Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon for the Feast of Saint Benedict: "God embraces the whole universe. Nothing escapes His Providence."

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau 
Father Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault 
Fontgombault, March 21, 2021

Centuplum accipiet. 
He shall receive an hundredfold. 
Mt 19:29 

Dear Brothers and Sisters, 
My dearly beloved Sons, 

Saint Gregory, in his Life of St. Benedict, evokes an astonishing event: the vision of the whole world under a single ray of light that was granted to the Father of the Western monks. Servandus, a deacon and the abbot of a nearby monastery, had come to pay a visit to the patriarch. As Benedict himself, he was a man of God. 

As a sort of current flowing from one another, they gave to each other the sweet words of life, and, yearning with sighs and longing desires, tasted of that delightful food of the celestial country, the perfect fruition of which they were not as yet permitted to enjoy. 

Once the time for rest come, the two monks parted. Yet, Benedict prayed, standing before his window, whereas the brothers were resting. Suddenly, in the deep of night, he saw a light glancing from above, driving away the darkness of night, and shining with a splendor far beyond the light of day. In this light, Benedict saw “the whole world, compacted, as it were, under a single ray of sun.” 

Wishing someone to witness his vision, St. Benedict called Servandus, who “saw a little remainder of the light.” 

The Life of St. Benedict is a part of a larger work entitled the Dialogues, for in this work, St. Gregory converses with Peter the Deacon. The latter asks: “How can the whole world ever be seen by a single man?” Pope Gregory’s answer is clear: 

For a soul that beholds the Creator, all creatures appear but narrow. […] It does not mean that heaven and earth were straitened by contraction, but that the mind of the beholder was dilated, which, rapt in the sight of God, might without difficulty see all that is under God. Therefore, in that light which appeared to his outward eyes, the inward light which was in his soul ravished the mind of the beholder with higher things, and showed him how mean are all inferior things. 

Union with God affords a new outlook on the world. This is the lesson given by this episode in the life of St. Benedict, which takes place just after his last encounter with his sister Scholastica, and her death. During their meeting, she had given her brother a lesson, when she had obtained a profuse rain, which had compelled her brother to remain with her to pray: she had been more powerful, for she had loved more.

Forsaking everything to follow Christ ensures a reward. Jesus assures Peter that when He comes back, when the Son of man is seated on the throne of His glory, the twelve who will have followed Him will also be seated “on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” But as is often the case, Jesus doesn’t limit His point of view to the sole question asked Him, He broadens it: 

And every one that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for My name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting. 

Wouldn’t this hundredfold be a partaking in the gaze the Apostles will at the end of times cast on the world to judge it, and in which St. Benedict already partook on this earth, in the vision told by St. Gregory? 

St. Matthew’s chapter 19 has opened on a discussion with the Pharisees to know whether it is lawful for a man to send away his wife for any reason at all. Jesus answers that “what God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” (v. 6) 

As little children are brought to Jesus, it is no longer the Pharisees, but the disciples themselves, who want to send them away from Jesus. The Master’s answer is unambiguous: “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me: for the kingdom of heaven is for such.” (v. 14) 

Then a young man, probably heartened by the welcome given to the children, comes up to Jesus. “Good master, what good shall I do that I may have life everlasting?” Jesus invites him to practice the commandments. The devout man affirms that he has already put them into practice, and would like to do more. To reach perfection, Jesus doesn’t invite him to do more, but to forsake that which hinders him, that which, basically, prevents him to love more fully. 

If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me. (v. 21) 

The young man won’t follow up on this offer. The Evangelist gives the reason why: he had great possessions… He wasn’t free as a child. He wasn’t able to receive Christ in his life by giving everything up for His sake. The earthly goods that clutter up a heart don’t leave much room to heavenly goods. 

The perception the Pharisees have of God’s commandments, the perception the disciples have of the children, aren’t the perception God has of those who are weak or vulnerable. God receives. 

Today’s gospel and the teaching of St. Benedict both invite us to turn our hearts away from worthless and transient concerns, so as to embrace right now God’s plan, the view He has on every man and woman. As the Pharisees, we can pull towards ourselves God’s commandments, turn them into weapons for our own use. As the disciples, we may deem such or such person unworthy to go near Jesus. To become a friend of God, it is not so much a question of doing more — for God needs nothing — as of forsaking what prevents us to give totally ourselves, what in our hearts dislodges love. 

As Lent is drawing to its end, and the Paschal solemnities drawing near, let us remember that there is no greater proof of love than laying down one’s life for one’s friends. Let us open up our desiccated hearts to the salutary dew of grace. 

St. Benedict’s vision reminds us that God embraces the whole universe. Nothing escapes His Providence, His governance. The friend of God sees according to God, and acts according to God. This is a part of the hundredfold God grants His friends. May He unite us forever to His life in eternity.