Blessed Abbot Marmion on the Epiphany: Call to the Pagan Nations
On the Epiphany:
The Call to the Pagan Nations
by Blessed Abbot Columba Marmion
The Fathers of the Church have seen in the call of the Magi to Christ's cradle the vocation of pagan nations to the Faith. This is the very foundation of the mystery, explicitly indicated by the Church in the collect wherein she sums up the desires of her children on this solemnity: Deus qui hodierna die Unigenitum tnum GENTIBUS stella duce revelasti.
The Incarnate Word is first of all manifested to the Jews in the person of the shepherds. Why was this? Because the Jewish people were the Chosen People. From this people was to come forth the Messias, the Son of David. The magnificent promises to be realised in the establishing of the Messianic Kingdom had been made to this people; it was to them that God had entrusted the Scriptures and given the Law whereof each element prefigured the grace that was to be brought by Christ. It was then befitting that the Incarnate Word should first be manifested to the Jews.
The shepherds, simple and upright men, represented the Chosen People at the Crib: Evangelizo vobis gaudium magnum.., quia natus est vobis hodie Salvator (Lk 2:10-11).
Later on, in His public life, Our Lord would again manifest Himself to the Jews, by the wisdom of His doctrine and the splendour of His miracles.
We shall even find that He restricts His teaching to the Jews alone. See, for example, when the woman of Canaan, from the pagan regions of Tyre and Sidon, asks Him to have mercy upon her. What does Christ answer to the disciples when they interpose in her favour? "I was not sent but to the sheep that are lost of the house of Israel" (Mt 15:24). It needed the ardent faith and profound humility of the poor pagan woman to wrest from Jesus, so to speak, the grace that she implored.
When, during His public life, Our Lord sent His Apostles to preach, like Himself, the good news, He likewise said to them: "Go ye not into the way of the Gentiles, and into the city of Samaritans enter you ye not. But go ye rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Mt 10:5-6). Why this strange recommendation? Were the pagans excluded from the grace of redemption and salvation brought by Christ? No; but it entered into the divine economy to reserve the evangelization of the pagan nations to the Apostles, after the Jews should have definitely rejected the Son of God, by crucifying the Messias. When Our Lord dies upon the cross, the veil of the temple is rent in twain to show that the Ancient Covenant with the Hebrew people had ceased.
Many Jews indeed did not want to receive Christ. The pride of some, the sensuality of others, blinded their souls, and they would not receive Him as Son of God. It is of them that St. John speaks when he says: "The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it" (Jn 1:5, 11). Therefore Our Lord says to these incredulous Jews: "The Kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and shall be given to a nation yielding the fruit thereof" (Mt 21:43).
The pagan nations are called to become the inheritance promised by the Father to His Son Jesus: Postula a me, et dabo tibi gentes haereditatem tuam (Ps 11:8). Our Lord Himself says: "The good shepherd giveth His life for His sheep," adding immediately: "Other sheep I have, that are not of this fold": Alias oves habeo, quae non sunt ex hoc ovili. "Them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd" (Jn 10: 11, 16).
This is why, before ascending into heaven, He sends His Apostles to continue His work and mission of salvation, no longer among the lost sheep of Israel, but among all people. "Going therefore," He says to them, "teach ye all nations... preach the gospel to every creature... I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world" (Mt 28:19-20).
The Word Incarnate did not, however, await His Ascension to shed abroad the grace of the Gospel upon the Gentile world. As soon as He appeared here below, He invited it to His cradle in the person of the Magi. He, Eternal Wisdom, would thus show us that He brought peace, Pax hominibus bonae voluntatis (Lk 2:14), not only to those who were nigh to Him- the faithful Jews represented by the shepherds, -but also to those who " were afar off "-the Pagans represented by the Magi. Thus, as St. Paul says, of the two people He made but one: Qui fecit utraque unum, because He alone, by the union of His Humanity with His Divinity, is the perfect Mediator, and "by Him we have access both in one Spirit to the Father" (Eph 2:14, 17-18).
The calling of the Magi and their sanctification signifies the vocation of the Gentiles to the faith and to salvation. God sends an angel to the shepherds, for the Chosen People were accustomed to the apparition of the celestial spirits; to the Magi, who studied the stars, He causes a marvellous star to appear. This star is the symbol of the inward illumination that enlightens souls in order to call them to God.
The soul of every grown-up person is in fact enlightened, once at least, like the Magi, by the star of the vocation to eternal salvation. To all the light is given. It is a dogma of our faith that God "will have all men to be saved": Qui OMNES homines vult salvos fieri, et ad agnitionem veritatis venire (1 Tim 2:4).
On the day of judgment, all without exception will proclaim, with the conviction produced by evidence, the infinite justice of God and the perfect rectitude of His judgments: Justus es, Domine, et rectum judicium tuum (Ps 118:137). Those whom God shall have told to depart from Him for ever will acknowledge that they are the workers of their own ruin.
Now this would not be true if the reprobate had not had the possibility of knowing and accepting the divine light of faith. It would be contrary not only to God's infinite goodness, but even to His justice, to condemn a soul on account of its invincible ignorance.
Doubtless, the star that calls men to the Christian faith is not the same for all; it shines in different ways, but its brightness is visible enough for hearts of good will to be able to recognise it and see in it the sign of the Divine call. In His providence full of wisdom, God incessantly varies His action, incomprehensible like Himself. He varies it according to the ever active promptings of His love and the ever holy exigencies of His justice. We ought herein to adore the unfathomable depths of God's ways and proclaim that they infinitely surpass our created views. Indeed "who hath known the mind Or the Lord ? Or who hath been His counsellor ? " O altitudo divitiarum sapientiae et scientiae Dei! Quam incomprehensibilia sunt judicia ejus et investigabiles viae ejus! (Rom 11:33).
We have "seen the star" and have recognised as our God the Babe of Bethlehem; we have the happiness of belonging to the Church whereof the Magi were the first fruits.
In the office of the feast, the Liturgy celebrates this vocation of all humanity to faith and salvation in the person of the Magi as the nuptials of the Church with the Bridegroom. Hear with what gladness, in what magnificent symbolical terms, borrowed from the prophet Isaias, the liturgy proclaims (Epistle of the Mass) the splendour of this spiritual Jerusalem which is to receive into her maternal bosom the nations become the inheritance of her divine Bridegroom. "Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thy eyes round about, and see; all these gathered together, they are come to thee: thy sons shall come from afar, and daughters shall rise up at thy side. Then shalt thou see, and abound, and thy heart shall wonder and be enlarged, when the multitude of the sea shall be converted to thee, the strength of the Gentiles shall come to thee" (Is 60:15).
Let us offer continual thanksgiving to God "Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love" (Col 1:13), " that is to say into His Church.
The call to the faith is a signal benefit because it contains in germ the vocation to the eternal beatitude of the Divine vision. Never let us forget that this call was the dawn of all God's mercies towards us, and that for man all is summed up in fidelity to this vocation; faith is to bring us to the Beatific Vision (Collect for the Feast).
Not only ought we to thank God for this grace of the Christian faith, but we ought each day to render ourselves more worthy of it by safeguarding our faith against all the dangers that it encounters in our age of naturalism, scepticism, indifference, human respect, and by living a life of faith with constant fidelity.
Moreover, let us beseech God to grant this precious gift of the Christian faith to all the souls who yet "sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death"; let us beseech Our Lord that the star may shine upon them; that, through His tender mercy, He Himself will be the Sun to visit them from on high: Per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri in quibus visitavit nos, Oriens ex alto (Lk 1:78-79)
This prayer is very pleasing to Our Lord; it is, in fact, to beseech Him that He may be known and exalted as the Saviour of all mankind and the King of kings.
It is likewise pleasing to the Father, for He desires nothing so much as the glorification of His Son. Let us then often repeat, during these holy days, the prayer that the Incarnate Word Himself has put upon our lips: O Heavenly Father, "Father of Lights," Thy Kingdom come, that kingdom whereof Thy Son Jesus is the head. Adveniat regnum tuum! May Thy Son be more and more known, loved, served, glorified, so that in His turn He may, by manifesting Thee the more to men, glorify Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost.
- from Christ in His Mysteries
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Of Abbot Marmion's work, Pope Benedict XV said "Read it, it is the pure doctrine of the Church."
"When Our Lord died on the Cross, the veil of the temple is rent in twain to show that the Ancient Covenant with the Hebrew people had ceased. " - Bl. Abbot Marmion
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