THE PETITION FOR LOAVES
"And He said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer, and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth."--S. Luke xi. 5-8.
THERE is one sentence in this parable which I always feel most deeply applicable to myself; perhaps more than ever now, when I am about, if it be GOD'S will, to speak to you oftener than I have lately done. A friend of mine is come unto me, and I have nothing to set before him. Or, as it is in that miracle, Whence shall a man buy bread that these may eat? You can judge for yourselves, how your hopes and wishes, your trials and temptations, the aim of your life, the strength by which you attempt to reach it, remaining always the same, it is very difficult for a Priest to speak to you again and again, without again and again uttering the same sentences and thoughts, and wearying you instead of helping you. There is but one remedy: to go to the Great High Priest,--Him out of whose fulness have all we received; Him Who can satisfy here in the wilderness; Him in Whose Temple the shewbread is fresh, not every week only, but every morning. To carry out, that is, the spirit of this parable: and let us, as the HOLY GHOST shall help us, see what that is.
Now the first thing I notice is this: that a parable, coming between the LORD'S Prayer on one side, and the LORD'S most precious promise on the other,--Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you,--would be likely, one should say, to be one of the most precious of parables. And so indeed it is. There is a fulness of meaning in every word of it, which holy men of old have delighted in dwelling on; and if it leads me once more to speak of the same subject on which I spoke to you on Sunday evening, it matters not. Of a nobler, we cannot speak till that day, when all sacramental veils shall be torn away, and we shall see the King face to face, not under shadows, but in His Beauty.
Now, when we hear of a petition made for loaves, especially when it comes directly after, Give us this day our daily bread, we can think but of one kind of food: the Bread of GOD is He Which cometh down from Heaven, and giveth life unto the world. For remember, however that word came to be translated Daily Bread, it is not so in the prayer as our LORD'S lips pronounced it;--"Give us this day our super-substantial bread," it is in the original. And whatever be the first original meaning of that word, one meaning must be the very true Body of our LORD; the Bread of Angels, the Manna that cometh down from Heaven. Well, then, the petition is here for that. But why three loaves rather than one? Israel ate of one manna: Israel drank of one rock: why then three here? And the answer is easy. Because each of these loaves represents one essential of the Holy Eucharist. In it we receive, it is true, the Flesh of our dear LORD: but not that only. We receive Him as He is now, glorified and incorruptible, Body, Soul, and Divinity. These are the three loaves of which the parable speaks. And that reminds me (though it be not exactly a part of our subject) to give you one piece of advice in regard to teaching the poor. When you speak of our LORD'S Person and Nature to them, I know that you will generally find, if you get to the bottom of their belief, that they consider Him so to have taken our manhood, that the Divinity supplied the place of a human soul. I believe that the heresy is unconsciously held by many, whose knowledge ought to be far beyond such very elements of the Christian faith. I remember when I was a child, having so fully imbibed the idea, that it was with no small difficulty, when I began to wish to believe as the Church believes, I could drive it from my mind. Here, however, the parable sets forth to us the Catholic Faith in all its fulness: lend me three loaves; and that not merely as a subject of speculation, but as something with which we are immediately connected: for these three loaves are for us.
Then again: notice when the request was made. At midnight. And it was a little before midnight that this Blessed Sacrament was first instituted. But perhaps rather we are taught by this that here lies our great comfort in the darkest affliction: here lies our best support in the blackest temptation. That let the trouble be what it may, the Sacramental Peace still passeth all understanding: let the sorrow be never so heavy, in that Blessed Eucharist is the promise chiefly fulfilled: Ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.
And then further: see the way in which the petition is made. FRIEND, lend me three loaves. It is love that must ask, if we are to gain. You are taught as much every night. If it is not, O GOD, Thou art my GOD, it is no use to go on, Early will I seek Thee. If it is not, My LORD and my GOD, it will never be, Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. Yes, dear Sisters: if you do not know this, you know nothing. Here is your all. If your hearts, when you kneel at those desks, are not on fire with love, better not kneel there at all. Especially for us,--us who are privileged to find so large a proportion of our prayers in the Psalms, is this true. I do not at all wonder, when people set to work to compose offices for themselves, that they have so large a proportion of prayers and so few Psalms: so much of their own poor miserable words, so little of the direct phrases of the HOLY GHOST. See how exactly contrary is the practice of the Church. It is not too much to say that at least nine-tenths of her devotions are taken from the Psalms, directly or indirectly. Here the love of her children has, age after age, been poured out; in those expressions, faith, hope, and charity, have each, for so many centuries, found their own language and their own meaning, and so it will be to the end of time. Those, says one of the Fathers, love GOD well, that love the Psalms well. And though I am afraid that that is rather too sweeping an assertion, yet this, I think we may safely say: those have made but little progress in the Christian life, who do not love the Psalms well. Then always remember the preface which is pre-supposed, Friend: FRIEND, lend me three loaves.
Lend me, notice, not give me. Exactly as the dew and rain are lent to the earth, and returned in the beauty of the flowers, in the luxuriance of the grass, in the richness of the fruits, in the glory of the trees, so of that Blessed Sacrament. And so more especially, dearest Sisters, with you. These three loaves are lent to you over and over again here. You go forth, and then is your special time for paying. I, in our LORD'S place, lend them here: they are repaid to our LORD, not in His own Person, but in the person of His poor. And I believe that we may carry this out a great deal further than we do. S. Thomas especially tells us, that though the Blessed Sacrament was not instituted for the purpose of giving bodily strength, or warding off dangers and diseases, yet, per accidens, to use the technical expression, yet, per accidens, it may have that effect too: just as Baptism sometimes also has. Yes, it is a beautiful thought that here is that lent which is to be repaid in far distant towns and villages, to our LORD, not then under the Form of Bread and Wine, but under the shape of the poor. And of this I am sure: that the more any of you have been privileged to do, the more you will be disposed to say, Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto Thy name be the praise, for Thy loving mercy, and for Thy truth's sake: the more you will see how little even that much was, compared with what it might have been, had you put out the gifts to the utmost usury. Friend, lend me three loaves.
Well, thus far all is easy: what follows will give us more trouble. He, from within, shall say--What? I will rise and give them? Not so. Trouble me not; I cannot rise and give thee. And is this after the manner of our LORD, of Him Who giveth to all men liberally, Who hath said, Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find? Yes, it is. Consider what that verse, which you will find in the Office of S. Mary Magdalene, says, no less deeply than beautifully--
"Oh how strangely Thou eludest
Those, dear LORD, that have believed!
Yet eluding, ne'er dwludest.
Nor deceiv'st, nor art deceived!
But excluding, then includest!
Fully known, art not received."
Only this is not spoken of the Sacrament, which certainly may be had without any such agony of supplication, but of that Virtue of the Sacrament, only to be obtained by earnest prayer. He refuses, that He may be asked the more earnestly. He says, Let me go, that we may reply, I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me. He says, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and cast it unto dogs: that we may answer, Truth, LORD; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table. Therefore we must not be astonished that the parable thus continues; but rather we must thank GOD, and take courage, that what we have so often felt and known in ourselves is the very thing which He Himself has said shall be.
But then attend to the reason: The door is now shut. What door? That door, that vast, glorious, azure door, which shut upon Him when He was taken up into Heaven, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. Yes! that door is now shut. Those blessed Feet do not now walk upon this earth; those blessed Hands do not now cure all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. We cannot now see Him as He is; we cannot hear the words of those lips that" spake as never man spake." The door is now shut.
But what is this that follows? My children are with me in bed. My children, the long line of Saints from the first Martyr till this day, have slept the same sleep that I did. I lay in the grave: they lie in the grave; that was My bed till the morning of My Resurrection: it is their bed still. They have fought the fight; they have run the race; they have entered into rest, they sleep in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness. Trouble me not.
It is true, and we cannot deny it. We do not expect that That Blessed LORD will descend from Heaven till the morning shall come; not during this midnight in which we are petitioners for the Three Loaves. But the very fact that it is so only strengthens our petition, if we press it heartily with a good courage. Because, as the Apostle said, the Heavens have received Him till the times of the restitution of all things; therefore, for that very reason, He has left this way of being with His people. Because He cannot, consistently with His own foreordained plans, come to us, therefore He has appointed the Mystery of the Three Loaves. Why else? The children that are with Him in bed, those who are enjoying the perfect repose of eternity, need not the Sacramental Presence. For albeit to them the Beatific Vision is not as yet vouchsafed, yet more of Him they behold, yet nearer to Him they are. It is we who are yet constrained to dwell with Mesech, and to have our habitation among the tents of Kedar, who stand in need of this food, who must perish if we go not in this strength.
But yet see the reason which the petitioner urges. For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to give him. Ah! and what a rule of GOD'S providence does that teach us! We must not come to our dear LORD at all, unless we can call Him friend; and we may not call Him friend unless we also call the poor our friends. Now, dearest Sisters, how exactly this suits you! Why do you need, so often, so more than others, the Three Loaves? Because so often, so more than others, your strength is expended among the poor. Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine is come unto me, and I have nothing to give him. Nothing, indeed, of yourselves; everything, if you can but prevail in this your petition.
He will not, because He is his Friend. Will He not? Then perhaps He will if you call on Him as your Brother. For so indeed He is; by Incarnation, Bone of your bone, and Flesh of your flesh; so He rejoices to be called, as when you heard Him the other day, say: We have a little Sister. [Referring to a sermon on Cant. viii. 8, 9.] He will not, because He is his Friend. Then He will, if you call on Him as your Husband. Then the answer will be: What is Thy petition, Queen Esther, and what is thy request? and it shall be granted thee, even to the half of My kingdom.
Yes; He will come and give him as many as he needeth. Not once only, but again and again. Not in one midnight of trial only, but as often as you shall have occasion to cry to Him. Only remember, dearest Sisters, whenever you come to this Blessed Sacrament, and there desire its virtue and efficacy, whenever you kneel before your LORD and your GOD, under the form of Bread and Wine, these things. How you are to call on Him: Friend;--When: in any midnight of sorrow or temptation;--For what: His Whole Self, Body, Soul, Divinity: the Three Loaves;--In what way: that they may be lent;--Why: because you have nothing of your own: And on what further plea?--that those for whom you seek are your friends. So ask, and you shall indeed receive; so seek, and you shall without doubt find.
That you may so find here, that is my heart's desire and prayer for you all. And then, that hereafter you may find, as the Queen of Sheba of old, that even in this Blessed Sacrament, and all its glory, the half of the true Glory of the Heavenly Temple had not been told you!
And now, etc.