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 September 5, 2005 VOL. 43, NO. 15Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

Raising a beacon of freedom in Christ the Light

For the family of faith in the Oakland Diocese, the month of August 2005 was one for the history books. We passed two remarkable milestones in the life journey of our community.

One, on a road we walked in spirit with members of the Church worldwide: namely, the observance of World Youth Day with Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in Cologne.

The other on a path that was very much our own: namely, the commencement of construction in earnest of our new Cathedral of Christ the Light. In my prayerful reflection on these two events, I came to recognize that they are intimately related.

At first hearing, my observation could seem far-fetched. After all, we are talking about such disparate realities, so far apart in distance, so unlike in scope and appearance. What’s the connection between gathering about a million young people to pray in a field in the Rhineland and a construction team working to prepare the foundations for a new building on a now-vacated parking lot on the northwest edge of Lake Merritt?

A very strong connection! And in what follows I want to spell that out.

The differences are about appearances. What binds these two events together is what we might refer to as their common “soul,” the one same principle that gives life and substance to both: the mystery of Jesus’ manifestation to the Magi.

Christ’s epiphany to the Magi, as recounted in the first pages of St. Matthew’s Gospel, was a natural from which to take the theme of the World Youth Day this year: “We have come to worship him” (Mt. 2:2). Since the arrival in 1164 in Cologne of the relics identified as those of the Magi, the Wise Men have been the great patrons of that community.

In all of his reflections throughout World Youth Day, the Holy Father set out with penetrating insight how he and the young pilgrims who joined him were living out in their own lives during those days the same mystery that touched the Wise Men when they recognized the baby in Mary’s arms as their King, God, and Atonement.

The young pilgrims, like the Magi, were on a journey of faith to find their hearts’ longing, and the light sent to them from heaven led them to find it in the face of Jesus, Son of God and son of the Virgin.
In coming from beyond the borders of Israel to Bethlehem, the city of the King of the Jews, the Magi are archetypes, standing for seekers of every epoch and civilization.

It is just this same mystery of Christ’s manifestation of himself as “Light of All Nations and Peoples” that animates the building of our diocese’s new cathedral.

The cathedral is an icon of, as its name says so plainly, “Christ the Light.” As the home sanctuary of the whole Catholic community in the East Bay, the new cathedral will be a manifestation of Christ to all – through the worship that is celebrated in that place and because of the works of love, justice and peace that originate there.

In drawing out the parallels between the experience of the Wise Men and that of the participants in World Youth Day, Pope Benedict pointed out that in each case those guided by the light came from afar to find Christ.

For us in the East Bay, ever mindful of the great cultural diversity with which we are blessed, it’s easy to see how that parallel applies to us. The Christ to whom we witness and whose icon the new cathedral will be is for all peoples, whether from far or near.

We believe that his Father made us all so different because no single individual or group could fully reflect Christ’s splendor. The Lord is glorified when the Holy Spirit draws all of us together into a symphony of praise and thanks for new life in our Savior. The Father made us of differing languages and cultures so that his Son would be proclaimed and prayed to in all these ways.

Pope Benedict also pointed out that like the Magi the young people in Cologne are seekers, searching for him who satisfies their often idealistic longings for peace, justice and a community of equal dignity and mutual respect.

These are the very sort of ideals that motivate so much of what unfolds in our region. In our Church’s witness to Christ the Light, and not least as that witness becomes tangible and permanent in the new cathedral, we point to him as the Prince of Peace.

We respectfully point him out to all seekers who are members of this society and invite them to know for themselves what we have come to know about him – that he fulfills the deepest longing of the human heart.

And this light — Christ the Light — is a blessing for all, as Pope Benedict said, for non-believers as well as for the Lord’s disciples. That’s why the new Cathedral, dedicated to witnessing to Christ the Light, will be a place where all will be welcomed and find hospitality.

One particular point made by Pope Benedict during World Youth Day seems especially significant for us in the Diocese of Oakland.

The Holy Father acknowledged that what so many of the young people are seeking is freedom. He assured them that joining the Magi in worshipping Mary’s child is not bargaining away their liberty for some other, and necessarily lesser, good. In handing over the treasure of their lives to Jesus they are not losing their freedom but finding it.

Christ makes us truly free, free from the limits imposed by our own selfishness and unshackles us so that we can run in the ways of love and self-giving.

This dimension of the mystery of recognizing the manifestation of God’s light shining on the face of Christ is especially important for Christians in the East Bay, since in building the new cathedral to Christ the Light we are raising a beacon of freedom and reaffirming that Jesus is the liberation we all long for.

Let us all be united in prayer, to ask that the Lord prosper the work now fully underway of building the new cathedral, so that Christ’s Light will shine out in our midst for generations to come.


Previous "In His Light" Columns by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron

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