Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon - Epiphany - "The Wise Men really found Jesus."


Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
(Fontgombault, January 6, 2015)

Invenerunt puerum. 
They found the child. (Matt. 2:11)

Dear Brothers and Sisters, 
My dearly beloved Sons, 

After the shepherds, after Simeon and Anna, whose encounters with the Child Jesus at the Crib and in the Temple St. Luke has told in his Gospel, the Wise Men are according to the Gospel of St. Matthew the last ones to come and visit the Divine Child. They number among the first who received the Good News, the Gospel of the birth of the Saviour, of the King of Jews, and these disciples went back home transformed by their encounter with the Child. What they attended was a marriage, the wedding between God and mankind. On January 1st, the Church sings:

How wondrous an exchange! The Maker of mankind has taken to Himself a body and a soul, and has been pleased to be born of a A Virgin; He is come forth conceived without seed, and has made us partakers of His Divine nature.

We are all offered to take part in this wedding. The Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes of the second Vatican Council teaches:

Since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this Paschal Mystery. (n. 22)

Yet, if God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with the Paschal Mystery, this does not entail that all will effectively take part in it. Let us remember the parable of those who were invited by the servants to a marriage: 

But they neglected and went their ways, one to his farm and an- other to his merchandise. And the rest laid hands on his servants and, having treated them contumeliously, put them to death. (Matt. 22:5-6)

It is not even sufficient to attend the marriage; the parable adds:

And the king went in to see the guests: and he saw there a man who had not on a wedding garment. And he saith to him: “Friend, how camest thou in hither not having on a wedding garment?” But he was silent. Then the king said to the servants: “Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the exterior darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matt. 22:11-14)

To find the Crib, to find the Child, is a gift from God. To point out the place, God uses unexpected mediations: a star, Angels, a book, and a petulant king. The Divine plan is not the plan of man. The means of God are not the means of men. God merely requires of us that we should discern His Word among the manifold words, that we should abandon ourselves to His Word and follow it, as He gives us the grace to put it into practice. The fact of seeing and not doing entails a certain character of gravity, which is in propor- tion to the amount of light that God has given.

Whereas God gives His light, the demands of Providence seem sometimes harsh, they challenge our faith and may lead us to doubt.

In order to follow the star, the Wise Men had to give up all the arrangements of their probably comfortable lives — they were quite rich — and they had to take roads leading to the unknown. The objective of their road was a Child, “He that is born King of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2). What is the use of setting off for a child? What is the use of coming and worshipping him? The star, “His star”, was for the Wise Men the sign that was to challenge their faith. The Wise Men understood the message of the star. Through this star, it was the King of the Jews Who invited them to His marriage, and it was He Whom they must come and worship.

Herod reacts in a very different way. He is not far from Bethlehem, barely ten miles away. Around him, there are learned men, highly skilled in the reading and interpreting of the Holy Writ. Last, there are the Wise Men, whose mysterious arrival should have incited him to set off, too. Yet, Herod does not move.

That is how those who are very close to the Child are not going to find Him, whereas those who are far away will find Him.

That is indeed the point, for Herod as well as for the Wise Men: to find the King of the Jews.

Go and diligently inquire after the Child, and when you have found Him, bring me word again, that I also may come and adore Him. (Matt. 2:8)

According to the Greek text that the Neovulgate and the modern translations have followed, when they entered the Crib the Wise Men saw the Child. The ancient Vulgate translated with the word used by Herod: “They found, invenerunt.”

We beg leave to emphasise the richness of semantics contained in the word invenerunt. The verb to find incites us to regard the object: “They found the Child.” The Latin verb invenerunt, “to come into”, directs our attention more on the subject: “The Wise Men have come into the Crib, they have come into the mystery.” To find is to come into, it is to come into a deep communion. The Wise Men have thus really found Jesus.

These learned men have forsaken everything to set off towards an unknown person, Him “that is born King of the Jews”. God has not forsaken them: they have found Him Whom they were seeking.

Shall we put our footsteps into those of Herod or of the Wise Men? There is no lack of stars on the welkin of our lives. Each good deed, each gesture of charity or forgiveness, is a star that invites us to enter the Crib and find Jesus. Shall we keep our eyes closed before the signs of Providence? Shall we wish them to vanish? Shall we dare to quash them, to destroy them?

May we like the Wise Men find the Child in the Crib, that is to say enter in a deep communion with Him, and take part in the marriage supper of the Lamb when He enters into wedlock with mankind. May we also find the Church who according to Bossuet is “Jesus Christ spread and passed on”. May we not consider her as a foreigner to be stared at and judged, but as our Mother by whom we receive life. At the marriage at Cana Mary says to the servants: “Whatsoever He shall say to you, do ye.” (John 2:5) That is the Fiat of the Annunciation put into practice.

May we discern whatsoever He shall say to us and do it. Then we shall find Him.