28 November 2021

Fontgombault Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent: "What Can Be Feared of a Child?"

Sermon for today from the Right Reverend Lord Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault (A Traditional Benedictine Abbey), Dom Jean Pateau.

From Rorate Cæli

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Father Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, November 28, 2021

Appropinquat redemptio vestra.
Your redemption draweth nigh.
(Lk 21:28)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,

Aren’t we quite astonished to hear, on the morning of this first Sunday in Advent, the opening day in the liturgical year, the reading of the end of St. Luke’s gospel? Why doesn’t rather the Church meditate on the gospel texts narrating the expectation of the Divine Child? Why doesn’t she draw from the numerous texts in the Old Testament announcing a Messiah?

The very theme of the chosen passage is surprising, too.

At the end of His public life, as His ascent towards Jerusalem is going to be concluded by His arrest, judgment, and condemnation to be executed on a cross, Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple, and the coming of the Son of man.

Such words may have surprised the disciples. They were worried, for they were sensing the priests’ and Pharisees’ ever increasing resolve to kill the Lord. Faced with them, Jesus was serenely affirming the coming downfall of the Temple, and hence, of the priesthood such as it was then exercised.

At that time, the disciples hadn’t yet understood that the Lord’s death was but a threshold to be crossed, chosen and accepted to bear witness to the fact that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Christ’s words, as may be expected, didn’t go unheeded.

Matthew and Mark report them as well. Both in St. Luke’s and St. Mark’s gospels, it is the sight of a poor widow putting two small copper coins into the alms-box of the Temple treasury that arrests Jesus’ gaze, by contrast with the wonder of the disciples before the splendor, the beauty, and the wealth of this place, that give rise to these words. In St. Matthew’s gospel, the context is slightly different. Before the Lord’s words, first come woes against the scribes and Pharisees:

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men: for you yourselves do not enter in, and those that are going in, you suffer not to enter. Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you go round about the sea and the land to make one proselyte. And when he is made, you make him the child of hell twofold more than yourselves. Woe to you, blind guides… Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you tithe mint and anise and cumin, and have left the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and faith. […] Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you make clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but within you are full of rapine and uncleanness. […] Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you are like to whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear to men beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones and of all filthiness. (cf. Mt 23:13-36)

And as a conclusion:

Behold, your house shall be left to you, desolate. For I say to you, you shall not see Me henceforth till you say: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. (Mt 23:38-39)

As she proposes these texts, the Church reminds us that a true expectation of the Lord needs a preliminary: preparing inside ourselves, as far as we can, a true heart, a receptive heart, before the mystery of the Lord’s coming that is going to take place.

The woes addressed to the Pharisees, the comments made as the Lord sees the poor widow, or hears the disciples, reveal to us Christ’s heart, and prepare us to receive Him Who is going to come to us under the guise of a child. The poor widow gives all she has. By casting into the Treasury what’s necessary for her life, she offers in her heart her life to God. She is the image of Christ, Who in turn acknowledges her as such. The rich men putting their alms into the Treasury were merely taking from their abundance so as to carry out a commandment of the Law. Their hearts were not attuned to it.

In the disciples’ eyes, the woman went unnoticed. As to them, they were admiring the house of stone, which is however but a place, a means to lead to God. They were perhaps also admiring the notabilities passing before them. As for God, He searches the reins and hearts.

Don’t let us handle the same way the things of God, and the fleeting and perishable earthly interests. It is good to remember this at the beginning of a new liturgical year. Too often, as time goes by, our points of reference get blurred, or even disappear, and being is displaced by appearing and having, both inside ourselves, and in the way we consider our neighbor.

Today, an opportunity is given us to consider anew our life, in the light of the gaze Christ casts on the Temple and those who put their offerings into the Treasury. Do we give Him everything we have, as the poor widow did, or do we reluctantly concede Him something from our abundance? Basically, to what extent are we available on the path of our conversion? Let us always seek consistency in our lives. If we see light, shall we act according to it?

It is now the hour for us to rise from sleep. For now our salvation is nearer than when we believed. The night is passed, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light. […] Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Rm 13:11-14)

On this morning, the Church invites us to hope. Hope is the soul of every new beginning. This hope is not founded on an insignificant something or someone. He who is the foundation of this hope, is also its object, it is the Lord Himself, as we sung at the beginning of this ceremony: “I have lifted up my soul to Thee, O my God, for in Thee have I hoped.”

The object of our hope is also a child. As a birth draws near in a family, its members get prepared. As barely a few weeks now separate us from the feast of Christmas, it is time for us also to get prepared. If Christ is to come back at the end of time, He should also come back inside our lives as of today. 

How could one not receive a child? What can be feared from a child? That God should come to us under the guise of a child is already a token of His love. 

Let us remark as a conclusion that the time of Advent is a Marian time. As she expects her child, Mary already bears Him in her heart. Let us follow her. What pleases God is a heart that is offered, given, a heart which says “Yes”, so as to live of the life God is offering us, His own life.


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