29 June 2019

Fontgombault Sermon for St Peter & St Paul: "The Times in Which We Live Are Not Worse Than the First Years in the Life of the Church. It Is Faith That We Are Lacking."

Happy Feast of the Apostles, Ss Peter and Paul!

From Rorate Cæli

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, June 29, 2019

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,

The readings of today’s Mass place us before a great mystery: in order to come towards men, God wishes to make use of mediations. He comes to us through Christ’s humanity, through the sacraments, and especially the sacrament of the Eucharist. He comes to us through the Blessed Virgin Mary, in her divine motherhood, and in this unique motherhood she exercises on each of us, and which she has received at the foot of the Cross: “Woman, behold thy son… Behold thy mother.”(Jn 19:26-27) God also comes to us through the Church, pure and without blemish.

Beneath these perfect mediations, God wishes to make use of other mediations. We should be for one another mediators of the grace of God. God builds up our spiritual being by taking our neighbors on as associates. It is an honor for them. We should do the same. How could we refuse such a “service”? Amidst these imperfect mediations, a special place is assigned to the mediation of Peter, the chief of the Apostles, who is still at work today through his successors: “Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build My Church.”

These words, pronounced by the Lord near Caesarea Philippi, contain a twofold assertion. First and foremost, it is the Lord, and the Lord only, Who builds His Church. Then, He builds her by using Peter as a foundation, so that the gates of hell will not prevail against her. Peter receives the power to bind and to loose: whatever he binds or looses on earth is also bound or loosed on earth.

Today, the ship of the Church is buffeted and tossed about. Peter’s teaching is called in doubt. According to a theologian, a Dominican nun, the Church should give up “all claims to any expertise or proficiency in terms of holiness, truth, or morals”. A Catholic daily wishes “to rebuild”, “to repair” the Church. It is a praiseworthy aim, indeed; yet, wouldn’t there be a risk to forget that it is Christ Himself Who builds His Church? Everything that man will build or construct outside Christ and His will shall be built on sand, and will have no future. Building on Christ is building on truth. Ignorance, either voluntary or unintentional, of God and His laws, in priests and Christians, is the primary cause of the events which the world today discovers with dismay. The rebuilding entails the conversion of all of us, and this conversion begins with a humble acknowledgement of our own faults.

In the preface of a beautiful little book entitled Lettres à nos amis qui divorcent (Letters to our friends who divorce), Bishop Jean-Pierre Batut comments on a verse of the Gospel of St. John: “I have called you friends, because all things, whatsoever I have heard of my Father, I have made known to you.” (Jn 15:15) He writes:

Those who listen to the Father might make bold to appropriate these words. The Church, too: through Christ, her Lord, she has learnt from the Father what she tells men; and she has thus become the minister, the servant of the friendship with God for all men and women. The word of truth, where friendship goes to the extreme, is the word of the Church.
Thus, the Lord expects from His Church, and He expects from Peter, the gift of truth to men. A true love for men and women entails this price. It is something demanding, and it is not something new. Why should Herod Agrippa have afflicted the first Christians, apart for the fact that their teaching was not in line with current tastes? Peter was therefore put in prison under heavy guard.

What are we to do, then? The Book of the Acts of the Apostles retails how the Church, during Peter’s imprisonment, was praying. She turned herself towards the Lord. It is from an authentic prayer that stems a life which is consistent with God’s teaching, and which in its turn becomes a prayer. After he had taught in the synagogue, Jesus was cast away from Nazareth to be thrown down from a hill brow; but behold, he passed through the midst of them and went on his way (cf. Lk 4:30). Likewise, Peter also passes through the guard posts, and he says: "Now I know in very deed that the Lord hath sent his angel and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod." (Acts 12:11) Far from making us compromise with the world, and whereas the Church’s name is so often dragged through the mud, and her words discredited, these events invite us to faith, they demand of us holiness.

As the conclusion of a recent address, Cardinal Robert Sarah had these words:

I say to you again with Pope Benedict: yes, the Church is full of sinners. But she is not in crisis, we are the ones who are in crisis. The devil wants to make us doubt. He wants to make us believe that God abandons His Church. But no, she is always the field of God. There are not only tares, but also the crops of God. “To proclaim both with emphasis is not a false form of apologetics, but a necessary service to the Truth,” says Benedict XVI. He proves it, and his prayerful and teaching presence in our midst, in the heart of the Church, in Rome, confirms it for us. Yes, in our midst are the beautiful crops of God. (Address given in Rome, Centre Saint-Louis, May 14th, 2019.)

If Christ builds His Church, then it is our remit to flee from despair and summon up our strength, to build anew, with the help of God, Christendom, attractive monasteries, radiant parishes and Christian families, and thus have happy priests and bishops. The times in which we live are not worse than the first years in the life of the Church. It is faith that we are lacking, the faith that moves mountains.

If we consider these two pillars of the Church we celebrate today, we can see a faith at work, a faith that did move mountains. May the holy Apostles Peter and Paul intercede for us, for the so many priests ordained during these days, for all the priests, the bishops and the Pope, for the Church.


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