Rorate Caeli

A very moving Fontgombault Sermon - Maundy Thursday: Christ in the Host asks: "Do you love me?"


SAINT PETER: "Woman, I do not know Him!"

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
(Fontgombault, April 2, 2015)

Cum dilexisset eos... in finem dilexit eos.
Having loved his own… He loved them unto the end.
Jn 13:1

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,

The Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, the institution of which we commemorate tonight, the Paschal mystery, death and rise of Jesus: are these something that God gives us or owes us? 

At the beginning of the Triduum Paschale, which covers the period extending from the morning of Maundy Thursday to that of Easter, this is a crucial question. The actions of our Christian lives will depend on our answer as we face these mysteries that underlie our faith: “If Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain: and your faith is also vain.” (1 Co 15:14) 

If the Paschal mystery is my due, basically I don’t have to worry about it. It is, so to speak, in the order of things. God takes care of me, and it is normal. God carries out, as it were, His job of God. 

But if the Paschal mystery is a gift, and if its author is God, then the standpoint shifts radically. God, the Maker of the universe, gives Himself to His creature, the Almighty to him who is powerless. A new dimension opens up in our relationship with God, and consequently in our relationship with others, the dimension of freely given love. The washing of the feet, that the liturgy invites us to reenact today, is part of this viewpoint.

The first words of the Gospel that we have just heard sound as a summary of the Paschal gift. In St. John’s Gospel, they precisely open the narration of the Triduum Paschale. Jesus’ hour, the hour of His ultimate love testimony, of His passing, of His Passover, has now come.

Before the feast of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that His hour was come, that He should pass out of this world to the Father: having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them unto the end. (Jn 13:1)

Shall we accept to receive this testimony? It is not easy to allow Jesus to wash our feet. Peter, first of all, experiences it to his own cost. To him, God’s divinity should express itself in power, not in the humility of a slave’s gesture. Who among us has not some ideas concerning what God should do, or at least what He should not tolerate?

Peter is ready to unsheathe his sword to protect God. He is not yet ready to make himself, as God makes Himself, the servant of his brothers, to wash their feet.

Peter considers that he has no need for a humble and merciful God, but rather for a powerful and avenging God. Will it still be the case within a few hours?

After he has betrayed Jesus by denying Him three times, after he has experienced in the high priest’s house Jesus’ look upon him, Peter will grasp that the path of God in his life entails his acceptation of a merciful look on his miserable life. As he meets Jesus’ eyes he becomes aware of how small God makes Himself, of how He makes Himself a beggar of love before the sinner. What has become of the disciple proud to follow Jesus? He no longer exists. Peter withdraws and weeps bitterly. Does he weep upon his fault? That is the usual interpretation. But would he not rather weep before the wealth of mercy that has just been meted out to him? Peter has understood and he weeps. 

He, who from the very beginning had wanted to shield God through his strength and power, has stumbled. He receives the assistance of the look of Jesus, a prisoner, humiliated, ridiculed, and very soon crowned with thorns.

Peter weeps because the Lord offers him His testimony of love unto the end. Before His humiliated disciple, Jesus makes Himself very small, He makes Himself a beggar of his love. Peter wanted to offer Him his weapons, Jesus requires of him his tears, his heart, his life. A few days later, by the Sea of Tiberias, this look will become a word: “Simon, son of John, lovest thou me more than these?” (Jn 21:15)

Today, this same question must resound in our hearts.

Tomorrow the Crucified’s open arms will offer the world to come and drink from the pierced side the cleansing flows of grace. “It is consummated.” (Jn 19:30)

As He gave His life for His friends by dying on the Cross, Jesus has burst in upon every man’s life. From all tabernacles on earth, under the humble shape of the Host, this cry still resounds: “Do you love Me?” What is at stake from now on for each man, each society, is to answer this call of the Lord. Through the sacraments, and especially the sacrament of penance, God comes and offers us anew His grace. Priests, consecrated people, Christians, all men of good will, are the echo of the word of God unto the ends of the earth.

Why are there so many profanations, so many smashed tabernacles, so many burned churches? Why so many slaughtered Christians, or more generally excluded from public life, derided by today’s men and societies?

Before the Cross, before the tabernacle, no one may remain indifferent. Derision, profanations, are indeed but the refusal to receive the beggar of love Who knocks on our door and Who has nothing to offer us but His love. It is quite easy to have in one’s life an idol, a glib talker, a coach… It is far more difficult to have a beggar, a Crucified as a master. In Jesus, Peter has found faithful love, love that can withstand treachery, love that gives itself unto the gift of one’ life, love unto the end.

When we receive kneeling the sacrament of His body and blood, God gives Himself, a beggar of love. He expects from us hearts, and not weapons. The friend of Jesus cannot be satisfied with a cheap love, a part-time faithfulness, if he wants to convert the world.

As Peter, today’s world protects its own gods: gold, power, unfaithfulness, contempt of others’ lives, the culture of death and throw-away. In the school of the Crucified, a beggar of love, let us become in our turn beggars of love, by our mercy, our look upon others. Let us imitate the gesture of the Lord, the washing of the feet, the look upon St. Peter. Let us listen to His words of consolation. Then, from the parched eyes of today’s men, will flow the tears that some past evening have wet Peter’s eyes. To them is aimed the commandment of fair love.

May Mary, the very loving Mother, make us on these days hold fast at the foot of the Cross.