Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon for the Ascension of the Lord, 2022: The Ascension Message is Believing and Transmitting

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Father Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, May 26, 2022

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,

Although many of our contemporaries will doubtless consider the feast of the Ascension as the traditional opportunity for a much-appreciated extended weekend [Rorate Note: the Ascension is a public holiday in France], it is also quite clear that, as compared with the solemnities of Easter and Pentecost, for many Christians the Ascension holds but a secondary rank.

During Easter night, we celebrated the triumph of life over death. But Christ, Who has vanquished the tomb, has not kept for Himself only the trophy of His victory. Through baptism, He associates us to His resurrection. We live of His life, we are always with Him, and we pass from darkness to light, from
death to life.

During Pentecost, the Spirit, Who had rested over each of the disciples in the form of a tongue of fire, comes also over each of us to make His abode within us. But what is then the mystery that crowns this feast of the Ascension? Would this feast be but the remembrance of the event lived by a few disciples, who saw the Lord rising with His body to heaven? Whereas the Lord is now sitting with His glorious body, having kept in it the imprint of His Passion’s stigmata, at the right hand of the Father, the Apostles, who since the arrest in the garden of Olives on Maundy Thursday evening, have already been deprived of a constant contact with the Lord, will no longer enjoy the Master’s so lovable apparitions, begun on Easter day.

Yet, today’s readings invite us to pay attention. Today’s event is recounted in verses taken from the first chapter of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and the last chapter of the Gospel of St. Mark. St. Luke also mentions this event at the end of his Gospel, thus establishing a transition with the first chapter of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, which he also authored. St. Matthew, without mentioning the event, implies it.

The Ascension therefore appears as a pivotal event, marking the end of the Lord’s bodily presence with His disciples, and opening a new era in the life of the Church, which is the object of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles.

The Gospel had begun with the good news of a birth, that of a child named Jesus, “God saves.” God makes Himself the Emmanuel. He comes in our midst. The feast of the Ascension thus takes place in the history of God’s encounters with mankind. The Son came and visited us in His human nature, and today, he ascends back towards His Father.

Already in paradise, God would delight in encountering man. Man, made for God and finding his rest in God only, was satiated by these encounters. Cast out from paradise, the human line did not wear very long the pride of its rebellion. Hatred and war have occupied, and are still occupying, our horizons. The consequences of the first wound are lingering, when not the wound itself. Human heart is torn between loving the Author of each life, and spurning Him who would claim to limit a life that has become

And God isn’t the only one who limits human madness: there are also the other people, when they are in the way or vulnerable, there are the children in their mothers’ wombs, so often unwanted, there is nature itself, which is rebelling.

Faced with this disaster, God might have forsaken man, or destroyed him. No indeed: God presents man with His peace, the leitmotiv of the Lord’s apparitions: “Peace be with you.”

St. John had already mentioned this priceless gift in the discourse after the Last Supper:

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (Jn 14:27)

The peace of God is our consolation. It becomes our own peace. Once this gift had been communicated and shared, the Lord’s presence was no longer necessary. His mission was accomplished. From now on, it will fall to the disciples to spread the peace coming from Heaven.

Let us remark that St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke do not confine themselves to evoking the Lord’s ascension into heaven. They remind us that the Ascension was for the Lord the occasion for two acts: rebuking the disciples for their hardness of heart, and confirming them in the mission of bringing the
Gospel to the ends of the earth. 

The Ascension message, the Lord’s ultimate last will and testament entrusted to the disciples, can be summed up in two words: believing and transmitting. In the light of this holy day, as we remember the Ascension of our Lord, and as the already snuffed out Paschal candle is going to disappear, we now have to receive this message from the Lord, and make it our own: believing and transmitting.

The last lines in the Gospel according to St. Mark bear witness to the fact that the disciples did carry out the mission received from the Lord:

But they going forth preached everywhere: the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed. (Mk 16:20)

These lines, as they describe the Church’s first steps, bear also witness to God’s faithfulness, “the Lord working with them.” In His discourse after the Last Supper, Jesus had talked to the disciples in unequivocal words:

Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in My name, that will I do: that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you shall ask Me any thing in My name, that I will do. If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father: and He shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you for ever. (Jn 14:13-16)

The feast of the Ascension is therefore not solely the bitter reminder of a farewell. It is the starting point of a new mode of presence of the Lord to His disciples, and to each man of good will.

Let us receive the rebuke made to the disciples for their hardness of heart. How much harder it is for us to believe, when we do not see!

Christ remains faithful. At the right hand of God, He prays the Father to send the Paraclete, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, on His friends. During these days which precede the feast of Pentecost, our prayer is called to meet with that of the Son.

Strengthened by the gift of the Spirit, mindful to put into practice the Lord’s words, we shall go forth on mission after the disciples, we shall live as true believers, and radiate our faith, for the greater glory of God.

Veni Sancte Spiritus! 

Amen, Alleluia.