This excerpted sermon on the Epiphany by St. Leo the Great illustrates a number of features of classic Christian faith. It shows how deeply imbued with the Holy Scriptures all true teaching and preaching in the catholic faith must be. It delivers a message both of hope and of clear direction for how to savor this feast and how to apply it—in this case, by taking a lesson from the star that guides the Magi on their way, to help others come to their destination in God. It is a fine example of what faithful preaching has always been (and must always be), so human hearts may be nourished in the unique and joyful message of Salvation.
Wednesday, January 6, 2021
St. Leo the Great on the Feast of the Epiphany
May your Epiphanytide celebrations continue the theme of joy and possibility begun at Christmas. Keep the whole season after Epiphany until Lent as a time of intentional thanksgiving for being led by faith into God's nearer presence while on earth and for the promise of meeting our Lord "face to face" at the end of the ages.
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The loving providence of God determined that in the last days he would aid the world, set on its course to destruction. He decreed that all nations should be saved in Christ.
A promise had been made to the holy patriarch Abraham in regard to these nations. He was to have a countless progeny, born not from his body but from the seed of faith. His descendants are therefore compared with the array of the stars. The father of all nations was to hope not in an earthly progeny but in a progeny from above.
Let the full number of the nations now take their place in the family of the patriarchs. Let the children of the promise now receive the blessing in the seed of Abraham, the blessing renounced by the children of his flesh. In the persons of the Magi let all people adore the Creator of the universe; let God be known, not in Judaea only, but in the whole world, so that his name may be great in all Israel.
Dear friends, now that we have received instruction in this revelation of God’s grace, let us celebrate with spiritual joy the day of our first harvesting, of the first calling of the Gentiles. Let us give thanks to the merciful God, who has made us worthy, in the words of the Apostle, to share the position of the saints in light, who has rescued us from the power of darkness, and brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. As Isaiah prophesied: the people of the Gentiles, who sat in darkness, have seen a great light, and for those who dwelt in the region of the shadow of death a light has dawned. He spoke of them to the Lord: The Gentiles, who do not know you, will invoke you, and the peoples, who knew you not, will take refuge in you.
This is the day that Abraham saw, and rejoiced to see, when he knew that the sons born of his faith would be blessed in his seed, that is, in Christ. Believing that he would be the father of the nations, he looked into the future, giving glory to God, in full awareness that God is able to do what he has promised.
This is the day that David prophesied in the psalms, when he said: All the nations that you have brought into being will come and fall down in adoration in your presence, Lord, and glorify your name. Again, the Lord has made known his salvation; in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
This came to be fulfilled, as we know, from the time when the star beckoned the three wise men out of their distant country and led them to recognize and adore the King of heaven and earth. The obedience of the star calls us to imitate its humble service: to be servants, as best we can, of the grace that invites all men to find Christ.
Dear friends, you must have the same zeal to be of help to one another; then, in the kingdom of God, to which faith and good works are the way, you will shine as children of the light: through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with God the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.
from Sermo 3 in Epiphania Domini, 1-3. 5: PL 54, 240-244.
St. Leo (c. 400 AD - 461 AD) is commemorated on November 10th
The Collect of the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ
O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.