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Sermons on the Apocalypse, the Holy Name, and the Proverbs
by John Mason Neale.

London: J.T. Hayes, 1871.


Preached on the Festival of the Holy Name, 1863.


"And when He had spoken these things, nubile they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel."--ACTS i. 9, 10.

It is a remarkable point in our Community, my Sisters, that we should have our two chief festivals so close together; [1] the one, of the Bride of the LORD: the other, of the Bridegroom of the Virgins: how the one shows the love to the Name above all names; the other, the help of the Name above all names: how the Pearl, in one is the Sought, in the other the Seeker.

There it is: the help on earth: because the journey to heaven. There it is: the assistance here, because the heart there. The Victor, even before He had been received into His Glory, (for they were looking as He went up,) remembers, His dear Promise, and sends, if not as yet the Paraclete, yet still two Angels, to comfort His orphans, to make them feel that they are not alone, to give the earnest of the Great Promise which in ten days shall be accomplished fully.

And, my Sisters, notice this. The first Adam had no sooner lost Paradise than there came the promise of the Seed of the Woman that should bruise the serpent's head. The second Adam had scarcely--or rather, had not--regained Paradise for Himself, when He takes care that His followers should know how, not for Himself only, but for them, He had won it. Ah, dear Sisters, is not the lesson clear? You, no sooner in battle than He with you. He, no sooner in glory than you with Him. This is the kind of participation between the glorious King and the poor subjects; between the faithful Bridegroom and the too often faithless Bride. He takes your weakness, that He may invest you with His strength; your poverty, that He may endow you with His riches; He becomes the Man of Sorrows, Who hath neither form nor comeliness, and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him, to the end that you may be perfect in His Beauty which He desires to put on you.

But it is not every look after Him that will serve the turn. Let me tell you a way in which a mediaeval Priest speaks of that text to his Sisters: "You say that you do look up. You say that you dearly and truly look up. I believe you. But then, O dear ones in CHRIST, it is fitfully. This festival, that fast, you do keep somewhat in the way that the Brides of the King ought to do. But then you relax--then the watch, for the time, is over: then the lamp, for the season, is extinguished: then the devoted Bride is, if not on the other side, at least not on her LORD'S." And then He goes on very strikingly: "You have heard over and over again" (because it was in the Lessons for the second Nocturn of their Patron, S. Agnes,) "that passage of S. Ambrose where he, telling how that Saint was led into the foullest and vilest of abodes, proceeds: 'Close your eyes, Christian maidens; a Christian maiden is dragged into the place of shame. Nay, open them again, Christian maidens: CHRIST'S own ones may suffer, but can never be put to shame.' But to be found negligent; to be found gazing up to Heaven, but not stedfastly; to be found calling on that LORD'S Name, but not earnestly; to be found allowing the Cistercian dress to enfold every limb, but not really; to be found with a bandlet on the forehead which cared more for the knowledge of this world than of JESUS CHRIST, and Him Crucified; of such an one S. Ambrose would indeed say, 'Close your eyes,' Christian maidens. She attempts with a half heart that which needs the most entire love of a most entire soul; she, oh miserable failure! thinks that she may give herself partly to Him Who gave Himself, Soul and Body, every power of that Human Soul, every member of that, then mortal, now immortal Body, for her!"

"Why stand ye gazing up into Heaven?" My Sisters: a question indeed for all His followers; the question of questions for you. Not for this reason; not that you should allow yourselves in meaningless, helpless, sentimental expressions of an earthly love to Him Who shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I do not think that this is a besetting fault here. But it is impossible to look at books of devotions intended for Sisters, without seeing how apt, how likely, their users are to run into this error. But the " Why stand ye gazing up into Heaven?" has a very different answer. Any of you who have, for your portion now, work which you would not have chosen as a Sister, while there is work which you would choose if you might have it, who might think, "I could serve our dear LORD better, if I only had that especial task, and as to my own happiness, it would be tenfold:" such an one should look up stedfastly to see, with the eye of faith, that there her work and her wish will be one; and both, her best: that there, He Who sets her work cannot be mistaken, and that His will will be, in very truth, hers also: and she must look stedfastly, and then she may see a certain reflection of that future task in her present one. The thought indeed arises: "I wish to serve my LORD with all my heart and strength. Weariness, pain, trouble, I long since made up my mind to. But there is this or that task that I know I could throw myself better into. I feel sure I could be of more use: His Service would gain, (for it comes to that,) and my happiness would be complete." Well; and what have some of His chief servants thought and said, ay, and left for us on record in the same way? They were on fire, S. Paul and his companions, to preach the Gospel in Asia Minor. What follows? "Now, when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the HOLY GHOST to preach the word in Asia," (there was disappointment the first) "after they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia, but the SPIRIT suffered them not." (Disappointment the second.)

And so much for that class of troubles. Of others, that kind which, doubtless in themselves, are harder to bear, and which those who know little about the matter, would think beyond all comparison so much the more difficult to endure, so much the more glorious if endured well: of them, I need say nothing. But the longer I live, the more I know of myself, and the more I know of you, this I see: that it is a much greater thing in little, trifling, every-day worries, in such disappointments as must occur over and over again in every week of our lives, in the teasing annoyances which we all know, but which it would be very difficult for any of us to describe, that it is far harder in them to do as the Apostles did than in those great matters when we must either have that help or know that we can have none. As there is nothing in nature but may teach us something in grace, a story that I read the other day in a book of travels in Brazil, seems to me exactly to the point. The writer, with two companions, was collecting insects in one of those wonderful South American forests. In the middle of the day, they sat down to their meal. At one and the same time, the one was bitten by a snake, whose poison, unless the bite be treated at once, is mortal; the other happened to have taken his seat on an ant's nest, and in a moment hundreds of the fighting ants swarmed over him. The man bitten by the serpent, submitted to treatment at once, and in a day or two was well; the other laughed off the idea of any medical care, and in the fever that ensued, very nearly lost his life. I thought when I read that story, if the material dangers were translated into a spiritual meaning, how much there was to be learnt from that account. It is the old story about the little foxes; which, on the whole, do so much more harm to the vineyards than the wild boar or the singular beast.

"While they looked up stedfastly toward Heaven." And I think that scarcely could there be a truer question than that of S. Bernard's, with respect to this very verse. Of how many epochs in our lives, greater or less, of how many actions of our lives, more or less important; nay, of how many of the most common-place events that daily occur, could we have this answer to this question? When did it happen? It happened while he, or while they, were looking up stedfastly towards Heaven. The exact words lean-not give you, but the sense is this. What he believed of those to whom he was then speaking, that any sudden event occurring in the course of their lives, would find them in a certain way looking up towards Heaven, that most surely I believe of all of you. He goes on; that the looking up stedfastly was more than he dared to hope for the greater number of those to whom he was then speaking; and now, joining myself with you and those to whom the question was asked, let us think how, in all likelihood, it would have to be answered. And now, &c.

[1] He refers to the proximity of the Festival of S. Margaret (July 20) to that of the Holy Name (Aug. 7).

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