Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon for the Ascension

Sermon for the Feast of the Ascension

Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, May 25, 2017

The abbey in late spring

It is expedient to you that I go. (John 16:7) 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,

The feast of the Ascension of the Lord is a feast of faith and joy. St. Mark tells us that before He sent His apostles to preach the Gospel throughout the world, and was taken up into heaven, Jesus rebuked them for their lack of faith and hardness of heart, for they had not believed in His resurrection.

This correction takes on a special importance, whereas this day marks a change in the presence of Christ beside His apostles. His death had already deprived them of a constant life with the Master. From now on, the sight of the Lord will be taken away from them. How may we understand the disciples’ lack of faith? Yet, they had been prepared to the separations entailed by the death on the Cross and the Ascension. But sorrow filled their hearts, which were deaf and hard. And did not the Lord Himself intensify too much the wound: “It is expedient to you that I go”? The image of their good Master picking His first disciples on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias kept coming to their mind. The months of solitary teaching, of fraternal life with such a good Rabbi, the miracles that drew the crowds’ sympathies, the first preaching of the Word…

Also, so many men to convert in a land where various nations intermingle… Why couldn’t all this last? The Kingdom that had been promised was not yet established, and the Roman invaders had not been cast out. Shouldn’t the Emmanuel, God with us, have remained with us? On the contrary, the Lord yearned to fulfill everything, and especially His hour, this very hour for which He had come, and which was the will of the Father. What good would it do to leave the lush land of Galilee and the shore of the Sea of Tiberias? What good would it do to go away from the oasis near the banks of Jordan, so as to face the scorching heat of the Judea desert, and
the long ascent towards Jerusalem, except to reach the place where this “hour” was bound to come?

The apostles are sad. The Lord comforts them: Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God: believe also in me. (John 14:1)

Faith was lacking from their hearts! Despite the assurance of the Lord, “I will not leave you orphans” (John 14:18), despite the promise of a Paraclete, the apostles’ hearts remain hard. Despite men’s tardiness, the design of God will be carried out. Very soon, the Consoling Spirit will rush down upon each of the disciples, and move them with a holy enthusiasm, to such an extent that passers-by will mistake them for drunkards. St. Luke, when he reports the Lord’s Ascension, tells us that the apostles, after worshiping the Lord Who was blessing them while He was carried up into Heaven, came back to Jerusalem with already a great joy. Light had come back into their hearts. What then had taken place? The hearts of the disciples had opened up and received the grace of faith. The feast of Ascension is a feast of faith, and joy. God remains the Emmanuel.

Before He was carried up into Heaven, the Lord made a point to cure in His disciples a twofold disease of the soul: lack of faith, and hardness of the heart.

Monks have known for a long time one of the sisters of these two diseases, and they have called it by a special name, acedia, weariness of divine things, a sin against the joy that comes from God. It is a very contemporary disease, too. If it is very noticeable among monks, because in a monastic environment, everything speaks of God, everything should be done with God and for God, in the world, it assumes a veiled form, made of a frantic quest for excitement that affords but a deceptive liberation. Lack of faith, hardness of heart, acedia, go against God, and yield only despair and sorrow.

As paradoxical as it might seem, encounter with the Invisible, encounter with God, may take place only in a heart open to reality and the present time. An absent virtuality, a heart slumped on itself and deaf, are the lot of a soul affected with acedia. Weariness of God, weariness of reality, weariness of life, all go together.

Before the Passion, the apostles were not able to discern God’s design in the words of Jesus. They were lacking faith, and their hearts were closed. The Lord’s rebuke has opened the disciples’ hearts. Today, the apostles have faith in the word of their Lord, their hearts are listening to Him, and joy is their share.

What an example for each of us! The Lord has not left us orphans. Everyday, He offers Himself to us on the altars of this earth. The Holy Spirit craves to be the guest of our souls. God is thirsting for souls, and this thirst is our joy. Each of our lives abounds in His kindnesses. If the assurance that we are not deceived by God is the cornerstone of our daily path, then the feast of the Ascension should by the same token truly be for us a feast of faith and joy. Should this not be the case, let us have enough courage to revert to the path of the disciples towards light. So many of our contemporaries go so easily without God! As for us, what room do we grant God in the present moment, in our days, our weeks? Do we have a taste for God? God has not left us orphans, that’s settled; yet, do we not forget our Father? Are our hearts open to His teachings?

Whereas the novena preparing the feast of Pentecost is beginning, what shall we ask the Lord? The grace to taste ever more that we are richly endowed children, that we have been loved at the price of Blood, children who, far from being orphans, have a Father in Heaven. The grace of a docile heart, of a listening heart. The grace of faith.

May the Lord, Who has also given us a Mother, bless us on this day, so that we may be, in the place where He has called us, His witnesses; all of us witnesses, to the ends of the earth.

Amen, Alleluia.

[French original at Le Petit Placide]