Lumen – Light. Gentium – Nations, Peoples.
Prophesying, Isaiah said to God’s people, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” Is 60: 1-6. Light was a favorite image of this poetic prophet. Again and again he let the people know that as God’s chosen, they were as a light for the nations. Speaking of the Suffering Servant, Isaiah said, “I will make you the light of the nations (the Lumen Gentium), so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” Is 49:6.
We hold Christ Jesus to be the ultimate fulfillment of that prophecy, the true Lumen Gentium. The star of Bethlehem, the light symbolizing who was just born, leads the three wise men, symbols of all cultures and races, into the presence of the Holy Family. When Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple to be circumcised, Simeon prophesies, “Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised. Because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all nations to see: a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Lk 2:29-32.
Again and again the Gospels use light imagery as embodying God’s message, as personifying Jesus. John’s Gospel right away says, “In the beginning was the Word…. Not one thing had its being but through him. All that came to be had life in him and that life was the light of men, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overcome.” Jn 1:1-4. Then John outright says it, “The Word was the true light, that enlightens every man.” Jn 1:9. And later in his Gospel Jesus is quoted as saying, “I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not be walking in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Jn 8:12.
Jesus, the Lumen Gentium, the Light of the Peoples, the Light of the Nations, the Light of the World, fulfilling Isaiah and Simeon, says of himself, “I come to cast fire upon earth, I will it be kindled.” Lk 12:49. The Lord’s fire enlightens. It consumes darkness; the darkness of fear and unknowing, the darkness of being lost and floundering, the darkness of being alone and without hope. That fire, ignited by Jesus, enlightens hearts to burn with an ardor of love that matches his own. And Jesus speaks of that fire, which he has kindled, in this way, “No one lights a lamp and puts it in some hidden place or under a bushel, but on the lamp stand, so people may see the light when they come in… So let your light shine.” Mt 5:14.
Saint John’s Preparatory School, under the leadership of its president, Father Mark Thamert, OSB ’69, established the Lumen Gentium award in 1997. It is awarded to a person who reaches across cultures, who significantly impacts the spreading of the light of knowledge, the light of harmony, the light of hope, the light to which all peoples, all nations will be gathered.