Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermons for Christmas
- II: Christmas Day - "The Catholic Faith is thrown into doubt in our days - It is not enough for a Christian to be merciful."

Christmas Day Mass

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

Et Verbum caro factum est.
And the Word was made flesh.
(Jn 1:14)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,

At this time, the shepherds have now left to go back to their fold. Mary and Joseph find themselves alone in the stable. Mary ponders in her heart the events that just took place, and which already are a mystery.

As the Church assigns as readings for the faithful the Prologues of the Gospel of St. John and of the Epistle to the Hebrews, she introduces us into the contemplation of an even deeper mystery, the eternal generation of the Word of God with the Father. Without this first generation of the eternal Word of the Father, there His incarnation in time couldn’t have taken place.

Faith in these mysteries is essential to answer the question on the identity of the Child in the crib: Is He God? Is He a man?

The history of the Church’s first centuries shows that St. John’s assertion is not self-evident. The Word was made flesh. Yet, was not that flesh a mere appearance? And, should this flesh be that of a true man, is this man God at the same time?

The formulations of the Creed, taken from the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, are clear. Concerning the Son of God, the Word of the Father, the Word of God, we believe that He is God as the Father is God, light as the Father is light, true God as the Father is true God. This is expressed by the received word, consubstantial with the Father. We should rejoice to hear this word back in the new French liturgical translation. The only opposition remaining between the Father and the Son is that between the fact of begetting, proper to the Father, and the fact of being begotten, proper to the Son. They are only one God.

Concerning the incarnation, the Church professes that for us men, and for our salvation, the Son of God came down from heaven, and was incarnate, and was made man. The Word of God, true God from all eternity, assumes at the requested time a human nature, He becomes incarnate.

If the Catholic faith was thrown into doubt during the first centuries of the Church, the same is true today. And if the faith isn’t thrown into doubt, its is worse, for it is simply ignored. Christians are fond to describe themselves as good, merciful, charitable men. Far be it from us to affirm that a Christian shouldn’t have these qualities. Yet, we have to remember that they are not specifically Christian. Every man is called to do good and avoid evil.

A Christian is a disciple of Christ. He believes that Jesus is Christ, the incarnate Son of God,  Himself God, that He died and was risen for our salvation. Faith in Christ, such is our distinctive mark. A faithful is he who has the faith. We share this faith with the first Christians. This faith has not changed, it cannot change. At the height of persecutions, our brothers in faith would write before they died, on the sand of the arenas or on the walls of their prisons, the word ichthus, made up of the initials of the Greek words “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior”, or also a stylized fish, since ichthus in Greek means “fish”. We could write the same.

So many of our contemporaries are shunted around from a current event to another one, which instantly is no longer current, they are worn out by news after news that fade away. The true event, the true news, is that generation of the Word in the bosom of the Trinity, an infinite gift, totally given and perfectly received. The true event, the true news, is the love of God for His creature. Should we not be comforted to hear that “after having spoken to our fathers by the prophets, God has spoken to us by His Son”? 

However, the affirmation of the Gospel, “He came to His own, and His own received Him not”, makes that all the more tragic. Love is not loved. Indeed, the earth and the creation are His own. And if they are also “our own”, it is because they are, first and foremost, “His own”. It is an illusion to attempt a dialogue on environment if we ignore God. Isn’t it God Who, in His love and wisdom, has established the rules for relationships between the various beings in the creation? How could we spurn these rules?

Verbum caro factum est, the Word was made flesh: supreme love for His creation, and for the body of His creature, supreme emptying, supreme humility, so as to make man a partaker of His divinity. God puts our flesh on, He makes Himself Emmanuel, God with us.

Man is oblivious to God, and as if to occupy a place seemingly empty, he sets himself up as God. Supreme pride, supreme contempt for the love and wisdom of his Maker, he revisits the creation and claims to shape it according to his own whim. The dictatorship of the false gods is day after day ever more oppressive. Justice between men, and respect for the freedom of all, demand that we should acknowledge the truth on what man is, and accept the divine plan.

What can we do, as our pilgrimage is ever more difficult?

Today, Jesus makes Himself a pilgrim, too. God is with us. Let us walk by His side. In order to stand up to a society that is exclusively concerned with violence or what regards its economic interests, it is urgent that Christians should gather together and acquire training. They should know and accept the tenets of their faith. Don’t let us allow Christ or His message to be caricatured.

Is the Child in the crib a mere plaster figurine, taken out of its box each year, or is He the One Who has deeply imprinted my own life, to the point that it now spreads His light and message? Is Christ worthwhile being known, and proclaimed? It is our own remit to proclaim Him, Whom most media keep ignoring; we shall do that by being present in the various forums of expression, by supporting Christian media. 

We are facing an abysmal vacuum.

What too many Christians are lacking today, is precisely what the rich young man was lacking: the flame of faith, which allows us to go the whole way with Christ. God’s radical gift calls for man’s radical gift: “God or nothing”! 

If the world becomes day after day more violent, if situations of hatred multiply, it is because the world has decided that there was nothing beyond itself. The sole thing it is lacking is to accept the love and peace of its God, which today take the features of a child. Whereas the night is dark, a Christian is a watchman, whose mission it is to open the path of hope for his brothers.

Today, in a crib, by Mary’s side, Christ has appeared, the Son of God, our Savior, our peace.

Amen, Alleluia.