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Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin
January 4, 2002 Issue

Everyone is called to be light for others

Jesus is the Light of the world and the revelation of God's love and life

Bishop Robert Morneau
Robert Morneau

Questions for reflection:

1. How is God revealed to you?

2. How much beauty surrounds your life?

3. How does your life make manifest the Gospel message?

January 6, 2002, Epiphany of the Lord

By Bishop Robert Morneau

One of the famous world painters is Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675). What fascinates so many viewers of his work is his use of light, a radiance that illumines his subjects with such force and clarity that it is hard to turn away from his works. One friend told me she had to force herself to walk away from one of his masterpieces, "A Woman Reading a Letter."

There is another masterpiece filled with glory and splendor. It is the person of Jesus, the Light of the world and the manifestation of God's love and life. From the very beginning we are given the biblical image of light, the star over Bethlehem, which gives us hints of things to come. At the same time the Gospel realistically portrays the darkness, the darkness of night as well as the darkness of Herod and his deceptive ways. A light shines in the darkness, one that will eventually be victorious.

It is hard to turn away from this story. One who could not was St. Paul. He saw himself as a steward of God's grace, entrusted with a message and revelation that would transform the world. The bottom line of that message was a promise: all people are called to be co-heirs and copartners in the work of God. All people are called to move out of darkness into the light. More, everyone is called to be light for others so that none be lost.

Isaiah is a prophet of light. Words such as glory, splendor, and radiance tell of his revelation and his stewardship. Like the Gospel, there is a realism in Isaiah's message: darkness and thick clouds cover much of human history and nature itself. There is a struggle, a warfare that transpires in every nation and every human heart. If we are open to the light and love of God, then our hearts will throb with life and our joy will be beyond containment.

In 1999, Susan Vreeland wrote a novel, Girl in Hyacinth Blue (New York: Penguin Books). It is about a fictional drawing by Vermeer -- "Girl in Hyacinth Blue" -- that over the years falls into different hands. The chronology is reversed. The novel begins in the present day and then descents to a fictional account of its being painted by Vermeer.

Several phrases from the book speak to me about this feast of Epiphany, the manifestation of Jesus to the nations. " . . . shining with intoxication of the unknown" (64). Epiphany is filled with mystery (the unknown) but an unknown coming into focus. The Magi were "intoxicated" by this child, leaving behind gifts that speak of God's gracious presence.

" . . . there is nothing so vital as paying attention, and perfecting the humble offices of love" (78). Epiphany, which means "manifestation," demands our attention. God appears under various guises: sacraments, scripture, community, movements of the heart.

"She didn't have many beautiful things . . ." (122). Life without beauty is a deprived life. The soul hungers and thirsts for beauty, a beauty that shows itself on this feast. The beauty of an evening star, the beauty of a mother's love for her child, the beauty of good news, the beauty of compassion.

God has given the world some great artists: Vermeer, Mozart, Shakespeare. They have used paint, notes, and words to express beauty, truth and goodness. These "minor" epiphanies touch our lives in transformative ways. But then there is the "major" epiphany: the revelation of God in Jesus. For that manifestation we are deeply grateful.

(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese.)

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