Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon for Candlemas 2020: "Every child is a gift from God."


Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, February 2, 2020

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,

The feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple and of the Purification of our Blessed Lady occurs this year on a Sunday. As a feast of the Lord, it supersedes the Sunday, and we are therefore able to celebrate together this feast. It bears a special relationship with consecrated life, and Pope St. John Paul II wanted to emphasize this fact with a day of prayer.

According to our Bishop’s wishes, throughout the various parishes of our diocese, priests will mention this special answer to God’s calling: forsaking everything so as to follow Him, namely, consecrated life. This calling is lived by the male and female contemplatives in a life withdrawn from the world, inside an enclosure, or by the religious, as well as consecrated lay men and women, through an apostolic activity. We willingly unite ourselves to the thanksgiving of the whole Christian people for the gift of consecrated life God has given the Church, and we especially keep in our prayer so many young people the Lord is still calling to follow Him. May the call of the Lord of the harvest strike a responsive chord in them, and receive a generous, persevering and radical answer.

May also this feast be the opportunity for all of those who one day answered this call, to do some self-searching concerning the way they are answering it today. As for God, He always remains faithful. But why was it necessary to establish a link between today’s feast and the consecrated life?

The scene the Gospel tells us takes place in the Temple of Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph go to the Temple to carry out the Law. Every firstborn child had to be offered to God, then redeemed, as it were, by the offering of a gift, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. 

The law of God is a teacher. Its aim is to lead man from the darkness of ignorance, ignorance of what he is and of his calling, towards the full light of the communion with God. The place where this progressive enlightening occurs is life on this earth. Through the commandments, which are first and foremost a word of love from the Maker to His creature, the law reminds us that God is the master of all fecundity, which always remains a gift. Every child is a gift from God.

Thus, Mary and Joseph obey the Law. But He Whom they bear to the Temple is not merely a gift from God, He is totally belonging to God, He is God. Through their humble offering of a few birds, which may be viewed in relation to Mary’s “Yes” during the Annunciation, the happy parents demonstrate mankind’s desire to receive Him Who came to redeem the whole mankind. Master of all fecundity, God is also the master of life. It is therefore justified that men and women should one day decide to consecrate once and for all their lives through their own consecration in His service, in the image of Mary, who from her very birth remained all given to God.

The old Simeon and the prophetess Anna are icons of this gift, and the Evangelist takes care to tell us their special features. Simeon is a righteous man, a “God-fearing” man. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. He was docile to the lead of the Spirit, and came up to the Temple. He knew that he would not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. Even though today’s reading stops before that point, St. Luke mentions a second encounter, with Anna, daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was now a 84 year old widow, and she didn’t depart from the temple, worshiping God with fasting and prayer night and day. At the present moment, she praised God, and spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.

Simeon and Anna had consecrated their lives to God, and God did not allow their expectation to be vain. His presence and faithfulness were manifested through the gift of His grace, through a propinquity of every moment. God always floods with grace those who offer themselves to Him. Let us be convinced in faith of that. Therefore, the life of a religious consists merely in clearing out from
his heart whatever rubble may clutter it up, or even preoccupy it. “Merely”, this doesn’t imply that this might be something easy, but in the sense that this is his sole work, to be carried out unfalteringly. Our heart is indeed often enslaved by our character, our past, our habits. It is gradually, as this harsh and difficult work unfolds, that little by little, light grows in our hearts.

As he encounters the Lord, Simeon does not keep silent. When he meets the Child, the old man becomes a prophet:

My eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: a light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel. (Lk 2:30-32)

The Gospel tells us of no word that Mary or Joseph might have uttered under these circumstances. They heard the Child’s vocation, “Light of the Gentiles”. As she had presented him to the shepherds and Wise Men, Mary now offered Him to Simeon and Anna’s worship. And she then kept all these things in her heart.

The old Law was a teacher. God made Himself a schoolmaster. When the Lord comes, a new Law comes and shines over the peoples and nations. It is not a law engraved on tables of stone, which might be erased by time, nor written on sheets that might be scattered by the wind. The new Law is the Child in the crib Himself, Who knocks on the door of every man’s heart. The little flame which just a moment ago was shining on our candles, is the very same one that will triumph over the darkness of a tomb in the night of Easter. This Law remains today a light offered to our so dark world. It is ageless, or rather, it has the age of God, it is eternal.

If the religious offer to the Lord their undivided hearts, in a radical and uncompromising gift of their own lives — and as such, they should be as a mirror of Him Who is the light of the Gentiles — every Christian, every man, is called to render such a service to mankind.

Let us enter the school of Simeon and Anna. May the witness of the love of God rise from the depths of our hearts, drawn from an unceasing communion with Him. This light is the only one which may give back hope to our so weary world. Then, as Simeon, we shall be able to depart in peace, towards this comforting peace God only can bring us.