Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon for the Assumption of Our Lady: What is Freedom? "Freedom, a gift from God, is stepping into the harmony of the Divine Plan."

Assumption of Our Lady
Sermon for the Mass 

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau 
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault 
Fontgombault, August 15, 2020 

Tu gloria Jerusalem, tu lætitia Israël. 
Thou art the glory of Jerusalem, thou art the joy of Israel. (Jdt 15:9) 

Dear Brothers and Sisters, 
My dearly beloved Sons, 

Whereas we are at the peak of summer heat, and the liturgy unfolds the splendor of its greatest solemnities, the reading taken from the Book of Judith immerses us into one of the darkest moments of the chosen people. The Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar had sent his army to conquer the western part of Assyria. After a string of successes, the army has now come before the gates of Israel and laid siege to a city called Bethulia. 

For most of its inhabitants, the future seems bleak and hopeless. Yet, Judith, a pious widow, arises. After taking time to pray, she goes to the enemy camp. Her wisdom seduces Holofernes, the general, and all his officers. A few days later, Judith takes advantage of the warlord’s drunkenness and executes him. The people rejoices, the town is set free, and the enemy army is put to rout. Why remember the praise given to Judith on this Assumption morning? What is the connection between the humble Virgin of Nazareth and the liberator of Bethulia? 

The homecoming of the victorious widow into her city can but very modestly foreshadow the entrance of Mary into heavenly glory. It thus seems we have to search elsewhere the motive for this parallel. As Judith, the Virgin of Nazareth found herself at the centre of a fight, the most terrible of all fights. In the image of the city of Bethulia, man has been from the very beginning besieged, enslaved by sin, a prisoner of manifold addictions. At the appointed hour, Mary rises from the midst of the human tide, the only one who, by a unique privilege, is alien to the satanic genealogy inexorably marking every man coming into this world. 

If the Virgin Mary overcomes Satan, it is because she has freely accepted to fulfill perfectly what God had wanted for each of us. In the beginning, God had uttered a word, “Let there be light”. And light shone. It still shines in creatures, in the sun that gives us light. Yet, at the end of His work of creation, God had said another word, “Let us make man to our image and likeness”. An unexpected word, suggesting that from now on, the light of the first day is no longer sufficient. Man is called to live in another and more powerful light, God Himself. Between God and every man, there remains not only the link uniting each creature to its Creator, but also a deeper link, expressed in this assertion of St. Paul to the Galatians, “And I live, now not I: but Christ liveth in me.” (Gal 2:20) 

However attractive this perspective of the life of God in us may have been, it did not overshadow in the eyes of man the temptation to build his own life, and indeed, he yielded to this temptation in the very first days. To this day, for many of our contemporaries, and sometimes even for ourselves, living far from God, letting go of His commandments, means marching on and conquering a more actual and more comprehensive freedom, it means working at the progress of our human race… Yet, is that so certain? Willingly living far from God means renouncing the light of Christ that was to recreate man in the image of God. It also means renouncing to live fully in the light of the first word, the word of creation. Freedom, which consists in receiving as a gift the work of God, in stepping into the fair harmony of the divine plan, in making one’s own the fact of being a man or a woman, in unfolding this being amidst creation, and especially amidst the other men and women, this true freedom gives way to its caricature, a freedom that is brazen, rebellious, slumped over itself, shackled by the frantic desire to obtain what has never been obtained, to live what has never been lived. 

The state of the earth, of men, of societies, already bears witness to the consequences stemming from the refusal of the fair order given by the divine intelligence and love: chaos in nature, chaos in families, chaos in society, chaos in the heart of man. Man, the protagonist of progress, proclaims himself the master of all things. Boundaries yield, until they reach those of absurdity. For a long time now, the legislative machine has embarked on an inexorable runaway race. It is so easy to pass laws that go against common sense. Will it be as easy to subjugate creation and creatures, the victims, to our lack of common sense? 

The vision we see this morning is totally different. Mary enters into Heaven. The heavenly hosts are rejoicing. She who is clothed with the sun, and whose feet are borne by the moon, is already shining with the divine light resting in her. The bride is coming, adorned for her husband. God has chosen Mary, and Mary has chosen God. This vision of glory brings us back to the hidden encounter in Nazareth. There, Mary unreservedly receives the will of God on her life: “I am the handmaid of the Lord.” Forever preserved from the slavery of the No, she will live every day of her life the fullness of her Yes to God. What might be the most ardent desire of our heavenly Mother, if not that we should follow in her footsteps? 

Trahe nos, Virgo immaculata, Draw us, O Virgin undefiled.” Draw us on the path to Heaven, we who want to be with you, and in you, servants of the Lord. As we contemplate you crowned in glory, we yearn to enter heaven and to receive the crown of the elect. Then, today’s feast takes on all its meaning: feast of Mary, feast of Heaven, feast of the Church, feast in our souls. Mary bears witness to the fair freedom of the children of God. Earth could detain neither the soul nor the body of her who by her life was already all in God. 

The philosopher Henri Bergson invites us to search our consciences when he affirms: “Man should strive to simplify his life as ardently as he strives to complicate it.” If our lives are that complicated, it is because evil entered into them. Mary lives with simplicity the present moment, allowing God to carry out His work and co-operating with Him. The path of the saints is simpler than that of the wicked. 

May the light of the Assumpta shine on the path of every human life. May she awaken in our hearts the ardent desire to pursue ceaselessly the path of the Yes, the path leading straight to Heaven, freed from all bonds, so that we may share in the glory and joy of the elect. 

Amen, Alleluia