Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon on Dedication of the Abbey Church: Before building a "common home", we need to acknowledge the God Who designed it

Anniversary of the Dedication of the Abbatial Church

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, October 12, 2019

Hodie in domo tua.
Today in thy house.
(Lk 19:5)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,

Today’s Mass exhibits a great scriptural richness. The readings and the sung pieces run through the Bible from its very first book, Genesis, to the last one, the Apocalypse, centred around a same theme, God’s dwelling with men. Such is indeed the place in which we are, and the consecration of which we celebrate, a dwelling of God with men.

The opening chant is taken from the book of Genesis: “How awesome is this place. This is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven.” (Gn 28:17) Jacob uttered these words after he saw in a dream a ladder set up between earth and heaven, on which angels were ascending and descending. God then gave him as his inheritance this place, which Jacob called Bethel, House of God; there he set up a stone for a pillar, a memorial for this encounter. In the lesson, the vision of the Apocalypse brings us into the heavenly Jerusalem, this place which we yearn for. This is at the end of time the new abode of God with men. God is dwelling in their midst. The Gospel takes us into the house of Zacchaeus, the place of a conversion. This tax-collector in the pay of the Romans had taken a certain advantage of his position to get rich. Jesus comes and visits him, thus bringing salvation to his house. Last, the offertory describes the episode of the building of the first Temple of Jerusalem. David had collected all its elements, but the construction was Solomon’s responsibility. At the end of the work, God took possession of the house. This text fits nicely in the liturgy at this moment, and it evokes the qualities of heart expected from those who wish to offer something to God, joy and simplicity.

All these texts depict various houses, either built by God or by man, offered to God so that He may dwell in them. For that matter, may each true abode, each house of truth, joy, and peace, be anything else than a place in which God is dwelling?

The feast of the Dedication makes us look beyond the houses of the world in which we are living. The words “a common European house” are sometimes used, without much success for that matter, to stir up interest for an administrative and economical Leviathan in the pay of global finance. There are also the nations, inheritors of their history and geography, the regions, cities and villages. Last, there is the house, the abode, the place where a family is gathered. The earth and the universe, created by God, are also abodes.

But to return to Zacchaeus, the tax-collector. His abode is bearing the mark of his falseness. There, nobody is happy. The relationships between the members of this house are in the image of its master. It is a sad abode! Zacchaeus is yearning for something better. He leaves his house to seek light. There he is, lost among the throng. Light still doesn’t come. Since he is little of stature, nobody pays attention to him. Paradoxically, a crowd is a place of anonymity. Moreover, Zacchaeus knows all of them, and he is aware that they aren’t worth much more than he is. He hates them, and it is indeed reciprocal.

Yet, among all these people, there is one who is unlike the others. He is the cause of this gathering. He is the one who has the answer to Zacchaeus’ question. The easiest thing would be to go and meet him, and talk to him. Zacchaeus gives up. Is it because of the crowd? Yet, he already is in its midst. Shoving right and left would probably make it possible for him to reach this master. Zacchaeus doesn’t want it. Is he maybe afraid? How could he possibly, he, a thief and a liar, a traitor to his nation, talk to Him Who is the Righteous? 

A sycamore-tree on the side of the road seems to be a halfway house. He will be able to see, without being seen. His conscience will no doubt be soothed. He will have taken a small step to find the light. After that, come what may. There he is, up in his tree. But the events don’t turn out as Zacchaeus had forecast. Jesus, the Righteous, looks upwards at him: “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down: for this day I must abide in thy house.” (Lk 19:5) The tax-collector’s last reticences are overcome by the kindness of Jesus. He makes haste and comes down, and receives Jesus with joy.

This attitude of Jesus comes as a surprise. St. Luke’s words are damning: “All murmured.” Yes, “all of them”. It is a human reaction, especially when we know we are sinners, not to be able to rejoice when we see others walking, sometimes faster than we do, towards the light. Zacchaeus converts, gives half of his goods as alms to the poor, pays back fourfold those he had defrauded. The Evangelist concludes: “This day is salvation come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham.”

We celebrate today the Dedication of our church, the place of the ineffable presence of the Lord among His people, the place of the Eucharistic sacrifice and of the monks’ prayer. Churches can be seen from afar thanks to their spires, and they point towards heaven for the many Zacchaeus of our times, lost among the tumultuous waves of our societies. Whoever will for no valid reason divert for his own profit, or squander, or waste, the animal kingdom, the plant kingdom, or the mineral kingdom; whoever will forsake a human creature, or allow it to perish, or kill it, be it either hidden in the maternal womb, or lying on a deathbed, or lost in a faraway country, or within his own family or neighbourhood, may identify himself with the deceitful tax-collector of the Gospel.

The Zacchaeus of our times are politicians, financiers, researchers… they are also each of us. Today, too many human beings ignore Jesus’ message, either voluntarily, because they deem it too demanding or outdated, or unintentionally, because no one proclaimed it in a credible way. The world is suffering. Hatred spreads among societies and religions. The Church may seem frightening. Yet, should she keep silent so as to seduce, or against the tide offer the truth, as a proof of her love for men? 

Etymologically, ecology is “the science of the home”. Wouldn’t it be urgent to ask ourselves who is the Designer of our common home, and what His plan is, before we attempt to work for an authentic and integral ecology? The earth is the work of God. He only may bring there salvation and joy. Jesus came into Zacchaeus’ house, and the tax-collector acknowledged Him. Jesus is still coming today to His own: may we acknowledge Him, and receive Him in our abode, in our abodes. Then will salvation and joy enter our houses, our countries.