Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon for Sts. Peter & Paul: “The Church becomes younger not when she compromises with the world, but when she receives the truth from the Spirit”

 Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault 
Fontgombault, June 29, 2022

In a same solemnity the Church unites St. Peter, a fisherman from Galilee, chosen by the Lord as the chief of the Apostles, and as the fundamental cornerstone of the Church; and St. Paul, a Roman citizen born in Tarsus, in Cilicia, who, from a persecutor of the first Christians, was to turn into the fearless preacher of the Gospel.

What a long way Peter has trodden since the day the Lord first called him on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias! What a conversion for St. Paul since the day he was felled down, on his way to Damascus!

As she celebrates Peter and Paul today, the Church invites us to contemplate holiness in action, the holiness which, from the very first encounter with Christ, blossoms through various trials, to reach finally its maturity in martyrdom for both of them. A path of holiness for Peter and Paul, the path of the Church, our own path, too.

Whereas many Christians consider the Church to be in palliative care, and therefore want to update her so as to put her on a par with the world and worldliness, thus enabling her to survive, let us remember that the Church remains a sign that will be spoken against. Not only her survival, but first and foremost her very life, depend on God only. Coming back to the first period of her long history should enable us to draw a few lessons.

St. Peter’s deliverance is a powerful sign, and is not unrelated to the situation of many Christians in the world today. There are many gaols, and many ways to be held captive. Peter is in a desper- ate situation: after several disciples have been arrested, and James has been killed, Herod has had Peter arrested. No less than four squads of four soldiers are in charge of guarding him. There is no skimping on manpower when what’s at issue is to gag the Church! Yet, the Lord will make light of the difficulties, and fool the guards.

Let us first remark that Peter’s deliverance won’t happen without the prayer of all: “Peter therefore was kept in prison, but prayer was made without ceasing by the Church unto God for him.”

The angel who appears to Peter is full of solicitude: “Arise quickly... Gird thyself and put on thy sandals... Cast thy garment about thee and follow me.” Wouldn’t these last words have evoked for Peter the calling he had so often heard from the Lord’s lips since the first day, “Come, follow me; and I will make you to become fishers of men.” On that day, he hadn’t left a prison, but fishing nets, nets that were keeping him near the beloved sea, and which he was now forsaking. He was forsaking them to take charge of other nets, with which he would from now on catch men. Happy nets, that led him to the happy prison of the life with God.

But casting nets is not enough for the mission. The Gospel tells us the Lord’s rather astonishing question, “Whom do men say that the Son of man is?” The answers are manifold: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the prophets. The Lord keeps asking, “But whom do you say that I am?” Peter then answers, “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus says, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but My Father who is in heaven.”

On which grounds may Peter rejoice? Because he has said fair words? No, for these words don’t come from him: it is not flesh and blood that have revealed this to him. Contrariwise, Peter should rejoice that God has given him the light, and that he has been docile to this light. All truth comes from God, by the Spirit Who illuminates. Peter has received the light, and thus can enlighten his brothers.

Jesus says as a conclusion, “Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.” Peter’s mission is to strengthen his brothers, by the word coming from God.

In the episode of Peter’s deliverance, it is still God Who is at work. Peter comes out of the prison behind the angel, without knowing whether all this is truly real, convinced that it is a mere vision. But the facts are incontrovertible: “The Lord hath sent His angel.”

The texts of the feast of the two pillars of the Church are stimulating, and invite us to make our faith and our hope younger. The Lord is the faithful God. He protects His Church, and watches over the successor of Peter, so that his faith should not fail.

Nonetheless, the Lord doesn’t spare His Church trials, as bear witness the first centuries of her history. Through these trials, she offers to the world in a firm, yet never arrogant manner, the message she has received from her Lord through the Apostles’ ministry, thus remaining one, saint, Catholic and apostolic.

A recent document from the International Theological Commission dedicated to synodality affirmed:

The Church is one because she has her source, her model and her goal in the unity of the Blessed Trinity (cf. John 17,21-22). She is the People of God on pilgrimage on earth in order to reconcile all people in the unity of the Body of Christ, through the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 12,4).

The Church is Holy because she is the working of the Blessed Trinity (cf. 2 Corinthians 13,13): made holy by the grace of Christ, who has given Himself to her as a Bridegroom gives himself to his Bride (cf. Ephesians5,23), and made alive by the love of the Father poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 5,5). The communio sanctorumbecomes real in her in both of its senses: communion with holy things (sancta) and communion between people who have been made holy (sancti)[49]. In this way, the holy People of God journeys towards perfection in holiness - the calling of all its members - accompanied by the intercession of Our Blessed Lady, the Martyrs and the Saints, having been constituted and sent forth as the universal sacrament of unity and salvation.

The Church is Catholic because she preservesgg the integrity and totality of faith (cf. Matthew 16,16) and she has been sent to gather into one holy People the peoples of the earth (cf. Matthew 28,19). She is Apostolic because she has been built on the foundation of the Apostles (cf. Ephesians 2,20), because she hands on their faith and because she is taught, sanctified and governed by their successors (cf. Acts 20,19

It seems important to remind these truths, whereas many Christians today consider the synodal path as a means of inserting the mindset of the world into the Church and her teaching. An ideologue is unable to walk the synodal path, for he is unable to listen to the Spirit. And in the Church, too, there is much ideology. The Church becomes younger not when she compromises with the world, but when she receives the truth from the Spirit.

Let us remain convinced that, as God raised up the first apostles and the first believers, as He built up the Church, thus will He keep his work through the miseries of the men and women of our world, and through our own poverty. He opens up for those who want to follow him a road of light. Today, as always, God pours out with abundance his Spirit, and He sends us his angels. Blessed art thou because flesh and blood have not revealed it to thee! Last, but not least, Christ entrusts us to his Mother.

Mater Ecclesiae, ora pro nobis!