From The Works of the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton
edited by B. Talbot Rogers, New York: Longmans, Green, 1914, pp. 88-106
A Journey Godward
of a Servant of Jesus Christ
transcribed by Ralph Kettell
THE RELIGIOUS LIFE
"And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundred fold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.ST. MARK X. 29-30.
THE religious life is sure to raise up many adversaries. The unbelieving, the carnal minded and unspiritual, cannot understand it. It is of God, and their minds are closed to the Divine Light. It is like the Cross, "a stumbling-block to the worldly, and foolishness to the age." It arouses their hatred because it so testifies against their own views of life. The sensualist Byron wrote that the monks were men who
"In hope to merit heaven,
Were making earth a hell."
And so in hatred, rather than pity, many look down upon these Christian athletes and soldiers of the Cross.
The popular self-government of the monastery laid the foundation of the European democracy. But it has been, singularly, accused of being dangerous to society because it cultivated obedience to rule. It has been admitted that they were seats of learning and preserved, through the Middle Ages, the seeds of it.
"The fretfulness, impatience, and extreme tension of modern literary life," says Lecky, "the many anxieties that paralyze, and the feverish craving for place that perverts so many noble intellects, were unknown to the monks." The monkish scholar pursued his studies in a spirit which has now almost faded away from the world.
It is another popular argument that the monastic system, and by that is meant the religious life, has done its work and is not suited to our age. This overlooks the pregnant fact that the religious life has adapted itself in different forms, from the earliest times, to the wants of society. It first manifested itself in a hermit form, when the saints went out and peopled the Theban desert. They went into the wilderness like their Master, because there they believed they would most successfully wrestle with the evil one. St. Benedict gathered up the scattered hermits into community life, and founded at Monte Cassino the marvellous order that endures even to this day.
When the need came for missionary work, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic founded their respective orders of friars, who went about, as did our early Methodist circuit riders, preaching the Gospel. When there came the upheaval of the Reformation there arose military organizations, chief of which was the Jesuits, under the direction of Loyola. These were not monks, they kept not the recitation of the divine office in common; they wore no distinctive garb; they gave themselves especially to education. And along with this movement St. Vincent de Paul took the nun out of her cell and made her a Sister of Charity, and St. Francis of Sales instituted the Order of the Visitation, dedicated to the work of the education of women.
If ever there was an age that needed the witness of the religious life and its dedication to philanthropic work, it is ours. As Cardinal Newman once said: "The quasi heathen of large towns may not be converted by the sight of domestic virtues and domestic comforts in the missionary, but the evident sight of disinterested and self-denying love, and a life of firmness, will influence and rule them." This has been proved by the lives and work in England of such men as Mackonochie, Lowder, and many others, and by the affections which the Sisters show in their enduring ministrations among the sick and needy, and in the lowest regions of crime and misery.
Again, the abuses and corruptions which in these twenty centuries may be found connected with the life are greedily pointed out, forgetful of the continual presence of the spirit of reform and revival that has ever marked the life. Surely, the argument of abuse is of no force against us. The Bible and Christianityindeed there is no human institution that has not suffered from abuse. Corruptio optimi pessima.
"The innate principle of monasticism," writes Rev. F. C. Woodhouse, "is the life of God." The devout soul ' desires God above all things, and God alone. It seeks solitude that it may better commune with God. As it grows in likeness to Christ, it is forced to imitate His life of mercy for the bodies and souls of men. "They do not flee away from the world in order to escape duties, trials, or temptations, but to meet them as valiant soldiers of Jesus Christ." It is "an honest and literal acceptance and fulfilment of our Lord's precepts in the Sermon on the Mount, and has adapted itself to the requirements of all times and all environments."
Dr. Liddon, in his famous sermon on a Sister's work, eloquently describes the influence of a Sister's life as bearing witness to a future life, to attain which the sacrifices here involved were to be counted as nothing. Many a man that could not be reached by logical argument is reached by this objective demonstration of the truths of Christianity. What is it, the worldly man says, that upholds these persons in the great sacrifices they certainly make? What enables them to persevere in their life of hardness, self-sacrifice, and devotion? There can be but one answer: it is the supernatural grace which comes to them from Christ.
I once overheard a conversation between two Unitarian ladies who were interested in a Children's Hospital. "Why," said one, "do we have sisters here? They are churchwomen, we are not. Why not get some of our own society to come in and do this work?" The answer was, "We have tried and cannot." "Do you mean to tell me that it is only among this special class of Christians that we can get this high devotion and self-sacrifice? If so, then they have got some grace that we have not." The life testifies to Christ in His Church.
It was part of the religious movement of the last century that we find in many countries a revival of the religious life. It astonished the historians and philosophers of our day. The life, according to them' ought to have died out under the influence of modern civilization. "But to-day," says Froude, "among other strange phenomena, we see once more rise among us, as if by enchantment, the religious orders."
Montalembert said in his "Monks of the West": "Not since Christianity existed have such sacrifices been more numerous, more magnanimous, more stupendous, than now. Every day, since the commencement of this nineteenth century, hundreds have come forth from castles and cottages, from palaces and workshops, to offer to God their heart and their life."
Not only have the old orders been sustained, but new ones in the Roman Church, like the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, and the Christian Brothers, and many others, have arisen. Our own Church has seen the rise of the Mission Priests of St. John the Evangelist, popularly known as the Cowley Fathers, and the Community of the Resurrection, and in America, the Order of the Holy Cross. We cannot enumerate them all. In England there is the Sisterhood of St. John the Baptist, with its mother house at Clewer, with its more than two hundred sisters, and with a great many branch houses, one of which is in America. St. Margaret's Convent at East Grinstead has some seventeen branch houses in England, and several in the United States. The Sisterhood of St. Mary, Wantage, has some sixteen houses, including one or more in India. The order of All Saints has fourteen or more branch houses, several hundred sisters, and establishments in Africa, India, and our own country. There are a great many others in England: Sisters of the Holy Cross, Sisters of the Church, Sisters of Bethany, of St. Thomas the Martyr, and many others. We have here in the United States the great order of St. Mary's, now divided into three distinct provinces; the Sisterhood of the Holy Nativity, and a long list to be found in the "Living Church Annual."
Slowly and gradually the prejudice against the life has been passing away. First the practical side of it addressed itself to our own practical age. For the Church has begun to realize its spiritual value. The Church realizes, as never before, that her true strength lies in her saints. It is the hands lifted up in prayer that sustain the warriors in the field. It is the spiritual life and devotion developed in our own Church, that bring down increasingly God's blessings on it. To those who ask what reply shall be made to objections, or as to what has caused the revival of the religious life, the answer is, Christ founded it. It is an essential part of Christianity. It is dear to Him as the apple of His eye. He it is who has watched over it, and blessed it, and revived it in our own communion.
The time came to me when I felt both weak and unworthy, when I said: "Why should there not be religious order of priests in our Church as there is Rome?" I could not but note the growth of the sects in the town where I was. I looked around on a large and fashionable congregation, comfortably seated in their pews, and felt stung by the text, "To the poor the Gospel is preached." In a cynical spirit one said to me: "That text ought to be written over your Church door, but with the addition 'Not in this place."
Bishop Harold Browne had written: "There is a danger that the English Church should die of respectability." I seemed to hear a voice saying, "Come, and make venture on the water." I consulted with my Bishop, who encouraged me to give myself to the life. And gladly, he said, he would do it if it were in his power to enter it himself. And so, in my feebleness and honest intent, I said: "Here I am, O Lord; send me." I went to England, for I thought they must know more about the life there than here. I had known a number of very pious people and priests in America, but in England I met some of an apparently higher and more devout type. If a saint is one who heroically corresponds to grace given, such men as Father O'Neil and Father Benson belong to that class.
Gradually the Cowley society grew. I came back to America, and eventually opened a Mission House in Boston. Father Prescott took the headship of that at St. Clement's in Philadelphia. While not very successful in the growth in America, the society extended most successfully its work in Africa, and in India. It was one of Father O'Neil's great desires that a house should be established in London, which has now come to pass.
We have said that Christ founded the life. He exemplified it in His own Person.
His life was ruled by three abiding principles. To give them their technical signification, they were poverty, chastity, and obedience. As to poverty, our Lord possessed nothing, and went out to His great mission, having no place whereon to lay His head. The foxes had holes, He said, and the birds, nests; but He was homeless. No Francis of Assisi, or John of the Cross, or Peter of Alcantara excelled Him in His asceticism. Why did Christ so denude Himself? Man had lost by sin his union with God and the grace to attain a beatific end. Christ came as man to fight over again man's lost battle. He took His place, therefore, alongside of man as his brother and defender. He took His place alongside of man as an outcast, stripped of everything.
Again, concerning obedience, Christ was, by His perfect obedience, to fulfil the Divine purpose in creating a creature with free will. He came, not like a modern reformer planning out for himself the way of man's redemption. The plan had all been laid down for Him in the Old Scriptures. Everything, concerning the temple, feasts, and sacrifices, told of Himself as the Lamb of God. He read in the Prophets the story of His life and its terrible ending. The Holy Scriptures were to Him what to a religious is his rule. He was often quoting it and saying thus it must be, for thus the Scriptures must be fulfilled. Not only was He obedient to a rule given Him by God, but also His humanity was directed by the Holy Spirit. He had a divine and ever-present Master. He was led by the Spirit. He listened to the Spirit, and "as I hear, so I speak." He poured His human mind, so to speak, into the mould of Holy Scripture, and was governed by it and by the Spirit of God.
The holy principle of chastity was especially manifested in Him. In its essence this means not only purity of body, but purity of soul. It means the detachment from all earthly love, that the love of God may be supreme. It was this that He taught the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, by His tarrying behind and being found of those in the temple. He revealed the truth that man's first duty, supreme over that even to parents, is to be about one's Father's business. He broke away from the tenderest of all ties when He left His Blessed Mother, abandoning her to the Divine protection, and went forth to His work. He trained her to bear the piercing of the sword, which pierced her heart at the time of His Crucifixion. Poverty, chastity, and obedience these lay at the foundation of His inner life.
Now in this life He trained the selected Twelve. He called them out to follow Him into closer relation than that of the other disciples. They were to be spiritual athletes. He made them, thus, sharers of His own life of hardness and danger. They were to be exposed to the persecutions which fell upon Him. They were to abide with Him in His temptations. They were to be with Him in the storm on the lake. They were to suffer hunger, and be obliged to eat raw corn in the fields: They were to give up all. They were to leave father, mother, and all that was dear to them. They were to leave their nets, and boats, and home. He organized them, also, as a band of men, as a society. He gave them a rule of life. He practised them in it just as a master of novices might do to those under him. He regulated minute particulars of their conduct. They were sent on a mission and went two by two. They were to take neither purse nor scrip. They were to be dependent upon what might be given them. They were to have no superfluity of clothing. They were to salute no man by the way, but keep a cloistered silence. They were to accept the hospitality that was offered. They were to eat such things as were set before them. And individually He subjected them to sharp rebukes. He told blessed Peter that he was like a stone, and told St. John that he did not know the spirit that he was of. He rebuked them for their want of faith; for their hindrances to Him in His work; for their hardness and the slowness of their faith; for the strife the bad amongst themselves as to who should be greatest He called them into union with His own awful Passion. They were to learn the depths of their own weakness, of their flight and desertion of Him. They were to be crushed to the earth before they could be raised up again.
He commanded them to do seemingly impossible things. They were to go to a place and find an ass tied and take it, saying only to the owner: "The Lord hath need of him." They were to go into the city and find a man hearing a pitcher of water, follow him, go into his house, and say: "Where is the guest chamber where the Master may keep the Passover?" He trained them to believe and to do what He said, though they could not understand Him. In other words, He trained them in the principles of His own high religious life.
Concerning these principles of His own life and those in which He trained the Apostles, He left certain directions. While He gave commands which all His followers were to keep, He gave counsels which those who were striving after perfection might follow.
His three counsels were those of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They are called counsels of perfection, because, by the practice of them, souls are brought into union more closely with our Lord's own life. Thus, concerning poverty, He said to the rich young man who came to Him: "If thou wouldst be perfect, sell all that thou hast and give to the poor, and come and follow Me." When the Apostles were quarrelling respecting who should be greatest, He put a little child before them, and told them that he would like a little child. Here He inculcated the law of especial obedience which those were to accept who would be great in the Kingdom of 'Heaven.
Concerning chastity He said: "All men cannot receive this saying save them to whom it is given. There be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." He there described a condition of celibate life which was to be of a permanent character. And to those who embraced these counsels He declared: "Every one that has forsaken house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My Name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold and shall inherit everlasting life."
It could not be but that a life so commenced should show itself in the Church, which is His Body. It was at first impossible for women to live in communities, but we hear of their dedication in the case of the four daughters of Philip, who were said to be virgins, which was the technical name given to this class. They were also, as we learn from the Epistles of St. Ignatius, called "widows," in reference to their separate estate. As the ages went on, adapting itself to the various needs, we find the religious life in the hermits, the monks, the friars, and the clerks regular of our modern times. Every branch of the Church, East and West, has had its monasteries and convents, and houses dedicated to our Lord.
The time came to me when, my heart burning with the fire of the love of God, and with loyalty to our own communion, I said to myself: Why has not our Church a part in it? It once had. It was crushed out by force. But if our Church was a living branch of Christ's Body, it had in it a resurrection power, and could not the life be reproduced?
We have seen how amongst women the first movement of revival began. The Trinity Sisterhood, those of St. John the Baptist, All Saints', and St. Margaret's, led the way. It is noticed in olden times, in the formation of communities of women, that their first great founders had for their assistance the aid of saintly and wise men. St. Scholastica worked in co-operation with St. Benedict; St. Jerome found a fellow-worker in the widow, St. Paula; St. Francis de Sales guided and developed St. Frances de Chantal. The Roman Order of the Sacred Heart was founded by Mother Barat, assisted by Father Varin.
In the Anglican Church we find that God raised up certain great founders. Few, indeed, are called to be such. In England God gave us that wonderfully wise, and gloriously and generously minded woman, the Hon. Mrs. Monsell, who, with Mr. Carter, developed the Clewer Sisterhood. Miss Sellon, less known, perhaps, but remarkable for her constructive power and life of prayer, worked under and was guided by the wisdom of Pusey. Dr. Neale, in his heroic spirit, called into existence a sisterhood whose members, ready at any call of duty, went into the houses of the poor, and into fever-stricken districts and cholera hospitals to attend the sick. Thus, with the noble-hearted Mother Alice, he founded one filled with the ascetic spirit and heroic perseverance. The Sisterhood of All Saints, founded by Upton Richards, had for its first Superior the Hon. Miss Byron, who brought her culture and her wealth, joined with a marvellous spirituality, to the cause of Christ. In this sisterhood was to be seen in its training the effect of one of its great chaplains, Father Benson. In America the life of Mother Harriet, founder of St. Mary's, is most generally known. It would not be proper for me now here to speak of others, but if the Anglican Church has come to her own, these orders, and others like them, will develop. Would that our clergy would preach more about the religious life, and women and men would give themselves in greater numbers to it. It is by the daily sacrifice and the religious life that the great battle would be won.
Against the life a common objection is that it involves vows. Now the taking of vows is part of the Christian religion. It is the teaching of our Book of Common Prayer. We take vows at our baptism; we take them at our confirmation; we take them when we enter into our marriage state; we take them when as priests or bishops we are ordained and consecrated. That our Lord sanctioned them is seen in this: He called men to take as celibates a permanent estate, and there could be no way of entering into such a state spiritually save by a vow.
What relation, has been asked, shall a sisterhood or an order bear to the Episcopate? We might return the question by saying: What should be the attitude of the Episcopate toward an order? The Bishops began by persecuting them. Dr. Neale was inhibited by his Bishop in England, and Father Benson by Bishop Eastburn in America. A Bishop, now passed to his rest, on my going to the General Seminary, said: "Such a man ought to be kicked off the grounds." I endeavored, as far as I could, to bring Bishops and sisterhoods into right relations. No one, I thought, had any right to start a community, or organize a religious house without first getting the approval of Ws own Bishop to do so. Next, there should be a commission appointed by the House of Bishops to whom the rule of such a society should be submitted for approval. Until the religious order had obtained, then, the imprimatur or sanction of the Episcopate, its members would have no right to wear a distinctive habit or be chronicled in the "Church Annual." But no such action has been taken, and orders have grown up without proper supervision. No law being established by the Church, many evils have arisen. Women who have had no vocation for the life of sisters, or been rejected, have undertaken the religious life, and it has happened again and again that these rejected ones have sought the protection of some Bishop, anxious, perhaps, for a Church worker. Now women know women a great deal better than do men, and if a sister has been rejected, it is almost certain that she is not adapted to the life. But Bishops are easily deceived, perhaps more easily than other men, and their approval of persons has often been most unfortunate.
And here may I give a piece of advice to Superiors, which I have found most necessary? Do not allow your convent or religious house to become a reformatory. Clergy and friends will often write to sisters begging them to take in some person who, if she could only be brought under the influence of the sisters, would certainly be reformed. No house, however, is to be made a reformatory. It is not the purpose of a sisterhood, unless it establishes a special work for penitents. Many a house has been injured through a mistaken charity of this kind. The world makes no distinction between the different grades of sisters, or even the inmates of a religious house; and when some scandal arises it is quick to put it down to the sisterhood, and not to the guest or inmate.
In 1882 I was led by certain providences to found a sisterhood in America. My connection with the communities in England, as a special director and confessor, had given me a knowledge of their constitution and rule such as, I suppose, no other one clergyman then possessed.
One peculiarity in the beginning of the revival was that sisterhoods began to take up a large number of different kinds of works. Now it is obvious that the sisterhood that is given to education must have different rules and order of life from a sisterhood that is given to nursing. So, too, if the sisterhood tends to the contemplative side of life, it cannot be engaged in the work of hospitals, orphanages, or penitentiaries. It seemed to me in England that this principle was overlooked. When, therefore, I was called by divine providence to found a community, I limited the scope of its work. We needed, I believed, in our Church a community in which there would be large room for the cultivation of the spiritual life, and which would especially be given to aid the parochial clergy, and have as a chief object the winning of souls. So, in the community of the Holy Nativity, a society was begun whose constitution does not allow of the sisters taking charge of institutions. They are not allowed to have hospitals, orphanages, or schools. The only thing allowed would be a convalescent hospital. The sisters were to give themselves especially to the cultivation of the interior life; they were to keep up as far as possible a perpetual intercession before the Blessed Sacrament. They were to cultivate, especially, charity amongst themselves, humility, and a missionary spirit, or zeal for souls. It would be a society practising no such severities as the Carmelites or other communities. They were to be given especially to communion with the inner life of our Lord.
And here I may notice a not uncommon mistake. Clergymen think they would like a sisterhood in their parish, and, without any especial knowledge, they form one of their own. Now a sisterhood is a school for the formation of a special character. This requires long and special training. But I have been asked to give the rules of a sisterhood, as if it could be made off-hand from a receipt
In the Holy Nativity, there is first a postulancy of six months, afterwards a two years' novitiate, and before final reception as a full member of the society, a period of two years as junior Professed. It is this long and careful training that has given such stability to its members, and union and happiness to them. Often the world, looking upon them from without, asks if these recluse are really happy in their dedicated life? So far as my experience has gone, and it is confirmed by the united testimony of the religious themselves, there is no life that is so full of peace, true comfort, and joy. If it is a life of sacrifice, it is also a life of present as well as future reward.
And how shall a soul know whether it is called to this life or not? The very desire that becomes permanent is one sign of a call. The spirit of devotion and love for our Lord, and desire to forward His Kingdom, adds its weight to the call. There often is such a fervent desire for a life apart from the world, that the soul feels assured that Christ has spoken to it. Then there are the outward and providential signs of God's leading to it. There are some duties to parents, aged or destitute, which might be a primary duty. But where a daughter would think it right to leave her parents for the married state, she has a right to follow the call to a higher duty to be joined to Christ. It is most common, however, for parents, in the present uninstructed state of our Church concerning the life, to make objections. They do not want to give up their children or be separated from them. Yet if an advantageous offer of marriage came to them they would not hold their child back from it. Indeed they know they would have no right to do so, for God has ordained marriage. One must leave father and mother to enter into it. The call to be joined to Christ is the call to enter into a special union or mystical marriage with Him, and no parent has a right upon religious grounds to keep a child from it. They run a great risk, and commit a great sin, if they put hindrances in the Lord's way. God, who has a right to take their child away by death, has the right to take the child into religious life, and parents should realize that the call is a call to them as well as to their daughter. It is a call to both parties, and if they respond to it, for it must be somewhat of a sacrifice, God will give them a special blessing; they will share in the reward.
Of course persons may think they are called when they are not fitted really for the life. This can only be known and decided by a trial of it. No other state allows of such a trial, and the best way to prevent anyone from joining a society is by letting her make a trial; for communities, as a rule, reject about fifty per cent of aspirants. Sisters do not want to admit any as members of their household unless they are fitted especially for it.
If we are asked what disposition aspirants should have, they would be these: a desire to leave the world a spirit of humility; a willingness to be moulded by the rule; a desire to do Christ's service; a longing for perfection. "And blessed, thrice blessed," wrote Dr. Pusey, "they whom Christ alone sufficeth, the only aim of whose being is to live to Him and for Him. For Him they adorn themselves; His eyes alone they desire to please through His graces in them; Him they long to serve without distraction; at His feet they ever sit; to Him they speak in their inmost souls, to Him they hearken. He is their light, their love, their holy joy; to Him they ever approach in trustfulness; Him they consult in all things, on Him they wait; Him they love, even because they love Him. They desire nothing from s love, desire no love but His. Blessed Him but His foretaste of life eternal, to desire nothing on earth of angels and the new song; to be wholly but the life of His, whom her soul loveth, and He, the Lord of angels, to be wholly hers as He says, 'I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine."
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