IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD
WE may indeed take up the question of Moses, and ask it of ourselves. What are we, that our LORD should come, in His own dear Presence, daily among us?--What are we, that we should be counted worthy to receive Him under our roof?--Whence is this to us, that the GOD of our salvation should thus visit us? But, at this time, I do not so much intend to speak of the way in which we are to prepare ourselves for receiving that Body which is meat indeed, and that Blood which is drink indeed, as to tell you, my dear Sisters, what are your duties and privileges at those times when, without receiving, you are present, when you assist at the Sacrifice, though you do not partake of the Feast. For you are not to think that then you have no especial duty,--no especial responsibility. I grant, a responsibility not comparable to that you undertake when you receive the Flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His Blood, but still infinitely greater than at ordinary times of prayer. True it is, that is such joy and such fear as I always feel,--as GOD, of His infinite goodness, forbid that I should ever cease to feel!--when I give to any of you, as the Prophet speaks, the Bread of the mighty men, and the Wine that blossoms into purity, I cannot feel when you are but kneeling before the Altar, and there making your requests known unto GOD. But I cannot even see those of you who are simply doing this, as I might see you at an ordinary time of prayer.
My dearest Sisters, believe me, it is a very awful thing to stand in the presence of GOD as we stand there every morning. It is a very awful thing to stand before that Spotless Lamb, slain to take away the sins of the world. But also a most comforting thing;--when shall we find such acceptance with our LORD? When can we expect such grace to make our prayers aright? When can we hope that the promise will be so abundantly fulfilled, Whatsoever ye ask in faith, believing, ye shall receive?
But now there is, to speak it so, a holy art of employing that precious time to its best purpose.
On the one hand, to remember that, when you do not receive, much of the service is not especially for you, and that you had better be earnest in your own prayers than occupied with that. On the other hand, to remember that you are not to be so taken up with your own wants, as to forget what is going on,--how near, how very near, you are brought to GOD.
And now I will tell you how I think you may best endeavour to fulfil both these things. In the first place, whenever each of you does not receive, it ought to give, ought it not, a feeling of humiliation? Were you saints, you might receive daily. But even more than a feeling of humbleness, ought to be the feeling of effort." With GOD'S help, this shall not always be so. I can do all things through CHRIST which strengtheneth me. By His Grace I will try and try again, harder and harder, till I shall not need to turn away, through fear of rashness and presumption, from the banquet that He has provided me."
In saying this, I do not forget my own danger; and I ask you not to forget it either. Here we see the fearful responsibility of being a Priest; one of the reasons, no doubt, why it was said by a holy man of old, that few, if any, Priests could be saved. True it is that we often must undertake risks which we would not let others undertake; that we must often blame, when we know that we ourselves should have failed much more; that we must stir up to exertion, where we should ourselves have felt much less disposed to any exertion. And therefore we may well be condemned by our own words at the Last Day< But the comfort is, that we have a merciful and faithful High Priest, Who Himself was tempted, that He might Himself sympathise. And this also I want you to feel. A tie must be mutual. If it is my duty to pray for you, so it is yours also to pray for me. If we have, to a certain extent, a common danger, let our prayers also be common.
It is at the more immediate commencement of the Communion Service, at the Lift up your hearts, that the difference between those who are, and are not, to communicate, begins. You have all your books which are designed to lead your thoughts to the Lamb of GOD, Whose sacrifice is there set forth before your eyes. But then, of all times, is the best and fittest season for you to come before GOD with your own words, and in your own thoughts. Then the HOLY GHOST is most likely to put into your minds wishes and thoughts acceptable to Himself; then, also, to hear the prayers which He has Himself suggested. There are three things, above all, which those who assist at Holy Communion ought to endeavour after. First, to call to mind that great Sacrifice from which all other sacrifices have their virtue; to do it with all your power of faith; to forget everything else but JESUS CHRIST, and Him crucified: to see that hill of Calvary as it was; to pray with the poor thief," LORD, remember me when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom;" to be found, like S. Mary, close to the foot of the Cross. Then, also, to renew your dedication of yourselves, soul and body, to GOD'S service; to re-make, for that day, that resolution of doing your best for Him which you wish to keep constantly before you; to endeavour more and more to say," Whose I am, and Whom I serve." And then, lastly, that is the best time of any to intercede for all that you love, and for each other. That last, I am sure, is a part of the duty of Sisters. You know already much, and you will daily know more, of each other's trials, and difficulties, and failings, and temptations; and in this way you can all help each other, in this way you must all be helped by each other. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of CHRIST.
And here, in these three things, an earnest hanging on the Cross of CHRIST, self-dedication, and intercession, we have those three most blessed of virtues, Faith, Hope, and Love. Faith, to realise that Passion on which all our salvation depends; faith also, to believe that the memorial of that Passion is no less than the Body and Blood of Him that endured it. Hope, that often and often as you may have failed before, still GOD accepts your service, still He is willing to receive you as His own (you, especially as His own); hope, that, after many troubles, you shall enter into the greater rest. And then Love, which looks beyond each of yourselves,--first to those more especially connected with you, and then, in a wider circle, to all who are runners in the same race, fighters in the same battle, soldiers in the same army. And now I am going to leave you alone with your LORD. You are about to speak to Him, each for herself. This afternoon, make it your especial request for yourselves, and for each other, that you may never be careless and negligent in your own prayers, while the Sacrifice of the Altar is going on, even though you may not, at the time, be about to receive the Blessed Sacrament; and much more, that you may never so carelessly or unworthily receive it, as to turn it into a curse instead of a blessing. I ask you to do this now; your prayers will be the more fervent if you all know that you are praying at the same time, for the same thing:--a good and pleasant thing it will be, in this sense also, to dwell together in unity.
And my prayer for you all is, that these supplications may go up with acceptance before GOD'S Throne, and bring you down the abundant dew of His Grace. So that when, for a longer or shorter number of years, you shall have seen our LORD, veiled under the form of Bread and Wine, you may see Him face to face, as the Blessed ones see Him now; when you have gone in the strength of this meat, like Elijah, all the days of your pilgrimage here, you may come to the true Horeb, the Mount of GOD; when you have received the King of kings again and again into your own dwelling, you may go and live with Him for ever in His, for His own merits' sake; to Whom, with the FATHER and the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory for ever. Amen.