, in his personal history. He became one of us, giving infinite meaning and immortality to our earthly existence. Thus, with full respect for human freedom, Christ became "lux mundi - the light of the world". He is the light that shines in the darkness (cf. Jn 1,5).
How striking is the symbol of the star that recurs in all the images of Christmas and Epiphany! It still gives rise to deep feelings although, as with so many other sacred signs, it risks becoming common place because of its commercial overuse. Restored to its original context, the star we contemplate over the crib also speaks to the mind and heart of the man of the third millennium. It speaks to secularized man, awakening in him the nostalgia of his condition as pilgrim in search of the truth with a deep desire for the absolute. The etymology of the word "desire" reminds us of the experience of sailors who find their way at night by observing the stars called in Latin the "sidera".
3. Who does not feel the need for a "star" to guide him on his earthly journey? Individuals and nations both feel the need. To satisfy the universal yearning for salvation, the Lord himself chose a people to be the guiding star for "all the families of the earth" (Gn 12,3). With the Incarnation of his Son, God then expanded his choice to every people, no matter what their race or culture. Thus the Church came into being, formed of men and women who, "united in Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, press onwards towards the kingdom of the Father and are bearers of a message of salvation intended for all men" (Gaudium et spes, n. 1).
The oracle of the Prophet Isaiah that we heard in the first reading rings out for the entire ecclesial community: "Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.... And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising" (Is 60,1.3).
Others will be the pastors of particular Churches: you, Bishop Daniel Mizonzo, will guide the Diocese of Nkayi, in the Republic of the Congo; you, Bishop Louis Portella, that of Kinkala, also in the Republic of the Congo. To you, Bishop Marcel Utembi Tapa, I have entrusted the Diocese of Mahagi-Nioka, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and to you, Bishop Franco Agostinelli, that of Grosseto in Italy. You, Bishop Amândio José Tomás, as Auxiliary Bishop, will help the Archbishop of Évora in Portugal.
Lastly, you, Bishop Vittorio Lanzani, as Delegate of the Fabric of St Peter's, will continue your service to the Church here in the Vatican, in this Patriarchal Basilica that is particularly dear to you.
Dear Brothers, I return to that unforgettable moment and once again offer to each of you the programme of the new evangelization. I repeat to you the Redeemer's words: "Duc in altum!". Do not be afraid of the darkness of the world, because the one who is calling you is "the light of the world" (Jn 8,12), "the bright morning star" (Apoc 22,16).
Jesus, one day you said to your disciples: "You are the light of the world" (Mt 5,14); may you grant that the Gospel witness of these Brothers of ours may shine out for the people of our time. Make their mission effective, so that all whom I have entrusted to their pastoral care may always glorify our Father who is in heaven (cf. Mt 5,16).
Mother of the Incarnate Word, faithful Virgin, may you keep these new bishops under your constant protection so that they may be courageous missionaries of the Gospel, for you are the faithful reflection of the love of Christ, who is the light of humanity and the hope of the world.
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