Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon - Sts Peter and Paul: "The Successor of Peter must be obedient to the word of God"


Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
and Administrator of St. Paul of Wisques
(Wisques, June 29, 2015)

Vos autem, quem me esse dicitis?
But you, who do you say I am?
(Mt 16:15)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,

The Church has honoured the Saints whom we celebrate today with the name of “pillars”. St. Peter and St. Paul are the pillars of the Church.

The Gospel tells of a surprising episode. Jesus enquires what men think of Him: “Who do people say that the Son of man is?” (Mt 16:13) The Apostles are eager to answer; they gladly inform their Master of the remarks that they have gleaned hither and thither, maybe also they take advantage of it to expound discreetly their own questionings… their own doubts. There are various answers: “Some say John the Baptist, and other Elijah, and others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” (v. 14) These answers reflect a world tossed about by its fashions and opinions, a world proud to have cast away any reference to truth. Jesus speaks again: “But whom do you say that I am?” (v. 15) This second question shows that He makes a difference between His disciples and the world. Faced with the conflicting answers previously heard, one might expect to hear a unanimous and almost solemn proclamation of faith by all the disciples. Peter alone answers: “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.” (v. 16)

Why does Peter alone speak? Why do the other disciples keep silent? Are they torn between what people think, and the truth that, they know it, comes from God? The answer of people is credible, whereas Peter’s answer, whereas the Word of God is foolish. Jesus then addresses Peter and praises him: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but My Father who is in Heaven.” (v. 17) Peter is praised because the Father has deigned to enlighten him, and because he has heard this Word and made it his own.

The world wants to build up a belief according to its own lights and standards. Peter merely makes himself the echo of what has been revealed to him by the Father. Such is the service of truth that the Apostles carried out in the infant Church and for the world. What was at stake for them was not indeed to falsify God’s truth so as to make it acceptable to men, but to open up the minds of men to the mystery of God. Christ has thus built His Church on a rock, Peter’s faith, and He has solemnly asserted that the gates of Hades, that is to say the powers of evil and death, would not prevail against her.

Such is the service that the successor of Peter, the bishop of Rome, still carries out. It is a service to which all the bishops in the world contribute, insofar as they are in communion with the Apostolic See. If the world today still speaks its native language and leads reason astray in the maze of opinions, this should not apply to the successor of Peter and the bishops, who must be obedient to the word of God Who teaches them, so that they may legitimately speak in God’s name.

Peter’s mission is to keep the faith from any lapse, and to strengthen his brothers in this faith. The Dogmatic Constitution on divine Revelation of the second Vatican Council teaches:

But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed. (Dei Verbum, n. 10; quoted by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 85-86)

This light that comes from God is a grace. It illuminates also the believer by inclining his heart before truth, and giving him to believe without any risk of error. The divine light does not confine to the sole truths of faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the Apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” Lumen gentium, n. 25) which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 892)

In the Creed, we profess that the Church is apostolic. She is such because she is built and remains built on the foundation of the Apostles, because she keeps and hands on their teaching, and because “she continues to be taught, sanctified, and guided by the Apostles until Christ’s return, through their successors in pastoral office.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 857)

The lesson that Jesus gives the Apostles today is a lesson of humility. Jesus does not ask of His Apostles anything else than what He has applied to Himself: “My docrine is not mine, but His that sent Me.” (Jn 7:16) And it is still a mission of humility which He asks His Apostles to carry out, when prior to ascending into Heaven He sends them to proclaim the Gospel and make disciples of all nations. Wouldn’t is have been less risky for them to affirm themselves as disciples of John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets, rather than Christ, the Son of God? Wouldn’t it have been more reasonable to proclaim the Gospel to an assembly of chosen men, rather than run towards all the nations of the earth?

God is faithful. A Word or a food adapted to the diversity of men of all nations will never fail. Whereas many ordinations take place on these days, let us entrust these priests to the protection of Mary, and beseech to obtain priests and bishops according to the Heart of God, true disciples of Christ, the Son of God.