Project Canterbury

Sermons on Passages from the Prophets
by the Rev. John Mason Neale

London: J.T. Hayes, 1877.

Sermon XXVII.
The Flight of the Doves.
Isaiah lx. 8.

OFTEN and often we say these words, as, often and often, other Religious Houses employ them by way of antiphon. [Used as Antiphon to the Memorial for absent Sisters.] And, first, let me tell you why, when a commemoration of any day, or person, is made, it is with an antiphon, verse, and response; an antiphon, though there be no psalm to have its meaning fixed. The reason is this. Originally, commemorations, or memorials as they used to be called in England, were only made at Lauds and Vespers: that is to say, of course, immediately after Benedictus or Magnificat. When the collect for the day, at Lauds, for example, had been said, the antiphon of the memorial followed, to shew that Benedictus was about to be repeated in another sense; and it was actually repeated: and then, naturally, came verse and response, answering to the verse and response before the first Benedictus; and then the collect of the memorial. But in process of ages, as love waxed cold, it was thought tedious to repeat the Song of Zacharias at Lauds, or the Song of our Lady at Vespers, so often; and so it quietly dropped out, though the frame-work in which it had been set remained, and does so remain to this day. And so it came to pass that no memorial was thought complete without its antiphon and verse, even in the lesser Hours.

So much for that: that you may sing with the understanding, as well as with the spirit. Hut now to the dear text; for it is a dear text itself. We know, in our own minds, who these are, that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows: namely, the Sisters absent from us, and working for us and for their LORD.

"That fly as a cloud." What are the clouds, but vapours drawn up by the sun from all waters, but especially from the great deep? And the Religious Life,--what does that spring from, save the grace of Baptism? And what brings it forth, sets it going, makes it what it is, but the heat and virtue of the Sun of Righteousness? but the love, wherewith He loves you, and the love wherewith you seek to love Him?

Yes: you can only rise above the earth, as the clouds do, by means of that love; and the stronger that is, the higher you will be raised.

Well: and the clouds themselves are utterly colourless, mere collections of dark, unsightly vapours. But let the sun once touch them, and how gloriously beautiful they are! into what liquid purple they melt! in what vivid crimson they burn! One of our most Catholic old poets says:

"And if a sullen cloud, gloomy as night.
Upon the which the sun his rays doth shed,
Deprived of all his dross, we see so bright
Burning in liquid gold his living head,
Or round with ivory edges silvered,
What lustre supereminent will
He Lighten on those that shall His glory see
In that all-glorious Court, in which all glories be!"

And need I tell you, my Sisters, what you are in yourselves? Was there anything in you that could deserve His love? Was there any love to Him first? Was there any beauty at first that could have attracted Him to you? It is an allegory that each of you should read for herself, that marvellous sixteenth chapter of Ezekiel--the history, in its first part, at least, of every faithful soul: "thou wast perfect through My comeliness, which I had put upon thee, saith the LORD GOD."

But He did set His love on you; and what did the dull colourless clouds become then? True, they ought to be far more beautiful than the brightest of them are; true, not a single portion of them but should reflect the perfect Light of the Sun of Righteousness. But we have only to think of the work of those who are at this moment absent from us, to know that 'the LORD hath done great things for us already, whereof we rejoice."

Well, then: are not clouds a wonderful type of those who are leading the Religious Life? But there is something further yet. "Who are these that fly as a cloud?" Now, we should not generally speak of the clouds as flying, but as being moved, or impelled. And how? by that wind which bloweth where it listeth. And how then is everything you do, how are all your actions, to be governed and directed, but by that HOLY GHOST, of Whom, even in old time, it was said, "When Thou sendest forth Thy Breath they shall be made, and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth?"

But still: it is not with you as it was with the Apostles immediately after the descent of the fiery tongues. "They were forbidden of the HOLY GHOST to preach the word in Asia;" 'They assayed to go into Bithynia, but the SPIRIT suffered them not." No; He indeed gives the power, He moves you, as the wind moves the clouds: but you also are fellow-workers with Him; He vouchsafes that you should do your part, while He does His. So it is well said, that these clouds fly. A voluntary motion, such as the birds', though by another and external power, such as wind.

Still, this is not enough. "And as the doves to their windows." O most lovely teaching of what you owe that dear Passion!

"As the doves." And it is in every one's thought, not only how their harmlessness, the purity, the gentleness, typify true Sisters; but how, also, they alone of all birds are faithful to one mate. That might be enough in itself; but then comes the addition which, beyond all other things, seems to bring you, as the nearest and dearest, to Him Whom you love the best.

When we were speaking of the clouds, there was no direction mentioned: apparently they might come whence they would, and go whither they would. But when we speak of the doves, the case is different. These can only fly in one direction: and that direction is, to the windows. Now what are these windows? Why, they are those of which it is said, "Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun." And the chief of them was that window by means of which we may, as it were, look into His exceeding Love, Who thus allowed His Side to be pierced with the spear.

But, mind you, it is not one window only, through which He is to look out on our misery and sin, and through which we are to look in on His suffering and on His Cross. And you will also notice that it is not only the windows; but, "their windows."

That is, that all the sufferings of our dear LORD,--the windows by which we look into His Love, the windows by which He looks out, so to speak, on our misery,--are those to which His dear doves will fly, and in which they will find refuge. If it had been said: "Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to His windows?" I should not have been astonished; but when I find the sufferings of the Bridegroom acknowledged to be the inheritance of the Bride, what love can we imagine greater than this?

There are five windows, and five chiefly, so far as I ever have heard: those four wounds in the Hands and Feet, and that one in the Side.

First of ail, that most dear, most sacred Wound of the Side, pierced with the spear for us, that we might anchor all our everlasting hopes in it, hereafter. Through this, but now, as in a glass darkly, we see somewhat of that exceeding love, whereby, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end. That chiefly: but also those Wounds opened by the cruel nails in His Hands and in His Feet, whereby, whatever be the immediate conflict, He shews us the entrance to that invincible Love, which for us has not only overcome all things, but done all things.

And it is marvellous to see how the Old and New Testament speak the same truth. "The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks;" that is to say, the one true Rock, in the caverns of which every faithful soul, yes, and much more certainly every soul that has embraced the Religious Life, finds refuge. "A feeble folk!'' you know that for yourselves better than I can tell you; but then, the unconquerable strength of that Rock, how shall it not enable you to trample down every pet sin, every favourite weakness, every thing which even I could wish you to cast behind you as a weight, so that you might run with patience the race set before you?

"Who are these?" You must answer for yourselves. You know best how each of you is striving with the sin that doth most easily beset her; you know best how each of you is trying to do that especial good work to which GOD has called her. Who are these that do so? Thus far I can tell you. Those who are trying hardest with themselves, those who are resolving to leave undone the favourite sin dearest to them, to do the duty most distasteful; they, who, so resolving, and so doing, shall indeed succeed, these shall fly as a cloud, by the inspiration of that One and the Selfsame SPIRIT; they shall enter into those dearest and most glorious of windows, the opened Wounds of our Blessed Lord, your dear and only Bridegroom.

Windows, shewing some small light, letting out some little refulgence of the glory of our dear LORD'S House!

You fly there, that you may be taken in there: poor doves, tossed on the deluge of this world, asking for entrance into the True Ark of the True Noah.

And how did Noah take her in, that dear little dove, whose history after a thousand years still survives? "He put forth his hand, and pulled her in unto him into the ark."

O happy Sister, who thus, some day, by that pierced Hand, shall be drawn in to eternal blessedness! O glorious toils, suffering, temptation, which shall so end: end in eternal safety, end in perpetual happiness, end under the very shadow and protection of GOD'S own Right Hand!

And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory now and for ever. Amen.

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