Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon for the Feast of All Saints: “Heaven? I must earn it!”


Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
(Fontgombault, November 1st, 2015)

Gaudeamus omnes in Domino.
(Introit of the Mass)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,

Let us all rejoice in the Lord. On this day, the Church gives us a priceless teaching, a rule for our lives: joy.

If the Church can order us to rejoice, that is because she herself rejoices. She rejoices at the holiness that blossoms in the members of her body. On numerous feasts of Saints, and especially of their Queen, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Church uses this introit antiphon.

Today, however, this antiphon assumes a specific character, because the point is to celebrate all the Saints: those whose holiness has been duly attested after a canonical trial, those also whose names have been inscribed into the Book of Life, but who do not enjoy a cult on the altars.

The Church asks us to rejoice for all of them. The reading from the Apocalypse has reminded us that their number is not limited to the sole chosen of the tribes of Israel, but after those, there was a great multitude, which no man could number, of all tongues and races.

Yet, why should we rejoice for the holiness of others, whereas basically, this holiness does not, or very little, affect us? St. Thomas Aquinas asks, in his treaty on happiness, what may be the causes of man’s happiness. He propounds wealth, honour, fame or glory, power, bodily good, or pleasure. At the end of his inquest, he concludes

Happiness is the perfect good, which lulls the appetite altogether; else it would not be the last end, if something yet remained to be desired. Now the object of the will, i.e. of man’s appetite, is the universal good; just as the object of the intellect is the universal true. Hence it is evident that naught can lull man’s will, save the universal good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone; because every creature has goodness by participation. Wherefore God alone can satisfy the will of man… Therefore God alone constitutes man’s happiness. (Ia IIæ, q. 2, a. 8)

The Saints who are in God’s light have reached their ultimate end, they are in blessedness, and we may rejoice of their lot, because we know that it is offered us, too. It is offered us… but we do not possess it yet. St. Bernadette answered clearly to a good lady who had certified her that she would reach Heaven: “Heaven? I must earn it!” To rejoice in God, or in His Saints, would therefore seem to be safer than to pursue graspingly the purely human causes of happiness that St. Thomas lists.

It is in the light of this quest that the Beatitudes that we have just read in St. Matthew’s Gospel take on their real significance. They appear as the path that those who now rejoice in the Lord tread. The reason of true joy is outside of man, but we strive towards it by an inward operation. Therefore poverty in spirit opens the gate to possession of the kingdom of Heaven; meekness, to possession of the land. Those who mourn will be comforted; those who hunger and thirst will have their fill. Those who are merciful will obtain mercy for themselves. As to those who are clean of heart, they will see God. The peacemakers will be called sons of God. Those who suffer persecution for justice’s sake are possessed of the kingdom of Heaven. If you are reviled, and persecuted, and ill-spoken of, be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in Heaven. (cf. Mt 5:3-11)

The sadness of our world, which seeks its joy essentially in itself, seems inevitable. St. Augustine wrote:

Two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. (St. Augustine, City of God, XIV, 28)

Rejoicing for the gift of holiness, means intending to take the path of Saints, while being at the same time in communion with them. The path of holiness is not trodden single-handed. The Saints in Heaven are our fellow travelers, they smile on us, and among them, and most eminently, their Queen, Mary.

In this respect, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI said in Lourdes:

To wish to contemplate this smile of the Virgin, does not mean letting oneself be led by an uncontrolled imagination. … This smile, a true reflection of God’s tenderness, is the source of an invincible hope. … Suffering sometimes even leads people to despair of the meaning and value of life. There are struggles that we cannot sustain alone, without the help of divine grace. When speech can no longer find the right words, the need arises for a loving presence… Who could be more intimate to us than Christ and his holy Mother, the Immaculate One? … I would like to say, humbly, to those who suffer and to those who struggle and are tempted to turn their backs on life: turn towards Mary!… Yes, to seek the smile of the Virgin Mary is not a pious infantilism … In the very simple manifestation of tenderness that we call a smile, we grasp that our sole wealth is the love that God bears us, which passes through the heart of her who became our Mother. To seek this smile, is first of all to have grasped the gratuitousness of love; it is also to be able to elicit this smile through our efforts to live according to the word of her beloved Son, just as a child seeks to elicit its mother’s smile by doing what pleases her. And we know what pleases Mary, thanks to the words she spoke to the servants at Cana: “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5). (Lourdes, September 15, 2008)

Father Abbot Dom Édouard Roux used to summarise in a few words the feelings that this communion with our brothers and sisters in Heaven should inspire us: “He who usually thinks of Eternity is always merry, always glad.” Let us therefore enjoy bringing by our lives a smile on the faces of Saints, and let us live in their company.