Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon for the Annunciation: Mary's "Yes" is the Greatest Moment in Human History


and Simple Profession of Br. Jean-François Charlebois and of Br. Hernane Pereira

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Father Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, March 25, 2023

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

My dearly beloved Sons,

and most especially you, who are now going to make your religious vows,

Monks like to pronounce theirs vows and promises underMary’s eyes. They do that in the hope that these eyes will never turn away from their everyday life, and they can do it with a firm trust. How could a mother, the Mother par excellence, turn away from those she has received as children, for we are truly her children? 

What then is this unique motherhood?

St. Irenaeus wrote in his Treatise against Heresies:

Thus it was, too, that God formed man at the first, because of His munificence; but chose the patriarchs for the sake of their salvation; and prepared a people beforehand, teaching the headstrong to follow God; and raised up prophets upon earth, accustoming man to bear His Spirit [within him], and to hold communion with God: He Himself, indeed, having need of nothing, but granting communion with Himself to those who stood in need of it. [...] He does Himself truly want none of these things, for He is always full of all good. [...] Moreover, He instructed the people, who were prone to turn to idols, instructing them by repeated appeals to persevere and to serve God, calling them to the things of primary importance by means of those which were secondary; that is, to things that are real, by means of those that are typical; and by things temporal, to eternal; and by the carnal to the spiritual; and by the earthly to the heavenly.

This unique motherhood can therefore be but one of the manifold facets of the plan of love God has unfolded for man from the very first days of mankind. At the foot of the Cross of Jesus, whereas He has entered His Passion and His Mother has associated herself with it, words making of Mary the Mother of all the living resound in the Crucified’s mouth. These words, concerning first and foremost the Apostle St. John present there, “Woman, behold thy son,” have been interpreted by the Church as concerning all men and women.

Mary’s mission is therefore mapped out: as her Son is living the first step of His Passover, opening for all mankind the door of reconciliation with God, Mary receives from Him all men and women, to lead them with her Son on the path of their own passovers, so that they should be associated with the mystery of salvation, and may triumph in their own resurrection.

But the mystery of this maternity is first rooted in another maternity, very inconspicuous and even more mysterious, the annunciation of which we celebrate today: from the angel Gabriel’s lips, Mary learns that she will give birth to a son, and name him Jesus. This annunciation had been foretold centuries before to a godless king by Prophet Isaiah:

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel. He shall eat butter and honey, that he may know to refuse the evil, and to choose the good.

Concerning Mary, St. Augustin remarks that before she conceived in her flesh, she first conceived in her mind. In other words, Mary’s motherhood was preceded by her profession. The gist of this profession is her faith. Mary is proclaimed blessed for her faith by Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, during the visitation:

And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.

Most of all, she is said blessed by the Lord Himself, answering a woman who had called out, “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee and the paps that gave thee suck.” But Jesus answered: “Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.” 

Mary’s outstanding faith leads her to answer the angel’s words: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word.”  In the hubbub of the many “Noes” answered to God, echoed by the Bible and the history of mankind, there is a “Yes” answered to God by a woman, a “Yes” that is unreserved, total, radical. This “Yes” is fecund. It opens the gate to life. It gives joy. It prepares the liberation of mankind, which had been imprisoned since the origin in the shackles of evil and sin. This “Yes” is the greatest moment, the fairest of all words in human history.

Today, as you make your profession, you too are going to utter your own “Yes”. You will be able to do it because, from the very threshold of your lives, your families have contributed, first by asking for you the grace of baptism, then by furthering your Christian education, to the virtue of faith taking root and flowering in your humanity. As you make your profession, you will remember the calling addressed by the Lord to the young rich man:

Go, sell whatsoever thou hast and give to the poor: and thou shalt have treasure in heaven. And come, follow Me.

This calling, which has resounded in your hearts, led you to leave your respective countries to follow Christ and pronounce an unconditional and absolute “Yes,” a joyful and free “Yes,” the “Yes” of the gift. This “Yes” is also one of the most beautiful moments in your life. It gives life, as you will soon sing: “Uphold me, O Lord, according to Thy word, and I shall live.” Yet, we know how poor we remain on the path of gift, how the temptation to debate and to argue remains deeply rooted in our hearts and minds, and how our faith can totter when faced with hardship or temptation. On this day, Mary stands by you. Entrust the “Yes” you are going to pronounce into her hands, so that she may bring it to her Son and safeguard it from all thorns of evil.

Three times a day, the Church remembers, as she recites the Angelus, the annunciation to Mary and her Fiat. Mary has always kept present this remembrance in her heart as the jewel in her life. Ask her the grace to keep in your hearts the “Yes” you are going to pronounce and to remain faithful to it, for the greater glory of God and the salvation of the world.