Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon for Candlemas: Mary comes and invites us to pray (Our Lady of Pontmain)

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau 
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, February 2, 2021

Mal 3:1-4 
Lk 2:22-32 

Dear Brothers and Sisters, 
My dearly beloved Sons, 

Today’s Mass opened with the blessing of the candles. Five prayers have reminded us of the grace poured out by the creating and re-creating God on these candles, which are meant to be our companions throughout the coming year, as a sacramental bearing witness to God’s protection. This rite, carried out on this special day, cannot be understood but in its link with the encounter between old Simeon and the holy Family, as told by today’s Gospel. 

Driven by the Holy Spirit, Simeon, a just and God-fearing man who was waiting for the consolation of Israel, namely the Messiah, comes to the Temple. It had been revealed to him that he would not see death before he had seen the Messiah expected by Israel. On this day, this promise is fulfilled. God is always faithful to His promises. The encounter in the Temple gives rise in the old man’s heart to a blessing addressed to God, which Mary has recorded: 

Now Thou dost dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word in peace: because 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 2:29-32) 

Simeon’s wishes are fulfilled. His eyes see the child, who is the fulfillment of the promise. He sees and carries in his arms the Messiah, the light revealing itself to the nations. During Christmas night, the Redeemer came into this world. For the people who walked in darkness, a light has shone. During Epiphany, this light was made manifest to the nations. Lastly, the encounter with old Simeon takes on a special character, linked to where it takes place, the Temple, the place of cult and worship, where sacrifices are offered. The presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple is, as it were, the offertory of the sacrifice which is to be consumed on the Calvary. Simeon takes the child in his arms, raising Him before the world. 

Through old Simeon’s eyes, our own eyes have seen. Yet, are our eyes always seeing? Are our eyes still seeing? We need to be reminded of the luminous presence of Christ, that enlightens every man coming into this world. Christ is our sole Savior. We therefore wish to bear these candles “glowing with light”, blessed this morning “for the use of men, and for the health of their bodies and souls whether on land or on sea”, as the first prayer says, so as to be ourselves “inflamed with the sacred fire” and “presented in the holy temple” of the glory of God. 

Christ’s presentation is completed by our own presentation to God. The third prayer asks that, as light casts out night’s darkness, “our hearts, illumined by invisible fire, that is, the radiance of the Holy Spirit, may be free of the blindness of every sin”. The fourth prayer entreats that to the gift of the candles’ external light should correspond the gift of the Holy Spirit’s light in our souls, so as to acknowledge the Lord and faithfully love Him, as asked by the fifth prayer. The tragedy of souls is blindness. Once the spiritual eye has been purified, the heart can discern what is “pleasing to God and profitable for salvation”, and cross “the perilous darkness of this life” to reach the unfailing light of eternity. We are treading this path towards light, and nations also tread it, with the help of God. 

I would like to conclude our meditation with a brief evocation of the apparition of Our Lady in Pontmain, on January 17th, 1871, just 150 years ago.

  France is then at war with Prussia. The enemy army has invaded all the north region of the country, from Jura to Normandy. The French army turns out to be unable to fend off the invaders. The political situation is not much better. A typhoid epidemic is starting once again. People are desperate. God seems to be absent. 

Yet, in Pontmain, the unfaltering zeal of a holy parish priest relentlessly eggs on the faithful to prayer. It is already night on the evening of January 17th. It is half past five. Above the roof of a house, in the sky, a “Fair Lady” is holding out her arms, as if in a gesture of welcome, and she is smiling. She is clothed in a blue dress, spangled with golden stars. On her head, there is a dark veil, topped by a golden crown, with a red thread in its middle. On her feet, she has blue shoes with a golden buckle. She is at the centre of a triangle made by three large stars. Among all those searching the sky on that night, only a few children will see her. The Lady will not utter a single word. After the rosary has been said, when the Magnificat begins, a great banderole is unfurled under the apparition. 

Letters then begin to be written in golden capitals, one after each other: but pray my children god will hear your prayers before long· my son allows himself to be touched At about half past eight, whereas the apparition has already been lasting for more than three hours, the priest orders the evening prayers to be recited. The children then see a white veil appearing at the feet of the Virgin and slowly coming upwards, thus progressively hiding her, until the end of the prayer, when everything disappears. The Prussians, who were on the brink of entering Laval on that very evening, did not enter it. The day after, they begin to withdraw. Seven days after, on January 25th, an armistice is signed. 

In Pontmain, Mary comes and invites us to pray. Let us also single out in this apparition the purity of heart, crucial for an intimate union with God: that of Mary during the Annunciation, that of the Pontmain children. Mary also re- veals the incredible power of our poor prayer, able to touch her Son’s heart. On this day of consecrated life, this invitation to prayer assumes a special importance for all consecrated persons, who, inspired by Christ’s awe-inspiring gift, yearn in their turn to give their lives and to forsake everything to walk in His footsteps. 

God wants to hear our prayers. The Creator of the universe is also considering with loving kindness our earthly hardships. Mary is ready to help us, if we only know how to ask her that with a fervent faith. On this day, let us imitate old Simeon: God calls us, God strengthens us, God awaits us, and calls us to communion. Let us cross the threshold of light, of the peace He offers us, let us cross the threshold of hope.