Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Homily for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul: "Knowing is not enough. Proclaiming is not enough. We have to offer our own life for Christ."

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Father Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, June 29, 2021

Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram ædificabo Ecclesiam meam. 
 Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church. (Mt 16:18)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,

Acknowledging Christ, this is the concern for truth that seems to prompt the question the Lord asks of His apostles, and especially of Peter, who answers it in the name of all. The answer is not that obvious, as witnessed by the various opinions several disciples report concerning the Son of man’s identity: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremy, or one of the prophets. Acknowledging the Son of man also means appropriating a mission. St. Peter’s confession in Caesarea marks a milestone in the progressive revelation Christ makes of His imminent Passion and resurrection:

From that time, Jesus began to shew to His disciples, that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the ancients and scribes and chief priests, and be put to death, and the third day rise again. (Mt 16:21)


Confessing what the Son of man is, is not sufficient, and Peter has yet to understand it. Despite the fact that he proclaims Christ’s divinity, “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God!” (Mt 16:16), Peter doesn’t seem to be ready to follow the path the Lord is showing him. He doesn’t under-stand the Lord’s mission, and consequently, he won’t be able to accept his own mission, in the Christ’s footsteps. Faced with the scandal of the Cross, Peter rebels, takes Christ aside, and forcefully rebukes Him:

“Lord, be it far from Thee, this shall not be unto Thee.” Who turning, said to Peter: “Go behind Me, Satan, thou art a scandal unto Me: because thou savourest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men.” (Mt 16:22-23)

What a contrast! Barely a minute ago, the Lord just instituted Peter as head of the Church: “Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:18) And now, the Lord seems to curse Peter. How tactful Jesus is, as He reveals to us Peter’s divided heart. As if filled with wonderment when His disciple pro-claimed His divinity, He then rejoiced and beatified him:

Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but My Father who is in heaven.(Mt 16:17)

Now, He is saddened because His disciple is no longer in the school of the heavenly Father. Either following men’s thoughts, or following God’s thought, such indeed is the dilemma Peter, as well as we, are always faced with. And the Lord amplifies: If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for My sake, shall find it. (Mt 16:24-25)

The lesson will remain barren, and we know how during the Passion, Peter will betray his Master. How can we un-derstand that, if not by confessing human misery. The other Apostles are no better, as St. Luke (Lk 9:46) and St. Mark (Mk 9:34) tell us: indeed, barely a few days after the confession in Caesarea, they will vie with each other so as to know who among them is the greatest! In Caesarea Philippi, Peter proclaims his faith. Yet, this proclamation is not sufficient for those who wish to follow Christ. Knowing is not enough. Proclaiming is not enough. We have to walk in Christ’s footsteps, take our cross, and follow Him. We have to offer our own life.

The confession in Caesarea Philippi therefore calls for another and more radical confession, the confession of love. Peter will later make this confession, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, after his Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. St. John remembers that (cf. Jn 21:15-17). Three questions asked by the Lord, more and more demanding in their simplicity: “Simon, son of John, lovest thou Me truly more than these?” — “Simon, son of John, lovest thou Me truly?” — “Simon, son of John, lovest thou Me?” Three answers by Peter, each time more and more hum-ble: “Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee.” And again, “Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee.” Last, upset and hurt by the Lord’s insistence, “Lord, Thou know-est all things: Thou knowest that I love Thee.” Lastly, three missions, “Feed my lambs.” — “Tend my sheep.” — “Feed my sheep.”

Then, Jesus repeats again the call to follow the Father’s will:

Amen, amen, I say to thee, when thou wast younger, thou didst gird thyself and didst walk where thou wouldst. But when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee and lead thee whither thou wouldst not. (Jn 21:18)

As a conclusion, Jesus renews the first day calling, “Follow me.” (Jn 21:19) Peter will not escape from martyrdom, but this will come in the hour God has appointed, for nothing escapes His will. The always moving reading of the Acts of the Apostles re-minds us of that fact. 

Whereas today Peter’s ship is sorely rocked, in a world in the throes of tempests, whereas certain confusions, and sometimes discrepancies, arise from some shepherds’ words, it is our duty to keep them all in our prayer. As Peter, they are but men, who have humbly to discern and express God’s thoughts. As Peter, they also have to express the confession of love. Let us ask Mary, Mater Ecclesiæ, to intercede for them, as she did on Pentecost morning.

Lastly, called as we are to proclaim the mystery of the Kingdom of God, invited to bear witness to it through our lives’ consistency, don’t let us forget that we, too, have to answer the calling of the Lord, “Follow me,” through the twofold confession of faith and charity. Amen.