Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon for Ascension, 2019: "God, when will you restore a Christian Society?" God is in charge of the right time.

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
(Fontgombault, May 30th, 2019)

Videntibus illis, elevatus est.
While they looked on, He was raised up.
Acts 1:9

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,

In her liturgy, the Church uses things that come under our senses so as to lead us towards the unseen mysteries.

Our senses are indeed the means through which we human beings get our knowledge. In the liturgy, sounds, colours, smells, help our minds and souls, as a reflection of a special presence of God, while they are appropriate to the mystery, the feast’s object, or the liturgical period.

With the feast of Easter, the white colour thus supersedes the purple, reserved for penance periods. Sometimes, during the same ceremony, the priest has to change his vestments. For instance, during the procession on Palm Sunday, he dons scarlet vestments, the colour of kings, as Christ is acclaimed by a festive throng. But this colour would be unfitting for the following Mass, centred on the Passion narrative.

At the beginning of this Mass, the priest therefore receives purple vestments. The same thing occurs during Easter Vigil, which begins with purple vestments near the tomb, and ends with white vestments as we praise the risen Lord.

Why should we recall these facts on the morning of the feast of the Ascension?

It might seem strange, whereas the Gospel has just evoked Christ’s return to Heaven in the presence of His disciples, and as the Paschal candle, the token of His presence on earth, is now extinguished, that the Church should not invite us to lay down the Eastertide white vestments, and take up again the purple of sadness and bereavement. Faithful to her Lord’s teaching, the Church has probably remembered the mysterious words uttered after the Last Supper:

And now I go to Him that sent Me. […] But because I have spoken these things to you, sorrow hath filled your heart. But I tell you the truth: it is expedient to you that I go. (Jn 16:5-7)

As the Apostles, we would probably have preferred that Christ should remain with us, appropriating the words of the Emmaus
pilgrims: “Stay with us, because it is towards evening and the day is now far spent.” (Lk 24:29) And indeed, the Lord had obeyed the two disciples, and it was good for them. He revealed Himself to them in the breaking of the bread.

Likewise, it might seem to be good for us if the Lord stayed on earth, and if His visible presence remained throughout the centuries. Yet, what would then our faith become? And how would the Son of God’s humanity, now glorified and immortal, find a fitting abode in this world, where everything dwindles and passes away?

As for the pilgrims of Emmaus, the Lord does on this Ascension morning for His disciples, as He always does, what is good for them: “It is for your good that I am going away.” But how can this departure be good, if the Lord’s absence is not counterbalanced by something even greater than His human presence? He had promised it: “I will not leave you orphans.” (Jn 14:18)

This departure therefore takes place with an eye to a gift: "For if I do not go away, the Counsellor [or also: the Comforter] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to
you." (Jn 16:7)

As a proof that the Lord’s teaching had trouble getting through His disciples’ thick skulls, we can hear them asking at this very moment: "Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6)

We are flabbergasted by this question. And yet, when the evolution of our world puts a severe strain on our hope, aren’t we among the first to ask: “Lord, whenever are You going to restore in this world, in our country, a Christian society?” God’s designs are not the designs of men. We have to go back to the Lord’s answer: It is not for you to know the time or moments, which the Father hath put in His own power. But you shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you, and you shall be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:7-8)

Whenever we think the Lord is tarrying, it is assuredly most urgent to ask ourselves questions concerning our own faith, our openness to receive the Holy Spirit’s grace, our own tardiness on the path of conversion.

Christ’s answer precisely invites the disciples, who would like to see God do something, to begin with their own conversion, so as to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit, and thus become credible witnesses unto the ends of the earth.God is faithful. Let us rest assured that even now, He still acts in this way.

The feast of the Ascension is therefore a joyful feast, for it is not so much the remembrance of Christ’s departure, as an
Annunciation: the announcement of a visitation in the hearts of the Apostles, in our own hearts, too, the visitation of the
Holy Spirit.

The word “annunciation” refers us to the day of the first Annunciation, that borne by the angel Gabriel to a maiden named Mary. At the moment when she opened her heart to the divine word brought by the angel, an openness that was manifested by her “Yes”, the Holy Spirit overshadowed her, and she conceived from His mysterious action.

During the second Annunciation, it is to the Apostles,and after them to all men and women, that the Lord promises the coming of the Paraclete. This coming cannot but be
completed by a conception, or at least a renewal: the strengthening of the life of grace in us, and the fruitfulness of this life around us. The Holy Spirit is indeed invoked as He Who renews the face of the earth.

There is now a bit more than a week left for us to prepare for this coming of the Spirit. Let us imitate the Apostles: they withdraw into the Upper Room, in prayer and silence.

Amen, Alleluia.

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