Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon: Christmas Midnight Mass
- Why do Nativity Scenes cause such scandal and hatred?

Christmas Midnight Mass

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, December 25, 2014

Natus est vobis hodie Salvator.
For unto you is born this day a Saviour. (Lk 2:11)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,

On this holy night, let us greet anew the divine Child Who has come to bring on our earth the fire of uncreated Love. Let us hasten towards the Crib where the Word of God, the Almighty Word, is born to us from the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Let us not forget that today in the Holy Land which was in bygone days trodden by the Patriarchs and the chosen people, a number of Christians are celebrating the Prince of peace. Yet, they live in war. They are the Christians in Syria and Iraq, in Erbil and Mosul, the Carmelites in Aleppo. Hidden in their houses, or exiled, or imprisoned by fanatics, they give thanks to the Father for the gift of His Son to the earth. They thank God that He should give them, through their misery, to taste of this peace that God comes and shares out, and that the world seems not to have received.

Two thousand years ago, only a few shepherds greeted the Son of Mary. Already at that time, there was no room in the inn for a pregnant woman and her poor husband.

St. Gregory tells us in his Life of St. Benedict:

Some shepherds discovered the cave where Benedict was living. They first thought that he was some wild beast; but after they had known the servant of God, many of them lost the instincts of a beast to live a holy life. (1)

As the shepherds who encountered St. Benedict, our nation has been from the very first centuries evangelised by the Good News that the Child of the crib came to sow on earth. Men then gave up the instincts of a beast to follow the King of peace. A civilisation was born, deeply thrusting its Christian roots into the soil of mankind.

How are we to understand the controversy which recently broke out concerning the presence of cribs in public places? [Rorate note: following a decision by an administrative court to ban a nativity scene from the main building of the Vendée General Council.]  Why should a few pieces of wood, a few earthenware figurines, be so embarrassing?

Those few ounces of clay are bothersome because they ask the world, they ask each of us a question. We can hear its echo from the mouth of children, of little ones, of simple ones, of those who as the shepherds can hear the message of the Crib: “Daddy, Mum, why is this child lying in a crib? Who is his mother, and his father, and the donkey and the ox?” — “Child, you neither need nor have the right to know. It is the most gigantic deception in the world. For two hundred years now, civilised men, free-thinking men, self-enlightened men, have understood that they no longer needed the visitation of this child.”

Enlightened men have refused the Light. They are delivered back to the power of the beast and they deliberately sink into the darkness of their alleged knowledge; as they pass by the Crib, they ignore it, or even, like new Herods, they try to wipe out its presence. What are the lights of our cities as compared to the light of the sun? What is the complexity of our factories as compared to the hugeness of the universe and the structure of the human body, which nonetheless some would ascribe to chance?

Let us compare on the one hand the universe, the earth, life and family, fruits of God’s will, man’s path from his conception until his natural death, and on the other hand various men’s inventions that flout the rights of the creation and cause so many tragedies and wars. Let us compare the Laws that Divine Wisdom has decreed, with the laws of our Parliaments that rewrite man without caring about his nature, and thus jettison millions of victims, leaving them disorientated, forlorn, or even ignored — because it is not “politically correct” to mention them — on the roadside. The fruits of enlightened men’s intellects, that are depicted as respectful of human rights and fundamental liberties, then look quite hazardous before creation…

Only humble children can accept the existence of a God Who like an artist chisels the universe and comes to walk on our earth. Albert Einstein was one of those, who said, “Chance is but God walking undercover”.

God today is refused permission to walk in our countries…even undercover… even under the guise of a child.

No one will then fulfil man’s deep loneliness; man who is lost in a universe that is but a cold and hostile vastness; man who lives on an earth that looks more and more like a public stadium where everybody enjoys until exhaustion the games and the players; last, but not least, man who is closed to all compassion.

God, Who, at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days, hath spoken to us by His Son. (Hebr 1:1-2) On this day, “the goodness and kindness of God our Saviour towards man appeared” (Tit 3:4). The universe, the earth, the human heart, are steeped in this Love and find there their calling. This is the message of Christmas: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

The Child in the crib is pure Love, an infinite Love that is not a fancy, a Love that is not to be hoped for because it is there, and because it is there, is accusing. Before the Child in the crib, no more compromise, no more schemes. This Child can only be accepted or rejected. Until when will man sever the umbilical cord that linked him to the fount of Love? Let us stop and pray before this Child, let us listen to Him as He says again these words that have come from the very depths of the Heart of God, “God is Love” (1 John 4:14); and let us learn from Him to love in truth.

Whereas the world is celebrating at best a Godless Christmas, let us live in our families the message that is today personally entrusted to each man. The sun that warms and gives life without exhausting itself is but a pale reflection of the might of the Love made flesh in the holy byre. This Love wants to purify our sick hearts, to remove hatred, resentments, persistent strife, from our families, our communities, the Church, the world. Shall we receive the holy Child Who knocks at the door of our hearts and homes?

Today’s men have a right to know the great secret. United in singing with the Angels, let us proclaim to the whole earth by our words and lives the announcement of its liberation: This day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. (Lk 2:11)


1. St. Gregory the Great, Dialogues, book II, ch. 2.