Fr. Michael McGourty is the pastor of St. Peter’s Parish in Toronto.
“We Have Seen His Star in the East.” This is the theme for this year's Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity takes place each year in the week leading up to the Solemnity of the Conversion of St. Paul, which is celebrated on January 25th. Along with this theme, the organizing committee for this international week of prayer also wrote a meditation to accompany this week’s prayer intention. At the same time that we are celebrating the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, this Sunday, in the Catholic tradition, is Word of God Sunday; a celebration introduced to the Church by Pope Francis in 2019.
As those who selected the theme for this year write in their meditation for the week, the Scripture verse, “We Have Seen His Star in the East,” refers to the star which called the Magi to come and adore the Christ child at His birth in Bethlehem. The coming of the Magi, who were often believed to represent the diverse people of the world, signifies the unity to be found for all people by following the Christ child, who would bring peace and love to all people. Tradition held that each of the Magi was from one of the three known continents at that time — Africa, Asia and Europe — thus they were representative of all people. As the Magi followed the star, it was seen as calling the diverse people of the world to come and worship Jesus. The star showed that in Jesus all people were to find their dignity and meaning of life. No matter what background a person is from, Christ calls all of us to discover who we are and to embrace the fullness of life for which we were created.
Even today, no matter what country we live in, we can all see the same moon, sun and stars at the proper hour of the day. It was for this reason that Christ was often compared to the Sun. Just as the Sun nourishes all people and gives life to all, no matter what their background, so too Christ is the source of eternal life for all who place their hope in Him.
As we also celebrate this “Word of God” Sunday, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, today’s readings remind us of the importance of God’s Word and the role it has in forming, illuminating and guiding the lives of all Christians. In the first reading this Sunday, we hear from the Book of the Prophet Nehemiah how the Jewish people understood who they were when God’s Word was proclaimed in their midst. After it was proclaimed, they worshipped God and did what they had been called to do. We also begin this Sunday the reading of the Gospel of Luke. Luke is the Gospel that we will read this liturgical year through our Sunday celebrations of the Eucharist.
The Gospel of Luke begins by stating that it recounts one version of the life of Christ. As a star can be seen from many different countries and places on the earth, so, too, each individual is invited to a unique and personal relationship with Christ. He offers Himself to all people and from a variety of backgrounds; we are all called to find life in Him. The Gospel of Luke is but the beginning of Luke’s two-volume masterpiece, known as Luke-Acts. Once we have learned who Christ is from the Gospel of Luke, the Acts of the Apostles goes on to tell us how we are to respond to this Good News as members of Christ’s Church. The message which Christ brought, of God’s love for all people, is intended to unite the different people of the world in love and charity around Christ our Savior.
This is what Paul preaches so eloquently in today’s second reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians. St. Paul speaks of how it is the many different members of the Church make its mission possible. All of us who are baptized are incorporated into Christ. Each person within the unity of the Body of Christ has a different mission, function and path to holiness. Each must live his or her call faithfully and cannot live the call of another. Although all are united in Christ, each is different, unique and given a special role.
The story of the Magi being led by a star to the birth of Christ, is representative of the fact that Jesus loves all people and He came to save all people. This is also the story that St. Luke tells in his two-volume work Luke-Acts. In the Gospel of Luke, much of the story is about how Christ made His way to Jerusalem to manifest Himself as the savior of the Jewish people. In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke tells how the salvation won for the Jewish people through Christ’s death was actually meant for all people. The central figure in the Acts of the Apostles is St. Paul, who had been a faithful Jew and a persecutor of Christians. He is converted by an encounter with Christ and becomes known as the Apostle to the Gentiles, which means all those who are not Jewish. The conversion of St. Paul is also an invitation for us to recognize that no one is beyond salvation. Just as Paul once persecuted and killed Christians, everyone can be saved from his or her past through faith in Christ.
As the Gospel of Luke tells us, Christ came to bring the Good News of salvation for all people; the Acts of the Apostles tells us how this work was to be continued through Christ’s Church. The Second Vatican Council in its Constitution of the Church, Lumen gentium, referred to the Church as the light of the nations. Just as Christ spoke of God’s love for all people, the work of the Church today is to proclaim and bear witness to that love. If everyone in the Church was faithful to their mission, as spoken of by Paul in today’s second reading, the Church would be a true source of love and justice for all peoples amidst today’s troubled world. The fact that the Church currently is not that is what is being addressed in the reflection for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with the theme “We Have Seen His Star in the East…”
The focus of all Christians is to be Christ. He is the light by which we are to guide our lives. Just as it is sometimes not possible to see the stars through clouds or smoke, so, too, sin can prevent all of us from seeing Christ and being led by His light. All disciples of Jesus, no matter what denomination they belong to, are invited to follow Christ and model their lives on His teaching. We can find that teaching in His Word, the Scriptures. On this Word of God Sunday, we are reminded that Christ reveals God to us in the Scriptures and that our response to His love must be based upon this Word. The Beatitudes — which are a model that Christ gave us on how we should live — provide a roadmap for all people to follow Christ from wherever they might be.
One great things about a star is that it can be seen from anywhere. If someone sees it from Canada and another from Asia, we can each know it from our own vantage point. When the person from Asia describes to me what he or she sees, I can’t argue. All I can do is fix my eyes on the star and follow from where I am. I guess that is what is the main point of the meditation for this year’s celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christians Unity. This is not a week to discuss who is right or wrong. It is a time for all of us to fix our eyes on Christ and become the best disciples each one of us can be in the place we are called to grow and respond. If each one of us concentrated on following Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, and being the best disciples that we can be, we would each take our place in Christ’s Church and it would shine out like a light for all nations, announcing the love of God for all people.
As we hear Christ announce in this Sunday’s Gospel reading from Luke, the Spirit has anointed Him to proclaim glad tidings to the poor, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim liberty to captives and to bring recovery of sight to the blind: this is also the work for which we, the baptized, were anointed by the Spirit. It is sin that turns us from that mission to division. During this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, may we all fix our eyes on Christ, the true light of the world, to become disciples united in love.
This homily is based on the readings for the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C: Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12: 12-30; and Luke 1: 1-4; 4:14-21.