Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Let there be light.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,
Yesterday, Septuagesima Sunday, the lessons of the first nocturn of Matins, taken from the first chapter of Genesis, reminded us of the creation of the universe. We shall hear this narrative again, at the end of a long penance time, during the great Easter Vigil.
“Let there be light”: these are the very first words uttered by God. They open the book of Genesis and make the earth change from chaos and darkness to light. The text continues: “And God saw that the light was good” (Gen 1:3). On this first “day”, “there was evening and there was morning” (v. 5). The history of earth would henceforth unfold in alternating light and darkness, day and night: a greater light, the sun, to rule the day, and a lesser light, the moon, to rule the night.
Man was created on earth in the image of God, and thus for light. From the very beginning man has tried to produce and tame fire, then light, so as to push back darkness. He thus appears to be looking for a “true light, which enlightens every man that comes into this world” (John 1:9), a light that will never fail.
The twice-repeated reading of the narrative of creation enshrines, as in a precious frame, a favourable time: the time of preparation to a new creation that takes place in the Paschal mystery, to which is ordered the mystery of Incarnation. As he had received the first light of God on the day the universe was created, man, who is lost in the darkness of sin, yearns to receive a new light, to be created anew. This light, as the first light, can come but from God. The Prophet Isaiah had foretold it:
The people that walked in darkness, have seen a great light: to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen. (Is 9:1)
Simeon and Anna the prophetess were hoping for this light. Simeon was “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25). Therefore, when he receives in his arms the Child Whom he had awaited, the old man blesses God and says that his eyes have seen God’s salvation prepared before the face of all peoples, “A light to the revelation of the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel” (Lk 2:31-32).
Christ is the Light of the world, as St. John the Evangelist has taught in the Prologue of his Gospel: the Word “was the true light, which enlightens every man that comes into this world” (John 1:9).
Christ has asserted:
I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life. (John 8:12)Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in the darkness knows not where he goes. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may be the children of light. (John 12:35-36)I am come, a light into the world, that whosoever believes in Me will not remain in darkness. (John 12:46)
The fact that man, from the most ancient times in his history, has sought light, the fact that Christ, the Son of God, “the true Light”, has come into our world to enlighten every man, shows that light is a vital necessity for man, and that light is not equivalent to darkness. He who want to do evil, seeks darkness; but he who wants to pursue good, yearns for light; and he must be given the possibility to reach it, for God Himself has come to propose light to us, so that enlightened by Him we may enlighten the world.
What looks obvious as concerns concrete light, or our path towards God, looks much less obvious to today’s men as concerns the practical acts of their lives. The Gospel of St. John brands the behaviour of men:
The light is come into the world and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil. For every one that does evil hates the light and comes not to the light, that his works may not be reproved. But he that does truth comes to the light, that his works may be made manifest: because they are done in God. (John 3:19-21)
To do one’s works in God, means to act according to truth, which is the true light of the intellect. When truth becomes embarrassing, and when one is nonetheless reluctant to justify openly lies, the solution remains to falsify truth. Relativizing truth, which has its foundation in God, so as to mingle with it the darkness of lies, that is called relativism.
Paradoxically indeed, modern men are much more particular than men of ancient times, or even medieval men, about the quality of the lighting of the places they live in; but they are much less mindful of the lighting of their own intelligence and the education of their consciences. As far as they are concerned, darkness and light are equivalent, or rather they depend on everyone’s inclination.
Let us for a while imagine what could be life in a world where some turn on the light during the night, whereas others turn it off, because to them darkness is light!
In front of Christ, Light of the world, modern civilisation can brag that it has liberalised the culture of death and that it is actively striving towards its realisation: with abortion and euthanasia human life becomes a relative value; respect for consciences and others’ beliefs is relativized before freedom of speech, which is denied to those who advocate truth, or even common sense; the goods of creation are squandered without caring about what will be left for tomorrow’s men.There is no longer any peace, and nations sink into the darkness of death. Will they yearn for a deliverer?
The Temple receives today its deliverer:
This Child is appointed for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted. And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed. (Lk 2:34-35)
May today’s light make our hearts, as well as the hearts of today’s men, free from the bondage of death. May Mary, Mother of men and Queen of peace, bring us forth to this true Light that has come for every man, to this peace that can come but from God.