The feast of the Epiphany is associated with gift giving for the obvious reason that it recalls to us the story of the wise men who came from the east to pay homage and present their gifts to the newborn king in Bethlehem. More than the gifts of the magi, however, it is the greater gift of God which we celebrate – the gift of his own Son to us. Through Jesus, we come to know and experience God. In Jesus, we see the invisible God and touch the Transcendent Being. Jesus is the Epiphany (manifestation) of God. He is the face of God.
In my homily at our Requiem Mass for Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI, I exhorted our faithful not only to pray for the eternal repose of the saintly pope, but also to thank God for Benedict XVI, his great gift to the Church and to the world. Among other things, he was truly an apostle of the Epiphany. Through his eloquent teaching and holy life, he showed us the face of God in Jesus.
In his book, “Let God’s Light Shine Forth,” Robert Moynihan described the atmosphere of the days following the death of Pope John Paul II. Expectations were high on who would be his successor. Will he be able fit in the shoes of such a great predecessor? Will he be as youthful, charismatic and popular?
Thus, great was everyone’s surprise when after a relatively short conclave, the name of Card. Joseph Ratzinger came out as the new pope, a shy and dry personality, perceived by many as conservative and the exact opposite of Pope John Paul II. What happened inside the Sistine chapel? The author explained that while the world had its own expectations of the new pope, the cardinals entered into a discernment on who could best lead the Church in the present time.
They started by asking what was ailing the Church and what it needed to heal. They then realized that no one had a clearer grasp on the world’s situation than Joseph Ratzinger. They have come to agree with him that “the greatest crisis” facing the world is “the absence of God,” and that that its solution is simple, the world needs “the presence of God.”
Benedict had long pointed out the deadly consequence of secularization that has spawned a world devoid of any transcendental dimension and a way of life without any orientation towards eternity and the sacred. Likewise, Benedict’s conviction on the priority of knowing and loving God before doing anything else was seen by the electing cardinals as the right focus.
To bring God to the world is to make Jesus known and loved. Faith is not so much about a set of doctrines to believe or a code of conduct to be lived. It is primarily an encounter with Jesus, a personal relationship with him. In that relationship, we come to know Jesus, and knowing him we cannot but love him and willingly offer our life in service of him. This dynamic of faith, elucidated in the many theological works of Joseph Ratzinger, the greatest theologian of our time, is summarized in the fundamental question of the Catholic Catechism: why are we here on earth? To know God, to love him and to serve him, and to be happy with him in heaven.
We know, love and serve God in Christ. In his monumental work, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI writes, “What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? What has he brought? The answer is very simple: God.” (vol.1, p. 44)
The three volumes of Jesus of Nazareth, which contain Benedict’s profound insights on Jesus, are certainly among his greatest works. But he made it clear from the start that his work was not meant to be a scholarly research or some academic project, but “solely an expression of my personal search for ‘the face of God.’” (JN, vol.1, xxiii)
And so was every one of his more than 60 books, countless homilies and articles… In all his writings and teachings, I believe that he was trying to unveil the face of God for himself and for all his readers and listeners.
Pope Benedict XVI had such an enviable death. We are told that the last words he uttered before expiring were, “Lord, I love you.”
I would like to think that in his last moments the face of God, which he had searched all his life, unveiled itself fully and invited him to enter into the eternal beatific vision. In front of such epiphany, he could only say, “Lord, I love you.”