Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon for the Ascension: "In the name of pseudo-synodal approaches, members of the Church stray away from the One True Shepherd"

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau 
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, May 13, 2021

Dear Brothers and Sisters, 
My dearly beloved Sons, 

When we entered the Paschal mystery’s celebration, on Maundy Thursday evening, we heard the last, intimate words the Lord addressed to His disciples, as all of them were going to forsake their Master and leave Him to His passion and death. 

Today, we are witnessing another separation. The times have changed. The guards have receded. The disciples would like to remain with their Master, and keep Him with them. The fact that they are gazing intently into the sky as He goes away bears witness to that. Yet, the Lord now has to depart. 

On Maundy Thursday evening, as if He were considering His disciples’ weakness, the Lord left them, as a viaticum, a food, “This is My body, which is given for you,” as well as a mission, “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk 22:19) Today, Christ entrusts His disciples with another mission, “You shall be witnesses unto Me […] even to the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) This mission comes with a promise, reported by St. Matthew, “And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” (Mt 28:20) 

During these last moments of His presence, Jesus therefore entrusts His own with a food, and a twofold mission. More than twenty centuries have now elapsed. The Body and Blood of Christ, inexhaustible fount of the true life, keep sustaining the hearts of the faithful, through the ministry of the priests. Yet, despite the Lord’s promise to remain with us “all days,” it does seem as though the number of witnesses were inexorably dwindling. In our civilized countries, in our formerly Christian countryside, in our cities with their manifold religions and ethnic groups, many souls remain parched, and don’t find where to drink from. 

Christ presented Himself as “the way, and the truth, and the life.” (Jn 14:6) He gave His life as a token of His love, thus becoming for His disciples a fecund fount of life. The witness, in Greek μάρτυς, is precisely he who gives his own life. Such is the testimony of Him Who presents Himself as the Good Shepherd. Our world is thirsting for witnesses and shepherds. The men and women of our times, scattered unto the ends of the earth, need to be loved by witnesses and shepherds who stand, as Pope Francis is fond of saying, at the front, in the middle, and at the back, of the fold. 

At the front, the shepherd guides his sheep by the examples he gives and the teaching he hands out. In the middle of the fold, he remains present with each of the sheep and loves them. At the rearguard, he is compassionate, he heals and gathers the slightly mad sheep who are going astray, as well as those who are weaker or sick, and lag behind. He also goes and seeks the lost one, the forsaken sheep who have neither a shepherd nor a fold. 

Our societies are lacking true shepherds, true witnesses, true guides. Or rather, they no longer tolerate them. The laws are seeking for a consensus, while ignoring the natural foundations of mankind, the respect to which every living person is entitled, and they restrict themselves to patching up a social life that is crumbling away, as they strive to give satisfaction to everyone. We are reminded of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, of the would-be masons’ failure in Babel: building one’s own abode, pursuing one’s own way faraway from God. 

The Church is not immune to this temptation. Some grow weary of following the one and only fold led by Christ. In the name of pseudo-synodal approaches tagging along behind trendy ideas, and where prayer is lacking, in the name of hackneyed and simplistic ideologies some people keep harping on in the hope they will thus receive a small stamp of truth, members of the Church in some countries, in some groups, stray farther and farther away from the one Shepherd. Pope Francis reminds us: Doing that only doesn’t make a true synodality, but rather a fine ‘Catholic Parliament’. […] What turns discussion, ‘Parliament’, research, into synodality, is the presence of the Spirit: prayer, silence, discernment of all that we are sharing. (Address to members of the National Council of Italian Catholic Action, April 30th, 2021) 

The true witness, the authentic shepherd, doesn’t work for himself: he is sent by Christ, but always remains with Him. He listens to the Spirit. As he walks with Christ, he walks with the Church, keeping in the deepest part of his heart the love of this Church. He makes his own her history, in the days of glory as in the days of toil, and humbly receives, as a mere sheep of the fold, her teachings. Then, and then only, is he a witness of Christ and His Church unto the ends of the earth, a true witness, a faithful witness. Awaiting the conversion of societies, he brings the word to the men and women of our times, many of whom are merely expecting to hear that they are loved, and who are searching for a light on the meaning of their lives, on the place where they are expected. 

How could we not mention today the fortieth anniversary of the killing attempt undergone by this extraordinary witness of Christ, this indefatigable apostle of the Gospel, this colossus of holiness, namely the Pope who had come from Poland, Pope St. John Paul II. The words from his enthronement Mass keep resounding, in a perfect continuity with Christ’s call on Ascension morning: 

Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ! To His saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid! Christ knows “what is in man”. He alone knows it. (October 22nd, 1978) 

The holy Pope’s life bears witness to the presence of the Lord by his side, and especially in St. Peter’s Square during the Wednesday audience, on this 13th of May. Presence of the Lord, presence of Mary, on the anniversary of her first apparition in Fatima, in 1917. After a five-hour long operation, the Pope was saved. On December 27th, 1983, as he was visiting Mehmet Ali Ağca, who was convinced that “he had aimed straight, and that his bullet had been powerful and lethal,” John Paul II answered: “One hand shot, another hand guided the bullet,” thus referring to “the invisible hand of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Today, this bullet that was touched by “the invisible hand of the Virgin” and has become a relic, has been presented by John Paul II to the Fatima sanctuary and enshrined into the Queen of Peace’s crown. Let us ask St. John Paul II, a tireless witness to the truth on God and man before the nations, to intercede that a cloud of witnesses should be born after him in the Church. 

During these days that separate us from Pentecost, united to the Apostles gathered in the Cenacle with Mary, let us prepare our hearts to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit Who renews the face of the earth, by already reciting the feast’s sequence: Veni, Sancte Spiritus

Amen, Alleluia.