“Nine months are necessary for a child to be begotten in its mother’s womb. A whole life is necessary to earn Heaven.”
Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau, Father Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault:
Fontgombault, May 31, 2020
Illumina cor hominum. Illuminate the hearts of men.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,
During this time of pandemic, the feast of Pentecost call for a new outpouring of the Spirit of God upon us, upon all the faithful, all men. May God renew our so desolate earth, may He illuminate and give peace to so many men ensnared by disease, poverty, rebellion, or murmuring against the virus, and the measures taken by the civil and ecclesiastical authorities to limit its spreading.
Our joy is great in these days when many Christians can at last go back to church and receive again, after long weeks of deprivation, the sacraments of the Eucharist and penance.
Yet, many questions are left unanswered. Why this disease, inexorably roaming through cities, countries and continents? Who is responsible? Is it Nature and its chances, or man’s imprudence or wickedness, is it God’s wrath?
Whatever the answer may be, it is a harsh lesson for man, who has been for many decades now pushing back, apparently without any hindrance, the frontiers of what is considered possible in almost all known domains. Ever faster, ever farther, ever stronger… But many are left over, forgotten, wretchedly remaining on the roadside, and contenting themselves with watching through the media the world and its achievements. In this wild and crazy race, the sacred domain of life hasn’t been forgotten: human enhancement, children conceived in a test-tube, then available for self-service… we might draw a long list, witnessing to a freedom that was hoped to be limitless.
And, now, a tiny virus calls all this into question! No one is spared. The whistle signal has been blown in the world of the first creation, turned into a playground for re-creation. The return to reality is rough. God always forgives, man seldom, Nature never. Family and home become shelters when everything is crumbling away. Shall we be humble enough to keep remembering, when these days have gone away?
O Lord, illuminate the hearts of men! You are He Who renews the face of the earth. We believe that the sorrowful events You permit in these days do not exhaust Your love. They are not Your last word, provided we give You liberty to speak. Through them, indeed, You set free a new Word, an unknown light.
Since the Ascension, the Apostles had been remaining confined in Jerusalem,
In the upper room, room, where they were staying […] All these were persevering with one mind in prayer with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren. (Acts 1:13-14)
Abiding, such is the necessary condition to give birth to an enduring work. Nine months are necessary for a child to be begotten in its mother’s womb. A whole life is necessary to earn Heaven. Through this lesson Nature gives us, it invites man to take time, to take his time: time to live, time to pray, too.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles the Book of the Acts tells us about is not meant to remain their own privilege: every man and woman is meant to become an abode for God. The Spirit, Who was bound, as it were, before the Paschal mystery was accomplished (cf. Jn 7:39), now seeks to fulfil the souls of the faithful, everywhere and at all times. He is the One Who knows the answers to our questions… but how may we receive Him?
Si quis diligit me, sermonem meum servabit: If any one love Me, he will keep My word. (Jn 14:23)
The condition to receive this visitation of the Spirit is to turn oneself into a capacity for God, by keeping and putting into practice His word. The visible and enduring sign of this state is the love of God and our neighbour. Contemporary man neglects to build this inner abode within the precincts of his heart, a heart which has become, in the image of our fluid world, of our liquid society, a forum, a market, a place where everything may be bought and exchanged. Enslaved by ceaseless draughts, ideas go backwards and forwards. As a breath of air, they are said and gainsaid. Few of them are fruitful. They don’t remain in our hearts.
Alas, the same might hold for our families and communities. The feast of Pentecost reminds us of our duty to remain, in the example of the Apostles, capable of love, places where the Spirit will bear fruit and spread the splendour of His truth. With truth, there also comes along true freedom, a free gift of the Holy Spirit, as opposed to this demanded, illusory, and unrestricted freedom, which too often is the fruit, or event the cause, of bloodshed. The primary and inviolable freedom for every man, is the capacity to open his heart to the presence of God, and to turn each moment of his life into the place of an exchange with God. He who possesses a heart capable to receive the Word and to answer it, may be deprived of everything, and yet, he will still possess everything.
Whereas we insistently call the Holy Spirit, Veni, let us not forget that the help coming from above and bountifully poured out by the Lord doesn’t exempt us from the duty we have to train ourselves.
A hundred years ago, on May 18th last, he who was to become the great Pope John Paul II was born in Poland. The encyclicals he offered to the Church during his long pontificate bear witness to his assiduous search for truth, his openness to the action of the Spirit. They are safe guides towards Him Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Thus, he wrote in the encyclical Veritatis splendor, The splendour of truth:
Certainly, in order to have a good conscience (1 Tm 1:5), man must seek the truth and must make judgments in accordance with that same truth. As the Apostle Paul says, the conscience must be confirmed by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rm 9:1); it must be clear (2 Tm 1:3); it must not practise cunning and tamper with God’s word, but openly state the truth (cf. 2 Co 4:2).
As the month of May, the month of Mary, ends on this day, and as the feast of her Visitation to Elizabeth steps aside before the solemnity of Pentecost, let us pray our heavenly Mother that to the visitation of the Spirit in our souls may be added her own visitation.
Cardinal de Bérulle summed up in a terse formula the mystery of Mary: Pure capacity for Jesus. She who was pure capacity has freely become an abode, the first abode of God among men. God occupies everything that opens up to Him. May Mary intercede for us. May she obtain for us, through her example as a Mother, the Fiat that will open our hearts to the fire of the Spirit, and will turn our lives into a blaze, a source of love.
Come, Holy Ghost, fill the hearts and minds of Thy faithful servants and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love!