A time of change: Epiphany

“After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, suddenly some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east asking, ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’
When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea, for this is what the prophet wrote: And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means the least among the leaders of Judah, for from you will come a leader who will shepherd my people Israel.’
Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared and sent them on to Bethlehem with the words, ‘Go and find out all about the child, and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’
Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And suddenly the star they had seen rising went forward and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were given a warning in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.”

Gospel of Matthew 2:1-12

epiphany-tript

While it is the heart of today’s Gospel and solemnity, we don’t find out a much about the encounter of the wise men with the infant Lord Jesus. They saw the child and His mother, knelt down in homage and offered Him gifts. That’s it. But the feast of the Epiphany isn’t in the first place about the Magi anyway: it’s about Christ, and his revelation to the world.

This revelation is twofold: the Lord is shown to the world, personified in the Magi, but the world first had to come to the Lord. In a sense, both Lord and world are revealed simultaneously.

But this world which is revealed to the Lord is one already changed by Him. The Magi were inspired to find the newly born Christ, and they set out from their comforts to face perils, not least in the person of Herod, but ultimately to find what had urged them to leave home in the first place.

The Epiphany of the Lord is a time of change. He is revealed to a world looking for answers, wanting to find out what drives it onwards. This changed world, changed from staid comfort to inspired searching and openness to the – until now – unknown Messiah is revealed to Him as His world, His people.

We are His people if we go out and look for Him, to find what drives us, what motivates us to act and to find our place in a new world.

Last minute changes as the ad limina gets underway

There is a hierarchy of importance in many things, and the agenda of the Pope is no exception. This week the reforms of the Vatican bank and the next meeting of the Council of Cardinals take up much energy and time, and that has consequences for the ad limina visit of the Dutch bishops, due to start tomorrow.

The audience of the bishops with Pope Francis, originally scheduled for Thursday, has been moved forward to tomorrow morning (oddly enough at the same time as, per later reports, the Pope would be meeting with the Israeli prime minister… we’ll have to see how that turns out). That means that the high point of the visit, at least in the eyes of many on the outside, will take place right at the start. But of course that’s not the whole picture.

bishops ad liminaBar three (Bishops Liesen, de Jong and van Burgsteden, who had prior engagements and will arrive in Rome later), all bishops began the ad limina visit with a Holy Mass at the Church of the Frisians, the Dutch home base in Rome. Cardinal Eijk, who was the main celebrant, did not discuss the ad limina in his homily. Instead, he spoke about Advent, which began today. And in the great scheme of things, Advent easily trumps any ad limina visit, of course.

The first coming of Christ, the cardinal said, was not that different from His second coming, likened to that as a thief in the night, as described in the Gospel reading of today (Matt. 24:37-44). “The first coming of Christ took place when He, the Son of God, became man. For centuries, the Jewish people had been looking forward to Him as the prophesied Messiah. But, when He was born as a man, no one was expecting it. And no one was there to welcome Him. Neither the Roman Emperor Augustus, nor his people’s elite was aware of the great event which was taking place in a lonely stable near Bethlehem. Some angels advertised Him, leading to a group of shepherds coming to visit and adore Him. And three Magi came from the East to adore Him as well. And that was, for the moment, that.”

woorts hoogenboom ad limina

Several bishops, among them Utrecht’s auxiliaries Herman Woorts and Theodorus Hoogenboom (pictured above), attended Pope Francis’ Angelus in St. Peter’s Square.

Another change in the schedule of the visit is the cancellation of all personal audiences of the bishops with the Pope. Originally, Pope Francis had considered these, in part because of the relatively small size of the bishops’ conference (13 members). But, pressing engagements on the Holy Father’s  part have necessitated the cancellation of these audiences. Earlier, Bishop Gerard de Korte of Groningen-Leeuwarden had said he was looking forward to meeting with Pope Francis: “I haven’t decided exactly what I am going to say. Anyway, I think it will be very interesting to meet him. There are amazing stories about this Pope. We have never met yet.”

wiertzThe ad limina has also caused a small ripple effect in social media. The Diocese of Roermond has been sharing photos and stories on Facebook of what its two bishops, Ordinary Frans Wiertz (at right, being interviewed) and auxiliary Everard de Jong, have done and seen in Rome; the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden has become active on Twitter; and Haarlem-Amsterdam’s auxiliary Bishop Jan Hendriks is blogging from Rome.

Photo credits: [1] [2] RKK – Christian van der Heijden, [3] Bisdom Roermond on Facebook

Behind the Gänswein consecration

gänswein Although much of the attention was on the prefect of the house, there was more in today’s ceremonies at St. Peter’s Basilica.

It was the Gänswein Show, certainly, but not only that. The popular new Prefect of the Papal Household was made an archbishop yesterday, but so were three others: Fortunatus Nwachukwu, the former Head of  Protocol at the Secretariat of State who will take up duties as Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua; Nicolas Thevenin, formerly a Protonotary in the Apostolic Household and now the new Nuncio to Guatemala; and Angelo Zani, the new Secretary for the Congregation for Catholic Education.

The four new archbishops were consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI, with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and Zenon Grocholewski serving as co-consecrators. And it is from the former of these that the meat of the day comes: like previous Epiphany homilies, this year‘s again strongly ties the office of bishops into the feast of the Epiphany. Taking the Epiphany as the feast of the destination of the pilgrimage of the people of God, the Pope writes, “It is the task of the Bishop in this pilgrimage not merely to walk beside the others, but to go before them, showing the way.”

The Holy Father than poses the concrete question of whether we can see the Magi as examples of “what a Bishop is and how he is to carry out his task.”

“Here we come to the question: 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.”

epiphany consecration

There’s plenty more food for thought, and not only for bishops, in the homily. Read the English text via the link above, or a Dutch translation via RKDocumenten.nl here.

“The great star, the true supernova” – Pope Benedict on the feast of Epiphany

Every year on the feast of Epiphany, Pope Benedict XVI, like his predecessor, ordains several new bishops himself. These are almost always bishops who will be working in the Holy See’s diplomatic corps. Yesterday, two men where ordained in St. Peter’s: Archbishop Charles Brown, the new Nuncio to Ireland, and Archbishop Marek Solczynski, who will be the Nuncio in Georgia and Armenia.

The pope’s homily, available in Dutch here, is once more an excellent reflection on the nature of the feast and what is has to  say about the ministry of bishops. A worthwhile read, which also delves into the Magi and the incarnation of God.

Archbishop Brown and the holy father after the former's consecration

Photo credit: REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi