Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermons for Christmas
- I: Midnight Mass - "Our Dehumanized World has no room for children."

Christmas - Midnight Mass

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, December 25, 2019

Natus est vobis hodie Salvator.
This day is born to you a Savior.
(Lk 2:11)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,

The Church celebrates Christmas by unfolding the treasures of her liturgy. During the three Masses today, she commemorates the historical birth of the Child Jesus, more than two thousand years ago in a poor stable in the surroundings of Bethlehem; what is more, she initiates us to the great mystery, both visible and invisible, which is taking place, and of which we are the recipients.

There are three milestones on this path. The midnight Mass readings recall the birth of the divine Child. The Mass at dawn invites us to follow the shepherds’ path of faith. They see and they believe. The foretold light has shone for these men. It should also shine for us, provided that we have simple hearts. Last, an unexpected milestone: the day Mass readings focus on the eternal generation of the Word of God in the bosom of the Father. As they contemplate the Trinity, they remind us that the Child in the crib is truly God.

Let us remark that although the Gregorian pieces do not follow the same course, united with the readings they ensure that both in the midnight and the day Mass, the two mysteries, that is, the eternal generation and the generation in time of the Word of God, are contemplated. The Child has now been for nine months in Mary’s still virginal womb. As many women, Mary experiences this presence, the fruit of love. But in Mary, it was the fruit of a unique love, a divine love. The Child taking form in her womb was the witness of a promise, as unlikely from a spiritual point of view as it was impossible from a human point of view: the angel Gabriel had visited her on behalf of God to announce to her, who was a virgin, that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Once the expectation months have elapsed, the Child is there, a witness to God’s faithfulness, a witness also to the fruitfulness of Mary’s own Fiat. The words of the Magnificat ceaselessly keep resounding in her heart:
He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid:
for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me
Because He that is mighty hath done great things to me:
and holy is His name. (Lk 1:47-48)

During this night, Mary in her turn does great things for her God: she receives the Child, lavishes her care on her son, as all mothers do. Through her, the divine Child is received by his own. Yet, already in this holy night, a cross is erected in her motherly heart: the closed doors in Bethlehem foretell that many hearts will remain closed. Receiving a child is not something that easy. To many people, a child is just a bother. That was the case for the divine Child.

Yet, from that very moment, Mary has to enter the mystery. The love that presided over the conception of the divine Child in her womb is not merely the love of God for His handmaid, but also the love of God for all men. From that very moment, Mary is, as it were, deprived of her child, deprived also of her Magnificat. The visits of the shepherds and Wise Men bear witness to that fact.

In the Child of the crib, God leans over each of us humans. As He visits the crib, God visits us. He was a Creator at the beginning of time, now He comes towards us, a re-Creator, under the features of a poor and frail child, similar to all the children of men.

How wondrous an exchange! The Maker of mankind has taken to Himself a body and a soul, and has been pleased to be born of a Virgin; He is come forth conceived without seed, and has made us partakers of His divine nature. (1st antiphon of the Lauds of the feast of the Octave, January 1st)

This gaze of God on humanity, incarnated in a child, makes us consider how we gaze on each human person, called to become partaker of the divinity.

Not very long ago, a philosopher described the dazzling increase of cremation these last thirty years as the consequence of a society wishing to leave no trace, refusing to hand down, ashamed of itself. Indeed, far from God, man is not worth a great deal. His life has no longer a meaning.

What a contrast! God manifests His love by sending His Son in our own flesh, whereas man despises his own body and the bonds of flesh that are tied in it. The body is reduced to a place of pain or pleasure. The body is not loved, it is endured. It is the place of possession or enslavement of another person, a mere object, a tool, to be watched, taken, enhanced or decreased, sold, bought, thrown away.

God takes flesh in the time, and man wants to escape time. God makes fertile by taking the time, and man wishes only to enjoy the present. God gives, and gives Himself, and man refuses, and refuses himself. God is fecund, and our society has become structurally barren. Programmed destruction of the family, promotion of free love or unnatural love, rejection of motherhood and in vitro fertilization of children, confusion sown in children from a very early age as to what they are, all of these promote a dehumanised society. The society of those without a heart is in the hands of media, weapons of mass misinformation in the pay of their possessors, and this society is spreading its tentacles to smother hearts. Our world, as the Bethlehem inn, no longer has room for children. Children no longer have room there.

Yet, the Child of the crib and His Mother keep presenting us with the testimony of a free gift. Since this Child no longer finds room to be reborn in our world, why wouldn’t our hearts be His crib today? Let us at last open with resolve the door to Him. “Late have I loved Thee,” wrote St. Augustine. We couldn’t say better. Receiving the Christmas mystery entails reassessing our outlook on our own humanity, as well as our brothers and sisters’ humanity. May we spurn what God has come to visit and redeem? The world needs authentic and consistent witnesses of Christ, witnesses of the love of God. This will happen if God is received in us.

Let us bear witness to the Christmas mystery, to this immeasurable love made flesh in the crib, among our neighbors, spouse, children, members of our families, members of our communities. Is the look we take on others true? What is fair and beautiful, that is what God wants for each of us.

The world is in a very poor state, because God is relegated at the door of our hearts. May we be reborn, with the Child in the crib, may we welcome the gaze God is taking on us, welcome His presence and His plan on our lives. Then it will be, and always remain, Christmas, for God will abide with us, Emmanuel, and we shall be with Him.

A holy Christmas to all of you!