Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon for the Feast of Saint Benedict: "A tiny virus frightens almighty man. The answer: Believe, Confess, and Receive."

Saint Benedict

The Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau 
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault 
Fontgombault, March 21st, 2020

We have followed Thee.
(Mt 19:27)

Dear Brothers and Sisters, 
My dearly beloved Sons,

This morning, the Church applies the Apostle St. Peter’s words to St. Benedict. Indeed, following Christ takes a special form for monks, who may assert, “We have left all things.” Not only do they prefer nothing else to Christ, but they have forsaken everything to seek Him truly.

To be truly human, and therefore free, such a choice cannot be made but knowingly. To know the Lord’s ways, so as to choose Him and seek Him further, such is the path of the monk, but also of every man. During Lent, in this time of a great cataclysm, but most of all, on the Easter path, let us receive this calling: to choose and to seek.

Choosing Christ implies to have a listening heart. When King Solomon, David’s son and successor, received in a dream a word from God promising to give him whatever he would ask, he unexpectedly answered:

Give therefore to Thy servant an understanding heart, to judge Thy people, and discern between good and evil. (1st K. 3:9)

These words cast a glaring light on our lives and on those of our fellow citizens. Pope Benedict commented:

Each one of us has a conscience so as to be, in a certain way, “king”, that is, to exercise the great human dignity of acting in accordance with an upright conscience, doing what is right and avoiding wrong. The moral conscience presupposes the ability to hear the voice of truth and to be docile to its indications. […] An erroneous mentality suggests to us that we ask God for favorable things or conditions; in fact, the true quality of our life and of social life depends on the upright conscience of each one, on the capacity of one and all to recognize right, separating it from wrong and seeking patiently to put it into practice, thereby contributing to justice and to peace. (Angelus, July 24th, 2011)

Through the vow of poverty, monks give up possession of earthly goods. They hope to receive from God’s hands a listen- ing heart, a heart faraway from the temptations of a world al- ways tagging along behind ceaseless novelties. This word — “Listen” — is the very first word in the Rule: “Listen, O my son, to the precepts of thy master, and incline the ear of thy heart.” (Prologue)

Indeed, listening isn’t enough. Docility is needed. This docility demands a freedom consisting in receiving what is not coming from ourselves, but from another one, from God. If freedom is the condition for a true listening, in return, a docile listening begets a true freedom. The deeper the listening, the deeper the freedom. Freedom and listening give rise to a beautiful and authentic relationship with God.

But it seems normal that a monk should listen. We might exclaim, “That’s the only thing he’s got to do!” That a king like Solomon should ask for this gift, that is amazing. The king commands. He doesn’t need to listen. Such is indeed the situation of our so noisy, so chattering world.

The current circumstances precisely seem to reveal the great illusion into which mankind has for a long time buried itself. Prideful with his discoveries, convinced he wields a power that is called to irrevocably and boundlessly grow, man exercises an unprecedented and institutionalized tyranny on nature and on himself. Abortion, euthanasia, the squandering of natural re- sources, the destruction of nature, arraign today a man deaf to the complaint of the weak, enslaved by a never satiated quest for pleasure, a man who deems himself to be free, but whose heart is dry, cold, and dead.

This interior freedom is what the monk wants to conquer. His life of interior purification isn’t caused by some concern for perfection, or by a certain contempt for his human brothers. The monk saves his heart for the sole word that is truly interesting, the sole word truly deserving to be heard and to be answered, the sole word that gives life. He hears this word in prayer, but he also receives it when he reads the Scripture, and in his brothers.

The Apostles heard this word. They answered it, choosing Christ, and forsaking everything for Him. When our choices end up in Christ, they give us to make the most beautiful act, the supreme act of a being both material and spiritual: the choice of God.

This choice transfigures life, and especially the look we cast on our neighbor. Seeing Christ in every man, means honoring him, and above all, honoring the plan of salvation for him, the plan through which God invites every man to eternal life.

Contrariwise, forgetting God, ignoring, or even refusing, our condition of creatures, utterly change mankind’s history. The great river leading towards paradise is no longer flowing. Each moment has no longer any past, and remains without a future. Its sole worth is the weight of pleasure it is bearing, and when all is said and done, it wears man out, as it wears itself out. Life no longer has a meaning. Hope has been snuffed out.

It is this hope that should be reborn today. A tiny virus, invisible, imperceptible, silently entering into man, is jamming the so well-oiled wheels of the profit-making machine in the service of economy and finance, it is worrying the doctors, and terrifying a self-styled almighty man. Before Peter proclaimed that the disciples had forsaken everything, the little group of the disciples had encountered the rich young man. He had refused to forsake everything. He was now sorrowfully going away.

Isn’t this young man the world of today, faraway from a God it is refusing? And this, not by fear of the divine love, but by dread of the light God might cast in the darkness where many revel, because there, everything is allowed.

The Lord’s conclusion after this encounter had been that it would be hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. He had then added, “With men this is impossible: but with God all things are possible.” (Mt 19:26)

Yes, everything is always possible, provided the world accepts to receive the glance of love, the light of truth God casts on it, provided it humbly understands that before being, it was willed and chosen. Mankind is dismayed as it becomes aware of its own weakness, and it is either driven to fear, or invited to listen to the Lord’s calling: “Repent and believe the good news.” (Mk 1:15) This news is the creating word of the first moment, it is above all the recreating word of the Paschal mystery. Man was willed. His life has a meaning. The time for despair is over. Man’s worth stems not from himself, but from the choice God made of him. Man is great only when he receives this choice.

Within a few days, we shall celebrate the Annunciation, the day when Mary, a daughter of our human race, listened to the archangel Gabriel’s message, and answered, on her own behalf and on ours, too, the fiat that gave her to beget Jesus. St. Bernard exclaimed, as he contemplated this mystery:
Answer the word, receive the Word. Utter thine, conceive the Divine. Speak the word that is transitory, and embrace the Word that is everlasting. Why dost thou tarry? Why art thou fearful ? Believe, confess, and receive. (Homily Super Missus est, n. 4, § 8)

Today, St. Benedict invites our deeply distraught mankind to follow this same path: “Believe, confess, and receive.”