December 8th, 1864.
Isaiah xl. 2.
THIS is not the text I had meant to take. I had one much better suited to the Festival and to Advent. But S. Francis de Sales says somewhere, "If a particular verse strikes a Priest, let him take it while it is yet warm in his mind." And so I will.
Well: you know that yesterday evening, I had been hearing of some of your warfares. When I went home, they were just beginning that recitative in the "Messiah," the verse which I took for my text. And then, the first thought that came into my mind was: "If I could but tell each of them that her warfare is accomplished, as certainly as I can that her iniquity is pardoned, what a glorious and blessed thing!"
And then, the second thought: "It would neither be blessed nor glorious." It would be asking for you that you might be taken down from the Cross before evening: that you might stand on the shore before the morning is yet come.
And I felt that, if, as I said last Sunday afternoon, I would not shield our children from temptation if I could, how much less ought I to wish to shield you.
But, I take it for granted, we all know of the warfare. Now then: the promise is, not that it shall be ended only. It certainly will be ended to all men some day. But, accomplished. An accomplished warfare must mean, very likely, fighting hard, fighting so that you hardly know how to fight any longer; but fighting so as to gain the victory. And, O my Sisters, what is that victory?
But again: I think now I may appeal to your own hearts; is there not, ought there not to be, a pleasure in the very struggle when for Him? Suppose it were possible not to be tempted? We ought, perhaps, to choose it. But would a Saint? Most surely not. Would it not be like a soldier, privately knowing that he was invulnerable, fighting in the most desperate battles--his comrades falling around him, and he secure? That is very safe, but not very glorious work.
"Her warfare is accomplished." But that accomplishment! We know when, and when only, it can be. That great Sacrament of Death must first be passed through. It may be (I do not say it will be, perhaps on the whole the case may not be so), that the most tremendous battle we ever have to fight will be then. Then, with certainly weakened, perhaps suffering bodies, should GOD so order it, we shall have to fight our last pitched battle. But, so far as my experience goes,--and those writers who knew a thousand times more than I do, (many deathbeds as I have seen,) hear me out,--this last crowning, ending conflict does not come quite at the last. It is usually hours before, that, on one side or the other, there is Check Mate. Satan is conquered by GOD'S grace; then he shall not worry. Satan conquers: why should he care to worry?
And, my Sisters, while we never try to hide from ourselves what that last wrench must be, while we remember that we must bear it, no help for it; "we indeed justly;" (One only bare it Who, as He deserved not, so He need not to have borne death;) while we never conceal from ourselves what the rage of that enemy, what the ferocity of that Lion will then be,--so this we must always remember: if where sin abounded, grace shall much more abound, so where misery, and distress, and temptation abound, there the HOLY GHOST will be more abundantly present. What may be that feeling at last: "fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and an horrible dread hath overwhelmed me;" what the knowledge that "Ye have not passed this way heretofore,"--we know not. Let it be as horrible as it may. But who can measure the strength of GOD'S grace? When our friends, weak, poor, sinful friends, leave us on this side, who can tell about the friends on the other? strong, comforting, sinless? That door, that most tremendous door, opens for the one agonising soul. It is Goodbye from those who stand on this side; what may it not be on the other?
"Her warfare is accomplished." What must that be to feel safe for ever! to be sure, not only that we cannot sin, but that we cannot then be tempted! Ah! there is no cowardice there in that joy, nor presumption either. The soldier must fight the battle here; but the time will come when the victor must sit down to rest; or rather, in one sense, will carry on perfectly the work in which here he so often failed.
"That her warfare is accomplished." Now to look at that in a different way. My Sisters, I do not think it is often a temptation to a Priest even to wish to break the inviolable seal of Confession; but one point there is, in which it has to be fought against. I know it in myself, but I should perhaps hardly have said it, unless it had been so written, not only by men at whose feet I am not worthy to sit, but even by Saints. I mean this. A Sister (ah! how many a Sister), is fighting her bravest fight, doing her very best, in her warfare. Poor thing! her best may not be very good; I mean, not very good as we miserable sinners take it; whether it may not be very good in the eyes of the GOD of all purity, is a different question. And exactly because a good, honest, brave, hard battle, is sometimes and in some places defective, she shall be judged by those around her, all fighting their own battles too; judged, mind you, honestly; with no intentional unkindness, but so cruelly! You all know well enough, my Sisters, that I would not say this, but when I can say it without any individual instance in my mind. But all writers on the Religious Life tell us so. And the next time any of you see, or think you see, any fault in any of your Sisters, think this: "I see the partial defeat,--the glorious resistance that may have been made, I shall never know."
"Her warfare is accomplished." To return to that last battle: I want you to notice how closely it is mixed up with what, in one sense, are the most mechanical parts of your life here. I suppose that we all feel the most routine duties of our lives to he the ordinary Hours. Well: the time will probably come, will certainly come, unless we are either taken suddenly, or while we are insensible, when those prayers that are said by us, those helps the Church will give us, must he almost mechanically taken hold of by us. Then, not all, but very much, will depend on what has been our faith, our hope, our love, in those old words, while we said them here. It will be a very passive faith at the best that we can exercise then; but therefore all the move need, is it not so? that we should try to exercise the most active faith in those ordinary services now. So, when we are too weak to begin again, the old past habit, or rather grace, of faith will help us then.
"Her warfare is accomplished." No need to tell you, my Sisters, that our warfare is not yet accomplished, nor finished even. About that there is no doubt. But after all, to enrage Satan is to shew that you are doing GOD service. Of course he will attack us in our weakest point: us, each of us, individually; us, all of us, collectively. But if, as I have so often said, we are not to be the least afraid of our own difficulties, how much less ought we to sit down and lament over common difficulties? . . .
And, my Sisters,--now I am speaking to those who have not directly to do with the teaching and bringing up our children,--I should like to know, or rather I should like you to ask yourselves, how much you pray for them. "But it is not so much our business." Yes: but it is exactly as much. That is one dear use of a House like this. There is no such thing, to use the technical term, as a Limited Company, here. You are each answerable, not only for your own sins and shortcomings, but, to a certain extent, for those of all your Sisters. Had you, each of you, prayed more for them, they would have fallen less. Had they, each of them, prayed more for you, you would have fallen less. Every one of you is answerable, to a certain extent (mind, I include myself most fully,) when any of our children go wrong: just as we all should be, here at home, if any one of our Sisters, in nursing at a distance from us, broke down through her own fault. It was not one whom we should desire to imitate, was it? who asked that question, "Am I my brother's keeper?"
And lastly: "Her warfare is accomplished." My Sisters, what will that be, when through whatever pain, after whatever temptation, that is fulfilled in you! Then your armour hung up in the temple of eternal peace, then your poor fleshly ships, after all the storms of this life, anchored fast, anchored for ever, in the Wounded Side of your LORD, of your Husband .' "In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory now and for ever. Amen.