Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon for the Epiphany - "The Church is necessary for Salvation: The storms rocking Peter’s ship invite us to get closer to Christ."

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, January 6, 2020

Vidimus stellam eius.
We have seen His star in the East.
(Mt 2:2)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,

During Advent, we appropriated the expectation of the men and women of the Old Testament, and we yearned for the coming of the promised Messiah. This found an echo in the liturgy, with its many repetitions of the call, “Veni, Come”.

This expectation for a Comforter is not something proper to Christians exclusively. Every man who wonders, even just a little, what the meaning of his life may be, yearns for a light, for a pointer on the path towards happiness, for an answer to the painful questions included in each human life. Unfortunately, many go astray, following stars leading to dead-ends, to unfulfillable hopes. The multiplication of sects, the revival of mystery religions, the development of Masonic lodges, bear witness to that fact. Man is often an anonymous person, lost in a crowd of anonymous persons. Everyone follows his own path, towards manifold directions, without a guide, on his own.

After Advent, our calls fell silent. They were replaced by angels, and a star, messengers of a new call. It is now the Word of God made man, the Incarnate Word of the Father, Who, in a stable, invites us, “Veni, Come”. The shepherds and the Wise Men have heard this calling, and they have set off on the road.

Today also, this voice can be heard. The second Vatican Council asserts that God calls each man: "For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit, in a manner known only to God, offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this Paschal mystery." (Gaudium et spes, n. 22)

Therefore, over every human life, there shines a star. If we follow it, it leads us to a single point, a single person, Christ. The crib becomes this magnetic north the compasses of our lives take as a bearing. Then, the crowd of anonymous persons set off on the road, mankind takes the path towards its renewal, its redemption. As He becomes incarnate in the crib, God comes and redeems men condemned to the tyranny of sin, He comes and sets free our blinded freedoms, enslaved by passions and addictions.

The Prophet Isaiah saw this movement. The city of Jerusalem was first given light by the Savior’s birth; now, it becomes a beacon, and people and nations set off on the road leading to it. Yet, setting off on the road, forsaking a wrong road, an evil road, is something demanding. The Wise Men’s long journey bears witness to that fact. They who were heathens, ignoring the Scripture, shared their discovery with King Herod. Herod, on the other hand, far from wanting to follow them on their path of conversion, will not rest until He Who was the origin of the appearance of the star has perished, whereas Herod knew full well that He was the King of the Jews, the expected Messiah.

Today, the Wise Men come to us. Shall we follow them? Which is our star?

Isaiah’s vision is a prefiguration of the Church, and it is towards the Church that we are walking. Whereas it is trendy to promote a certain relativism concerning the various religions, let us recall one of the very few anathemas pronounced by the second Vatican Council: "Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved." (Lumen gentium, n. 14)

It is worth reminding ourselves, or even, if needs be, convincing ourselves, that the Church is necessary for salvation.

Within the Church herself, an unwholesome trend of self-blame suggests that she would even be, as it were, a structure of sin. The sins of the priests and the sufferings of their victims rending our hearts, destroy the trust of many. Let us read again in faith the affirmations of the Creed.

The Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Let us also appropriate the Roman Canon prayer asking the Lord to grant peace to the Church, to protect and unite her. This request is repeated by the liturgy after the Our Father. If the Church herself is pure, shining and holy, she is nonetheless made up of sinners, that is to say, men and women who are walking on a path, and who have to call upon the name of the Lord to be saved.

The lines St. Paul wrote comfort us:

For whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in Whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe Him of Whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they be sent, as it is written: How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, of them that bring glad tidings of good things? (Rm 10:13-15)

On this feast of the Epiphany, let us walk towards the crib, in company with the Wise Men. We shall then leave the holy stable with a fulfilled heart, the bearers of great tidings.

If the Wise Men went back by another way, thus avoiding Jerusalem, it was because Herod did not deserve to hear their message. Yet, there may be no doubt that on their way, the Wise Men, as the shepherds, became the first apostles of the Emmanuel. After the Prophet Isaiah, St. Paul marvels: “How beautiful are the feet of them that bring glad tidings of good things!” Why are they beautiful? Would it be because they are the bearers of the good news? No, not first and foremost. They are beautiful because they have encountered Christ and have been washed by Him. There, we shall find the answer to the turmoil the Church is enduring today. It is not he who preaches the word who is holy and pure, but he who
has been purified by Christ and remains purified with Him.

The storms rocking Peter’s ship invite us to get closer to Christ. In the footsteps of the Wise Men, let us therefore go to the crib. Let us encounter Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. In the school of Mary, let us allow the wonders of God to bear fruit in our hearts, and let us bear witness for the world to the fact that through each human life, God wants to do great things, provided this life seeks for and follows the star lovingly prepared for it.

Is that not the message Mary gave in Cana? “Whatsoever He shall say to you, do ye.” (Jn 2:5)