Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon for the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary: "Mary, Mother of Him Who is the Wisdom, offers Him to the world."

Nativity of Our Lady & Perpetual Promise of an Oblate

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, September 8, 2021
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,
And most especially you, who are going to pronounce your perpetual promise of regular oblate,

On this day dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lady, the readings taken from the Book of Proverbs and the Gospel according to St. Matthew are somewhat surprising. The texts give us two outlooks, one on the genesis of the universe, the other one on Jesus’ genealogy, and yet Mary, the subject of the feast, is barely present, just as a passing mention.

We would have expected her genealogy from St. Matthew, and especially from St. Luke. Nothing of the sort. Beginning with Abraham, the Father of all believers, the Evangelist lists in fact the genealogy of Jesus, the Christ, son of David, son of Abraham. He bears witness to God’s faithfulness to the promise made so long ago to the Father of all believers: not only will his seed be as numerous as the sand on the seashore, but from it will be born the Messiah.

After this long list, Joseph is acknowledged as begotten by Jacob, but also as “the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” In this last link in the chain running through the centuries of the chosen people’s history, there is a break. Jesus is begotten of Mary, not of Joseph. The Messiah is son of Joseph by adoption only, receiving from his adoptive father the Davidic and kingly sonship. This break emphasizes Mary’s very special role. The Virgin of Nazareth is pregnant with the Word of God according to human nature. She conceives not by the means of a human seed, but by the action of the Holy Spirit. 

This special place in the work of Redemption invites us to remember Mary’s Immaculate Conception, through which God built for Himself a most fitting place for Him to put on a body. Conceived nine months ago, we marvel today before the one-day old Virgin, who is already the bearer of the whole mankind’s hope.

The Book of Proverbs had already called us to contemplate God’s great works, carried out both in eternity and in time. In eternity, the Wisdom is begotten by God. She has been remaining since the very beginning, and presides at the work of creation described by the author of the Book of Proverbs: the appearance of earth and space, of the world’s primeval elements, of heaven and horizon, of clouds, of depths and springs abounding with water, of mountains and hills. Moreover, God carries out His work with “measure, and number, and weight” (Wis 11:20), with craft and love. He draws the horizon, masters the sources of the deep, and gives the sea its boundary, so the waters may not overstep His command.

Before all this, Wisdom had been begotten. She is now growing up, revealing herself in the work of creation, ever at play in God’s presence and delighting Him, so that in front of the creation, the mirror of God’s Wisdom, God Himself can affirm that it is good. The creating Wisdom still yearns to delight in us, and she keeps working in every man, called to listen to her and keep her ways. In such a way will he then receive Wisdom, not wisdom according to men, the fruit of science and experience, but Wisdom that is the first gift of the Holy Spirit, this quintessentially contemplative gift. 

This Wisdom was what Solomon asked of God: “And give to Thy servant a listening heart, to judge Thy people, and discern between good and evil.” (1 Kg 3:9) A listening heart, a heart knowing how to discern between good and evil, such is indeed a monastic heart, as described by St. Benedict in the very first lines of the Prologue of his Rule for the monks:

Listen, O my son, to the precepts of your master, and incline the ear of your heart, and cheerfully receive and faithfully execute the admonitions of your loving Father, so that by the toil of obedience you may return to Him from whom by the sloth of disobedience you had gone away.

Wisdom is the grace to see things according to God, with God’s eyes. It stems from an intimacy with God, lived Modo geniti infantes, “in the likeness of infants,” who claim nothing, but receive everything. He who lives in communion with God has the taste and flavor of God and of God’s things. Everything in his life speaks of God, and manifests His presence. He who watches daily at Wisdom’s gates, and waits at the posts of her doors, is blessed, for he has found life, true life.

Mary has received the title of Sedes Sapientiæ, “Seat of Wisdom,” insofar as she is the Mother of Him Who is the Wisdom, and offers Him to the world. On the very first day of her life, the Lord took His rest in Mary’s heart, and poured out into it the treasure of His gifts. Mary’s heart is a sanctuary. The Gospel reminds us twice that Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19.51).

Mary keeps and ponders.

To express the first idea, St. Luke uses two words, συνετήρει, sunetêrei, and διετήρει, dietêrei, both derived from τηρέω, têreô, which means “to keep watch over”. The prefixes reinforce the idea, so that the terms can be translated by “to keep faithfully, to keep ceaselessly”, so that the good which is kept should not be lost. The idea emerging is that of perseverance. To express the fact that Mary ponders, the Evangelist uses the word συμϐάλλω, sumballô, which literally means “to throw together.” Mary throws together the events she lives. She throws them into her remembrances, into what she knows of her people’s history, of this divine plan which is carried out throughout history.

Such is indeed the work of a monk, especially during the lectio divina, and in general, in his life. He thinks, he ponders the word of God, the works of God, both by considering them as a whole, as well as by pausing at the lines he is reading in the Bible opened before him. At all times, in the image of Mary, a thanksgiving song should burst forth from his heart.

Whereas you are going to pronounce your perpetual promise of oblate, the Wisdom’s invitation is addressed to you. The monk is a watchman. He ceaselessly keeps watch and ward, seeking God, and God only, night and day.

How could we refrain from mentioning today the centenary of the simple profession Fr. Abbot Édouard pronounced in Quarr Abbey on September 8th, 1921? In his school, in Mary’s school, remain faithful to the quest for this One necessary thing, which fulfilled Mary’s heart, and will fulfill, day after day, your own heart.