From The Works of the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton
edited by B. Talbot Rogers, New York: Longmans, Green, 1914, pp. 54-70
A Journey Godward
of a Servant of Jesus Christ
transcribed by Ralph Kettell
I HAVE always had objections to a memoir. The effort of most writers is to set forth the subject of the work so that his readers might form a judgment of the character and abilities of the person described. Such judgment, favorable or otherwise, must be more or less erroneous, and not very profitable. Is there any judgment of any real value, save that which the good God declares in His Day of judgment?
Nevertheless, lives have been written advantageously, and St. Augustine's "Confessions" is the great example. But none save a saint has sufficient humility to write so true an account of himself, and he must have a special call of God to do so.
I shrink from any attempt of this kind, though called on to make it by those I must respect. This chapter is not an account of the soul as God must see it, nor of the great sinfulness that He has shown me to exist in myself.
"When love shall know as it is known,
Till then, the secrets of our lives are ours
And God's alone."
St. Theresa had a vision from Him where her soul might have been in hell. I suppose every Christian has at times felt that he was deserving of God's condemnation. While then passing over what would be unprofitable, those who are seeking after righteousness may be helped by my words in learning how a poor soul stumbled on towards God. St. Augustine, in his generous-hearted way, says there is a vocation of that kind, and it seems to me to have been mine.
I think my spiritual life was helped by the pious teaching and prayers of others. As a little boy, I was for a long time an inmate of the house of a good Congregational uncle and aunt. I remember they used to pray Sunday afternoons together, and take me along with them, and pray for me, with other members of the family.
After the manner of the day, Sunday was kept strictly. All playthings were put away, and we were sent twice to Sunday school. When a small boy, I remember my aunt had a little seat made in our pew, so I could sit up and see the preacher, in whose delivery I took a boyish interest. I learned the one hundred and four questions of the Westminster Catechism on Sunday evenings, being bribed to do it, partly, by pieces of pie. I think there was a little more than the natural greediness of boyhood in me, as the first false step I can remember was taking cake and apple turnovers without permission. I've always had a liking for good food, though not always able to get it, and in my monkish days lived on very plain fare.
My boyish character was full of the weakness and sins of boyhood. My uncle and aunt desired much my "conversion," and the death of a companion seemed to afford an opportunity to bring it about. While impressed with the fact of death, I did not feel that sensible change which I was led to expect, and which was called conversion.
I think I was as a little boy very fond of popularity, drawing my playmates to me by gifts of candy, which I would surreptitiously obtain.
While somewhat clever and advanced in my studies, I remember my father saying, when I pointed out my good standing: "Well, my son, if you've got brains, that is not to your credit; but you can be good." One of his instructions which was remembered, for he was a soldier, was: "Fear nothing, my boy, except to do what is wrong."
My first real thinking took place when I was about fourteen years of age and away on a visit. It is only noticeable as showing how God leads us all in varied ways. I had been reading Goldsmith's "Citizen of the World," and somewhere he said, discussing happiness, that it was obtainable by forgetfulness of the past, and absence of anxiety for the future. I can't give the actual words, but it puzzled me, and set me to thinking. And when once the mind begins to think, it swings round the whole circumference of thought, which takes in God and man. The pantheistic idea laid hold upon me, that the All was God, and that God's written definitions needed much enlargement. But I could come to no settled conclusions, as I puzzled and wrestled over the common problems of humanity, ofttimes with tears. Having much distrust of my own abilities, I felt I ought not to decide such great questions with my limited knowledge and strength. And so I thought it was prudent for a young man to wait, and postpone practical decisions, without positively committing myself one way or another. And here I made a great blunder, for however ignorant a man may be, he should learn first of all to act on his moral sense, according to the saying of our Lord: "If any man will do His Will he shall know of the doctrine" (St. John vii. 17). God thus left me more to my natural powers, and so I fell into mischief. I remember vainly cultivating the role of a raconteur, and telling a number of worthless stories. I was of a worldly disposition and pleasure loving, and I went somewhat into society. I was thought to be a good dancer, and I remember leading the cotillion in Boston. On discovering my own weakness, and that one must make a decision, I was led to turn to Christ, and was finally confirmed.
I had been led to an intellectual, and perhaps some religious, interest in the Church of the Advent. God, as we know, works slowly, and there was a double movement going on in my soul. But I think it was at Cambridge that I had a final wrestle with the problems of belief and faith in Jesus Christ. By God's grace I was enabled to surrender myself to the Divine Master. I believed what He said, because He said it; and desired to do what He would have me do, for I belonged to Him. I began to use the "Paradise of the Christian Soul," and perhaps other devotional books. But after Christ and His dear personality had been so realized, the question naturally followed: "How was I to know what His teaching was, and what, as a Christian, ought I to do to be remoulded by it?" It became clear to me that the Gospel came into the world in an institutional form, and that Christ founded the Church in which He and the Holy Spirit dwell, and that it was in the Church and through the Church that I was to know what I was to believe and do.
But the problem was still unsettled, until I was enabled to see what was the Church. Rome claimed to be exclusively the whole Church of Christ, but this was to leave out the fact of the great Eastern Churches which have existed from the Apostles' times, and regarded Rome as in schism and heresy. I saw also that we must not confine our vision to the Church as a body existing on the earth only. The Church, which was the mystical Body of Christ, consisted of the Church Triumphant in Glory, and the Church Expectant in its state of purification, and the little portion called the Church Militant, which was on earth. They three together made up the one Holy Apostolic Church, which was united to Christ by sacramental grace; and however union might be disturbed, its unity was indestructible.
The Anglican Church, while rejecting the papacy, held the ancient Catholic Faith and declared it by a living utterance in its Prayer Book. For the divisions of Christendom, though they hindered the promulgation, with ecumenical authority, of new dogmas, left each portion of Christendom a living agent, to declare the faith once delivered to the saints.
In the Anglican Church I heard a living Voice, declaring the ancient Faith, and possessed of the priesthood, the Sacraments, and the ancient worship of the Church. Thus I was led to adopt these two principles for my religious guidance. I believed wholly in Christ and in all He said, because He said it; and in His Church, because it was the living organism through which He spoke, and communicated Himself to us.
I was led on from this into a realization of the priesthood and of God's call to me. The next step in my spiritual life was a realization of the truth of a vocation. God gives to every man a mission or vocation in life. He gives this in different ways, and if only one will follow it, it is a guarded and heavenly lighted road, leading up to the eternal mansions. Here I had to go through a struggle with myself. All that this world could offer, in the way of comfort and earthly happiness, was proposed to me if I would not give myself to the ministry. Also, I was greatly urged and tried by a question of duty. Ought I not to give myself to the great cause then agitating the country -- the great anti-slavery cause? I was tried also with the deep sense of my unfitness and unworthiness for the priestly life. But the voice of the Master said "Come," and I ventured on the waters. All true and all religious vocations require a venture of faith. We have to learn to take the step in air, and find the rock beneath. And so the great idea of priesthood, its meaning, consecration, and special union to Christ, began to take possession of me.
The time I am speaking of was in the early fifties, and our Church was then much distracted by theological controversies, which divided churchmen into two parties, high and low. The Tractarian Movement had had its effect in America, indeed had sprung up here independently, and it was a time of much religious excitement. There was a small school called the Connecticut high churchmen. They seemed to exclude from their vision the whole Eastern Church. They looked upon Rome as an apostate sister. They regarded low churchmen as no churchmen at all, and the denominations were outside the body of Christ, and the Church of Christ seemed to dwindle into a very small and insignificant body indeed. I felt, if this were the teaching of high churchmanship, that I was not a high churchman. In respect of the low church party, I loved their Evangelical principles and internal piety, and their trust in the merits of Christ, but they seemed to leave out the sacramental system of the Gospel. If the Gospel had its subjective side, it had also its objective one. Having been brought up at the Advent, I loved the orderly ceremonial of the Church, and the principles of divine worship involved. But just at this time I recall the publication of a book, the "Directorium Anglicanum," which was far ahead of any of the ritual used at that day. I was, in a somewhat captious mood, criticising it, when an old priest, a noted leader of the low church party, rebuked me. He said: " If I should live my life over again, I should act very differently. There is nothing concerning the worship of God but should be regarded with care and reverence."
I was led to offer myself for the ministry. Bishop Southgate, my rector, gave me his blessing on my choice. I went to Maryland, and was ordained by Bishop Whittingham to the diaconate, and to the priesthood.
As I went on in my clerical work, and saw the greater growth both of Rome and of sectarianism m comparison with ours, I was drawn greatly to consider the religious life. I began to read lives of the saints; and the life of Stephen Harding, so exquisitely written by Dalgairns, much affected me. Here, too, in France was the Cure d'Ars, like another Elijah, working miracles, and drawing thousands to the Confessional. And afterwards I learned about great Father John, of Russia. God seemed capable of raising up men of extraordinary sanctity in union with Himself. I felt no doubt that Wesley in the eighteenth and Moody in the nineteenth centuries were special ministers for God, for the arousing of the nations. Heroic women had, in our Church, given themselves to the religious life; why should not in en unite together, under the counsels that had been given by Christ, to serve our Church? Were those sorrowful words of Newman to be permanently true: "O my mother, whence is this unto thee, that thou hast good things poured upon thee and canst not keep them, and bearest children yet darest not own them?" Had the Anglican Church no place within her for those who loved her, and would lay down their lives for her sake? Was not the Scriptural reproach of having a miscarrying womb and dry breasts to be done away with? Could not the Holy Spirit breathe upon the dry bones and, bringing them together, make them live?
As I have elsewhere said, I went to my Bishop about the matter of reviving a religious order of men for mission priests, and I obtained his encouragement and blessing.
It was about this time that I began to practise a more ascetic life. I do not say this in any commendation of myself or in the way of recommendation to others. "Early piety," as Faber says, "is never very wise." God leads people oil in different ways. The heroic asceticism of a Pusey is not the way for all God's children. I began taking discipline, sleeping on the floor, saying some prayers at night. Afterwards, when I went to Cowley, Father Benson allowed me to give up our mattress, hard as it was, and sleep on a board, which I did for some time. I began wearing a steel belt with spikes in it, and had one fierce hair shirt, in which, for a number of years, even at the Advent, Boston, I preached the Three Hours on Good Friday. I think the hair shirt greatly put me out one day and made me quite cross, and I began to think that this was the ordinary way in which it acted. It seemed to be based on the homoeopathic method of raising a disease in order to conquer it. I do not know that this asceticism was so wise, but I do know that the crosses and trials and suffering God gave me greatly affected my own life. It is, of course, the mortifications and trials which God sends, and the temptations He allows, which most effectively work the transformation of the soul.
Now in respect to my Prayers; there was one which grew upon me and was many hundred times repeated in various ways and with amplifications:
"O God, dearest and best, may the increase of Thy accidental glory be the chief end of my life! May Thy ever blessed making will be the law of my being and of all my actions and desires! May Thy transforming and uniting love be the permanent and imperative motive of all my actions, duties, labors, thoughts, and words! May the life of my blessed Lord be the model and mould of my own, that being melted by penitence, I may be recast and recreated in Thee! May the Holy Spirit so rule and govern my interior, all my emotions, fears, hopes, sorrows, and joys, that I may rest peacefully in Thee, and be an instrument for the conversion of others!"
This prayer I used to call my prayer, and in varied forms used it, and have continued to do so, till my later years.
It was at Cowley that I had the blessing of being under the spiritual instruction of that dear and wise saint, Father Benson. He started me in with a thirty days' retreat, and gave three meditations a day; and I used to keep this retreat for a number of years.
I remember many of this wise man's maxims. "Do your work for God and leave it with God," was one of them. He impressed upon me our nothingness, and the necessity of an absolute consecration of all our being to God. He developed the wonderful life of the counsels of obedience, poverty, chastity in a marvelous way. As he dwelt upon the everlasting Voice of God calling us, it seemed as if the Voice issued from the depths of eternity. The tremendous reality of his own life and of his teaching surpassed anything I had read. Along with this, there was a sweetness and gentleness and kindness and courtesy that turned his virtues into beatitudes. His own life reminded me more of Peter of Alcantara than of any other continental saint. His labors were marvelously heroic, and he would often work eighteen or twenty hours a day.
Here let me say something about mortifications. Father Baker, in the "Sancta Sophia," reduces all spiritual maxims under two headsprayer and mortification.
The condemnation of asceticism is a frequent topic with a certain class of preachers who do not understand the Christian principle on which it is based. It differs in character from the asceticism practised in India or by the Manichaeans. They would punish or destroy the flesh, in which they believe some evil principle resides. But the Christian principle is not to free the soul from the body, but as St. Paul said, to bring the body under subjection. It is, moreover, practised as a loving union with Christ, for He, although He mingled in the world, was the greatest of all ascetics.
In the intensity of their love for Him the saints have sought for a share in His life. Unless love enters into the ascetic practice, it is worthless. But every act of mortification, like the abstinence from flesh meat on Fridays, little bodily mortifications, practice of any self-denial, which all good churchmen practise, should be done out of love of a crucified Lord, and be used as a means of increasing our love to Him.
A further development in my spiritual life took place in consequence of an illness, which separated me for a year and a half from my parish work, and obliged me to go abroad. My natural enthusiasm, perhaps faulty, spiritual ambition, had led me seriously to ask of God a cross. I yearned for stigmata of some kind. "Crosses," as Dr. Pusey had said, "were the sure tokens of God's love." "Do you wish to know whether God loves you? Ask, has He given you a cross? " A prayer for one is, however, rather an act of presumption. It is more likely to be a prompting of nature rather than of grace. It assumes self-reliance, and there is a great deal of self in it. But God, who often gives that He may break, took me at my word and sent me one. I had long been praying for a special token of God's goodness in the bestowal of a certain gift upon a soul in whose progress I had been much interested. I asked Bishop Whittingham to join with me in prayer for this object. And the result was most sudden, significant, and startling. Not to go further, it did, however, to my astonishment and grief, bring a serious trial and blow to myself. The cross I had asked for came indeed. At first I resisted it, did not see its reasonableness, did not properly connect it with God's good dealings. At this time God allowed an illness to come, which for a time incapacitated me for my work. So I went abroad. It was a great trial. I was greatly depressed. If in earlier life I had passed through the state that John of the Cross calls the "night of the senses," this experience led me through the "night of the soul." My heart was deeply wounded. I felt stripped of everything. I seemed to be bereft, and lonely, and deserted. Sensible grace was at a low ebb. Nature and mere reason seemed to be getting the ascendant. Of course I was largely affected by my physical condition.
One Sunday I was at one of our churches and began listening to the preacher. I could not help saying to myself: "This is the poorest, feeblest, weakest sermon I have ever heard. How can any man get up in the pulpit and read out such commonplace?" I felt a pity for him, when he stumbled out a sentence which went like an arrow from God to my heart. "God," the preacher said, "never gives us good desires to disappoint them." I knew He had given me mine, and I felt from that moment that He would fulfil them. The simple words of the preacher caused a great uplift to my soul. I held on to my devotions, especially to the Blessed Sacrament, which I studied anew. And though deprived of so frequent means of grace, I made some gain in self-abnegation, and self-renunciation, and the inner life. Illness and bodily weakness brought their blessings to me. I passed to a humbler condition and, I hope, a nearer walk with God. At Christmas God gave me, as He is ever willing to do to all souls, a Christmas gift. I had humbly asked Him to bestow upon me something out of the inexhaustible treasures of His grace. He had opened, it seemed to me, the inner door into the chamber of His Passion, and of His love. How marvelous was the revelation of His purifying, illuminating, persistent love and grace. The saints, if they knew me as He did, could not but give me up. He alone knew me and the full range of my infirmities, weakness, failures, and sins. But the Lord Who knew me through and through, in spite of all, loved me, and I could trust that love. And with this new revelation of His love there was also given a further revelation of the depth of my own sinfulness and ingratitude, and the malignity of my own nature. So, to my life prayer there came ever to be added the petition that God would deliver me from all self-interest, self-seeking, and self-love.
And here I have to note a practice some would condemn. Alone, and without any other opportunity of receiving the Blessed Sacrament, I celebrated by myself. It had to be done with great simplicity, yet perhaps with more intensity of reverence and devotion. From my chamber, which had an outlook across Lake Geneva, I had before me in the distance the great white cap of Mont Blanc. It glowed in the morning and setting sun with lambent fires, and looked like an altar uplifted to God. Somehow the sense of its greatness and purity touched me, and was a parable of the soul. Its broad foundations rested on the earth. Down its sides, and in its valleys, flowed the streams of penitence; but above, looking to heaven, it was glorious in its purity, and transformed as by a fire from heaven, which glowed within.
But God had not done His purifying work in me.
He saw fit to allow me to have a yet greater trial to the emptying of my soul. If there was one thing about which my affections clung, it was the Society of St. John the Evangelist. The re-establishment of the religious life among men, and in the form of an order of mission priests, had become the cherished object of my life. I had, in a small way, aided in its planting and development, and God's blessing seemed to rest upon it. It had extended into England, America, Africa, and India. In America we had two houses and churches, one in Philadelphia and the other in Boston. Owing to the very able workers I had with me, the work grew among the wealthy and intellectual, the parish congregations were very large, and the influence of the Fathers was felt throughout the diocese. We were not very extreme in our ritual, but with all loyalty to our Communion we taught the Catholic Faith. Everything was happily progressing, when a trouble came. Looking back, one can see one's own failings, and believe much was owing to misunderstandings and the craftiness of Satan. Very few Americans had joined us, and we were pressed with the objection that we were a society under a Superior not a member of the American Church. A question having arisen concerning our duty, the Americans felt that loyalty to their own Bishops, by virtue of their ordination vows, took precedence. It was a very painful time. The questions created much misunderstanding. I had to bear much harsh treatment, and that from old friends. Amongst other things, it was said that I was breaking my vows, and again, that I was losing my mind. Naturally, I could not but feel this very much. I was tempted to think that persons who were Christians would not act in such a way. I felt I was like a doormat on which every one was wiping his muddy boots. My great desire for the soul's progress had come to naught. The harm done amongst Catholics was a great pain to me. I retired to my little brick-lined cell, sick at heart, and could only take refuge in God. One thing I became determined aboutI would not give up Christianity because some did not act as Christians. I would not leave my post and duty as a priest of the Church. I would accept whatever was God's will in my regard, whatever the suffering might be. I would resign the dearest idol I had known, if it was His good pleasure. I did not ask or wish anyone to agree with me, if he thought I was in the wrong. I would, from the bottom of my heart, for Christ's sake, forgive those who opposed or differed with me. I would try and see my own faults, with God to show them to me, and be penitent for them. All this was a slow work. I felt so sore that I exclaimed, like one who was under torture, when his limb was crushed, it did not matter what more was done to him, for he could not suffer more. God how I had failed in many ways; how strong self, with all its ambitions and desires, was; how necessary it was for my heart and will to be humbled and crushed. One can, in old age, be thankful for it all. Not one sorrow or pain would one miss. It did not do all it might have done, but it helped me, made me more real, somewhat emptied me of self, wrought a spirit of charity in me, and I got up and joined the host of forgiven cripples, and went stumbling on to God.
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