Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon for Easter Day 2021: "The tomb is empty. Will the same happen to the tombs of our lives, of our miseries?"


Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Father Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, April 4, 2021


Rich and poor, exult together. You who have abstained, and you who were neglectful, honor this day. You who have fasted, and you who have not fasted, rejoice today… All of you, enjoy the feast of faith… Let no one bewail his misery, for our Kingdom has appeared. Let no one weep on his sins, for forgiveness has risen from the tomb. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. Death held Him, and He has smothered death; He descended into hell, and He has despoiled it… Hell, where is thy victory? Christ is risen, and the devils are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns.

 Dear Brothers and Sisters, 
 My dearly beloved Sons, 

 By these words, taken from the Byzantine rite of the Easter Vigil, St. John Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople, addressed his people “on this holy and radiant day of Christ our God’s glorious and salutary resurrection.” Whoever we may be, whatever our lives may be, let us implore the forgiveness Christ offers us through His victory over evil, and over death. Let us rise with Him and enjoy the feast of faith. These words divide mankind into two parts. Every man who acknowledges he needs a savior receives them for his salvation. Every man who is self-sufficient rejects them for his ruin. 

 On this holy Easter day, let us remember the parable of the prodigal son, also called the parable of the merciful father. Among the two sons, the younger first demands his share of the estate, then leave his father’s home to live his own life. He squanders all his goods, and then conceives the wish to go back to his father, not as a son, but as a hired servant. From afar, his father catches sight of him. He goes and meets him, forgives him, and orders his homecoming to be celebrated. The elder son comes back from the field, and having been informed of the reason for the celebration, is greatly angered and refuses to join the feast. Neither the elder son nor the younger had understood the secret of their father’s heart, mercy. The elder, out of a narrow-minded fidelity to his education, was expecting from his father nothing but justice. He was righteous, and deemed himself not to need mercy. The younger son had squandered away his goods, his inheritance, and above all, his education. Aware of his own misery and responsibility, he could only claim to be condemned. As to the father, he was eager to share his secret, his mercy, with both of his children. 

 Let us acknowledge that all of us share, both with the elder son and the younger, an intractable hardness, and a wretched weakness. Our hearts are often the places of terrible fights. Who will save us from despair? On this Easter morning, Christ is victorious and dominates over our lives. He dominates over our prides. He dominates over our miseries. He brings over each of them the purifying, pacifying, and life-giving balm of holy mercy. 

 Already on the Golgotha, nailed on a cross between two malefactors, He had heard the penitent thief’s words “Jesus, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” (Lk 23:42) And the answer had swiftly come, “Amen I say to thee: This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise.” (v. 43) Mercy always has the last word. 

 Last night, we rejoiced as Christ triumphed over death. This morning, the stone has been rolled away. The tomb is empty. Will the same happen to the tombs of our lives, of our miseries? These tombs where we are kept prisoners? 

 The feast of Easter is not merely the evocation of an amazing event, it is not the mere renewal of the baptism promises. Truly, we have renounced Satan, his works, his seductions. We have professed our faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, our belief in the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the flesh, and life everlasting. 

 Yet, all that would be useless if the words of the penitent thief did not spring from our hearts, “Jesus, remember me!” The words the angel of the Resurrection addressed to the women before the empty tomb come to our minds, and reassure us: Fear not: for I know that you seek Jesus Who was crucified. He is not here. For He is risen, as He said. (Mt 28:5-6) Let us therefore banish fear if we truly seek the Lord, if we ask Him to remember us. After the angel’s words, Christ Himself comes to the women: Fear not. Go, tell My brethren that they go into Galilee. There they shall see Me. (Mt 28:10) 

 To see Jesus, and to be seen by Him: such is the last step we have to take, the ultimate and most difficult welcome we must give Him. Let us think of Peter and Judas on Maundy Thursday evening. Wealth, ideology, pride, obstruct the eyes and the heart. Self-denial opens them. What a lesson is given to by us this remembrance of a priest, visiting in Erbil the Iraqi Christians who had fled from Mosul and the horrors of the Islamic State: 

 They had lost everything in the space of a few hours, because they had refused to apostatize from their faith. […] A five-year old child went and fetched for me his “treasure”. They had been compelled to flee on foot from Mosul, each one taking but one single thing with them. From all his possessions, he had chosen his illustrated Bible (1). 

 And the priest follows up with these questions: Do we consider that faith is our first and foremost treasure? Are we convinced that the worst that could happen to us, would be to apostatize from this faith, or to lose it? Let us receive these testimonies from our brothers and sisters in the faith, the Middle Eastern Christians, the Christians in China, too often forgotten, and who feel forsaken. 

Let us make our own, on this day, the joy of Mary. May she intercede for us before God. The promise is now accomplished, in Him Whom she has borne. Christ is risen to save the world, to save us. 

Regina cæli, lætare, Amen, Alleluia.

1. Father Pierre-Hervé Grosjean, Être prêt, Repères spirituels [Being Ready—Spiritual Landmarks] (Artège, 2021), p. 88.