Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, 1865. Retreat.
Isaiah xxvi. 20.
You can never be reminded too often, my Sisters, that means of grace cannot leave you in the same condition in which they found you; that, if they do not make you better, they must of necessity make you worse. But of all times when you are bound to remember this, the eve of a Retreat is one of the chief. Of course, as we all know, in and by itself a Retreat is not to compare as a means of grace with any one Celebration. But so, as we also know, who would compare the Sacrament of Confirmation to that of our LORD'S Body and Blood? And yet how often, (some of you know it of your own knowledge,) it is the turning point of a life! In like manner, this ought to be the turning point of your year. Of all those who are trying to serve GOD, I shall always think that you most need the recurrence of a Retreat. For those that are endeavouring and professing to lead a higher life than others, and who yet, for weeks together, may have not only less time than others, but no set time at all, for prayer: for those who have the wear and tear of the children, for those who have the quite as great wear and tear of providing for the very maintenance of our House--that is, in different ways, for all--it ought to be the comfort of comforts, that, now and then, you not only may, as a privilege, but are bound, as a duty, to fulfil the saying of Isaiah: "Shake thyself from the dust: arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem; loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Sion." "There remaineth," and we know where, "a rest for the people of GOD." Of that rest, these Retreats ought to be types; and not only types that figure it, but means to prepare for it.
If the verse you just now heard were to have an Antiphon, the first word would give the keynote: "Come." He That gives the invitation, clearly promises to share the seclusion. He That, on that first Easter night, in all the power of the Body of His Resurrection, was with His disciples where the doors were shut for fear of the Jews,--He here calls His people to shut the doors about them, to the end that they may shut Him in with them. Not as Noah in the ark; there, the LORD shut him in: but the LORD, Man as well as GOD, was not shut in with him. No; this "Come" finds its response in those invitations in the Apocalypse: "The SPIRIT and the Bride say, Come."
He, your LORD, says, "Come." Did He ever say so to anyone, or on any occasion, that His great enemy and yours did not seek to hinder? And do you not often know in yourselves, my Sisters, that so sure as any great Festival, great means of grace, anything which might be a great help, comes round, you are likely to be attacked by some temptation? it may be to temper, it may he to worry, it may be to any one of the swarms of temptations that are always ready to attack you, as much as was ever the case in that plague of Egypt. Satan, if he cannot take away all the privilege, at least will try to embitter the happiness for the time being. So, if I am not mistaken, will be the lot of some, may be the lot of all, within the next week. Now remember one thing: that the very temptation which is intended to make you lose the advantage, is the very temptation which proves how great is, or might be, the advantage.
"Enter thou into thy chambers," You know the lines you have just sung:
"I seek for JESUS in repose
When round my heart in chambers close."
And you know, too, what the metaphor is taken from: the external chambers of the Temple, partly belonging to the Priests, partly to the Levites, partly store-rooms, which lay round and shut in the proper Temple, the house to "be called the House of Prayer." Well, then: even these external works which you do for our dear LORD'S sake, are not only now to cease, but the thoughts of them are to be put away too. Remember how, in lives like yours, the old Saints always saw a double type. Martha, on the one side; Mary, on the other. Martha, when she is engaged even in GOD'S work, must be sometimes careful and troubled about many things. I am afraid that, as the Collect we have so lately been saying tells us, by reason of the frailty of her nature, she cannot always stand upright. But now it is going to be Mary's turn. Mary's perfect turn comes very seldom. Ought you not therefore all the more to try, to pray, to resolve, that, when it does come, she shall have it?
"Hide thyself, as it were, for a little moment." It is but a little moment, this retreat,--I will not say from the world, but from the secular part of the Religious Life. And notice how here, as always, they, who were inspired by the HOLY GHOST, have no fear of pointing out plainly before you your own responsibility. "Hide thyself." True; it is GOD Who must hide you. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee." But if He is to help you, you must, His grace assisting you, help yourselves. To be fellow-workers with GOD is a privilege none the less real, because it is so wonderful.
Of course, in another sense, we may take the hiding of the whole of your lives here. Long as the time seems, terribly long as each time of hard work must seem to each one of you, it is but the "little moment" after all. You remember what Venerable Bede says about that: how it is of GOD'S infinite goodness that in this short and passing life should be the labour and the struggle, but in the Life that has no ending should be the crown and the glory. And this, once more: see how singular and plural are mixed together. It might have been said, "Enter ye into your chambers." But it shews the oneness of all GOD'S people; it shews, dearest Sisters, what ought to be the especial oneness of you, better than so. "Chambers:" each heart, knowing its own bitterness, knows also what is its own especial refuge; but "thy," not your, "chambers," because of the same weakness, the same helplessness on your parts, the same abundant, but still one, supply of grace on your LORD'S. The River may be parted, and become four, or forty, heads; but it is the same River still, the River of the Water of Life, that flowed from that wounded Side on Calvary.
And think of this. This day week all will be over. Unless your Retreat is different from all Retreats that ever yet were, since first that Householder of Whom we were speaking at Vespers sowed good seed in His field, most, any how, many, of you will then be regretting that you did not do more in it, and get more from it. But now much of one or the other is yet in your hands! Next Sunday it will not be. "I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day; the night cometh when no man can work." That night, so far as this work is concerned, will then have come.
My Sisters, I do earnestly trust that when you do come to this, you will try to lay aside every weight. GOD knows, you have enough. GOD also knows that you cannot always, nay, nor often, lawfully lay them aside. You have sought, I hope,--you do seek, I hope,--for JESUS in work. Now then, to quote that line again, "Seek for JESUS in repose."
Ah, my Sisters! when you are with your children, or with your patients, or with those with whom you have to carry on the outside business of your life, could there be a better wish for you than this: that you, coming from your Retreat,--as Moses came down from the Mount, not himself knowing the glory that shone from his face, yet it was manifest to all,--that of each of you in your several works, and with regard to those concerned in their work, that verse should be true: "They took knowledge of them that they had been with JESUS."
And I cannot end better than with that blessed Name.
And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory now and for ever. Amen.