Rorate Caeli

Fongombault Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Rosary: "There is one presence that remains, that of Mary."

Feast of the Holy Rosary

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, October 7, 2019

Fiat voluntas tua.
Thy will be done.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, 
My dearly beloved Sons, 

The gospel of the Annunciation to Mary should be considered as the apex of the encounters between God and mankind. These encounters are numerous. The Bible, the Gospel, the lives of Saints, our own lives, are the places where continually God’s words, requests, commandments, signs, are expecting a loving answer from our hearts and lives. 

These words of God may concern a precise event, a personal assent, as is the case for Mary, even though this event will subsequently have the stupendous and inconceivable consequences we know regarding mankind’s history. The word of God may also formulate a general rule that concerns the whole of mankind, as is the case in the first pages of the Book of Genesis, opening with the loving recommendations God gives man concerning the use of the creation. 

In a world which is not only heathen, but openly at war against its Maker, Whose rights it wants to arrogate, the word of God would seem to draw but a small response. Yet, it is comforting to see so many men and women taking to the streets to remind us that man and woman have received the mission to become fruitful, to multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it. [Rorate note: Reference to the 'Marchons Enfants' protest march in Paris this Sunday against the introduction of surrogacy-sale of babies to same-sex "couples".]

Subduing doesn’t mean exploiting, in the sense of plundering, but rather in the sense that the earth will be nourishing man and his descendants. Today, man deems himself to be enhanced, insofar as he escapes God’s plan. Yet, it’s an incontrovertible fact: the earth is laid waste, and man tends to become unfruitful, as he satisfies himself with the fruitfulness of consumption. 

Before the tragedy of our mankind, there are nevertheless hours of great light. Two words sum up Mary’s calling: Fiat, and Magnificat. We have to say and live them again and again. Fiat, this is a total, radical, uncompromising yes to God’s plan: let His word be done in me, be received and fruitful in me. The etymology of the word Magnificat is less immediate. It refers to two words, magnus, “great”, and facere, “to do”. It could be translated by “to make much of something, to vaunt, to extol, to glorify”. A man who magnifies acknowledges something great in someone else. And since he acknowledges it, he wishes to do a great thing in favour of this person. 

This two-fold aspect can be found in the relationship between God and Mary, and we hear its manifestation in the Magnificat. God has magnified Mary. In her turn, Mary does a great thing for her Lord as she proclaims her canticle. She also magnifies God. 

Today’s feast is the occasion for one of us to give thanks for sixty years of monastic life, sixty years of a day by day walk through the joys and difficulties present in all lives. A monastic profession bears a resemblance to the episode of the Annunciation. The vocation, the calling to forsake everything so as to follow the Lord, made itself heard one day in your heart, a long time ago. As Mary, you answered your own Fiat: “Suscipe me, Domine… Uphold me, O Lord, and I shall live: and let me not be confounded in my expectation.” The path of a monastic life bears a resemblance to the rosary you hold, the beads of which you willingly run through your fingers. It both escapes us, going blindingly fast, and at the same time, each single bead was held and touched. As each bead is a flower laid at the feet of Mary, each single moment in the life of a monk, consecrated by his profession, should be a “Yes” to God, a flower laid at the feet of the Father. Yet, a monk doesn’t live alone in his community. 

A community is made up of monks gathered in a family, through the bonds of charity, so as to carry out cor unum et anima una, with one heart and one soul, the Opus Dei, the work of God. A rosary with all its beads is also an image of what a monastic community should be. What we can see at a first glance, is all the beads. No single bead is catching our eyes or commandeering our attention. Each bead knows that its own beauty stems from its bond with the other ones. If one of the beads is missing, the whole rosary loses its form. In a family all and each of its members help and support each other. That’s what we repeat practically every day in the capitulum of the office of Sext: “Bear ye one another’s burdens: and so you shall fulfil the law of Christ.” (Gal 6:2) And as the beads in a rosary are organised — all don’t have the same place, the same meaning, — the same is true in a monastic family: there is an organisation around a father, the Abbot. He who is receiving today the renewal of your profession is not he who received your profession, nor, for that matter, he who received your jubilee of fifty years of profession. You have known four Abbots. And yet, the Fontgombault of yesterday is still that of today, and we hope it will, God helping, and through the offering and generosity of all monks, remain that of tomorrow. Half measures don’t build up a community. A monk who was younger than you, but who was called back to God a few years ago already, wrote to a friend on the occasion of Father Abbot John’s death, and Father Abbot Antoine’s election: Nothing has changed as regards the settings: it is the same pectoral cross, the same seat in the refectory, the same study with the same furniture. And everything continues in peace. What a mystery! And from the very first hour, I started relying with all my weight upon my new Father. 

On this feast of the Holy Rosary, there is one presence that remains in our house, that of Mary. Here, she is in her own, the Abbess of this place, the sweet Mother who is watching over each of her children. Our Lady of All Grace, or Our Lady of a Good Death, it is one and the same. The grace of a good death is the most beautiful of all graces, the grace of final perseverance. Therefore, my dear child, keep walking on your path, under the eyes of Mary, and supported by the prayer and love of your brethren. Let us remain children of Mary. May she teach us to say ceaselessly, night and day, our fiat, united with her own Fiat.