Sermon at Opening Service, Church of the Transfiguration THE REVEREND WILLIAM A. McCLENTHEN, D.D.
"God hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ." (II Corinthians 4:6).
WE ARE HERE to share in the worship of heaven. Our vision is of the eternal altar, of the self-presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb as It had been slain, of the ten thousand times ten thousand angels saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb to receive power and riches, and wisdom and strength, and honor and glory and blessing," of the countless saints from all nations and kindreds and people and tongues crying, "Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne and to the Lamb."
We are in union with that worship when we offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar, for to our earthly altars comes the Lamb of God, mercifully veiling Himself under the forms of bread and wine, lest we, unready for the open vision, should be smitten and blinded by the consuming fire.
We come this morning to emphasize our offering with even more than usual praise and thanksgiving because we have in mind God's blessings upon His household, the Holy Catholic Church, and upon us, His children, members of that household. And while there are the general blessings which demand thanks and praise, we would have in mind more particularly those specific blessings which have come through the revival of the Catholic faith and life in our part of the Church. How can we better summarize them than in these words of Saint Paul: "God hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ." We remember our Lord's words to Philip, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father," and we pray with the Greeks, "We would see Jesus." That prayer is being answered. God hath shined in our hearts through the Catholic revival and we are seeing Jesus. A darkly-woven, unworthy veil which hung before Him is being removed, and the glory of God is shining out.
Is it too much to say that this revival is the recovery of Jesus Christ for the Church and for individual souls? Let us think about it, and see how true it is, that we may give thanks more warmly.
I. We have recovered Him in a better knowledge of His Person. The mystery of the Incarnation has been taught us. Without the Incarnation and its implications, backward and forward, there is no such thing as the Catholic religion. It is the fundamental fact. It is the proper answer to our Lord's question, "What think ye of Christ?" That He is perfect God, and perfect Man, two natures in one Person, is the thing which fills His human acts with eternal significance, which keeps Him before us as the living and glorified Christ, which delivers us both from a far-off God who cannot be reached and from a merely human Christ whose active powers ceased with His disappearance.
This faith in a permanent Incarnation is a clear-cut thing; it keeps us steady in the midst of difficulties, because everything else must be checked up with it. If these other things fall short, we do not hesitate to reject them. We know that denials of His virgin birth, His miracles, His resurrection infringe upon the Incarnation. That our faith does not allow. For such an imperative faith, Protestants and Liberals have small use; they prefer it vague, the vaguer the better, until they are in danger of losing Christ altogether. But above all else in the Catholic revival, the preachings of the Incarnation has held first place. Remember the great books which have been written, the many sermons and instructions, the volumes of meditations! Through them God hath shined in our hearts and made known to us His glory in the Face of Jesus Christ, our suffering Saviour and our divine King.
2. We have recovered Jesus Christ in the power of His Atonement. There have been plenty to preach Christ crucified; but it is the Catholic who puts the crucifix in his home, in his church. It is the Catholic who plants the Calvary in Trinity churchyard; who in London hangs a great crucifix above the roar of Charing Cross road. Our blessed Lord's saving death is not left to the feeble flickerings of imagination; it is made a present reality.
There are many who recall the words, "Let him deny himself and take up his cross," but it is the Catholic who fasts for his communions and keeps Friday abstinence.
There are many who rejoice in Saint John's words, "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin"; but it is the Catholic who best knows that cleansing power, because he has experienced it in his confessions.
Many a weary soul has pored wistfully over Saint Paul's words, "Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies"; it is the Catholic who has found in the sacraments the power of that Atonement which dethrones sin and exalts Christ in the soul. From the Face of Jesus Christ, crowned with thorns, there shines the glory of God.
3. We have recovered Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Cast your minds back and remember the bare, deserted altars, the infrequent communions; recall the deadly negations which characterized the teaching about the Sacrament. And now thank God for the teaching which says fearlessly, This is His Body and His Blood. Thank Him for those churches whose altars are now used at least every Sunday for the offering of the Holy Sacrifice, even though fulness of faith and life are still lacking. Thank Him for the increasing number of altars, glorious in their apparel; where the Sacrifice is offered daily and where, shrined in ancient, significant symbolism, it is His people's worship on the Lord's Day. Thank Him for the increasing number of churches where the Blessed Sacrament is continually reserved; they have His promised Presence and the six-winged seraphim are there, singing Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts. Thank Him for our communions, frequent, precious above all price. When the remembrance of these things brings you into closer harmony with the Angels' worship, remember that they are the results of the Catholic revival. How dazzling is this light of the glory of God!
4. We have recovered Jesus Christ in His family. When He died on the cross, He died alone, but He had not lived alone. Always there had been with Him those whom He had chosen and loved. When He rose from the dead, He proved the continuance of His love by mingling with them in daily things—an evening meal at Emmaus, a breakfast on the shore of the sea of Tiberias. What a clear indication that the essence of human relationships belongs to the Resurrection life! When He ascended into heaven, the vision given Saint John showed Him surrounded by His Saints; Andrew and Philip are there; they interceded for the Greeks. The Blessed Virgin is there; she asked Him for wine when it was needed at Cana. And our Lord loved her asking Him; He loved Andrew and Philip coming to Him on behalf of the foreigners. Has He changed? Is it no longer a joy to Him to have His loved ones ask Him for things for other people? Have His loved ones changed? Because they see Him in His glory are they afraid to approach Him? No, they are closer to Him than ever; His love pours upon them and they are gathered into such union of family life with him as passes all understanding. The realization of our Lord with His saints is the delivery of Him from the loneliness of the cross. The fear that we might be too intimate with the members of His heavenly family made misguided people try to deprive Him of them; but we have learned better. Our Hail Marys are no longer apologetic. Symbolic statues of the saints are taking their place in church with the symbolic crucifix. We need not be afraid of these representations of the family life in heaven. Let us thank God for this recovery of Jesus Christ. The Catholic revival has made the Communion of Saints something more than a phrase in the Creed; it has made it home-like, practical, comforting. In the dark places of human loneliness, it is the light of God shining from the face of Jesus Christ.
5. With such thoughts stirring us to praise and thanksgiving, surely we are justified in saying that the Catholic revival is the recovery of Jesus Christ. Let me tell you a little story which may give point to the idea. In the south of England, between Salisbury and Southampton, is Romsey Abbey—a late Norman church of rare beauty and gracious dignity. When Henry VIII was destroying monasteries, the people of Romsey bought it from him to be their parish church. Later generations did not care so much as that and, like other great churches, it fell on evil days. Among other desecrations, a rag and bone junk-shop was built in the corner of what had been the cloister. The wall of the south aisle and the wall of the south transept served for half the structure and the carved moulding above the abbess' door was ruthlessly hacked to make a groove for the pent-house roof. There the miserable thing stayed for many years—so long that people did not remember their church otherwise. The better time came, not so long ago, when the authorities felt the disgrace of the rag and bone shop and banished it. When they came to clean out the accumulated rubbish, there was found carved on the transept wall a large twelfth-century crucifix. So long had it been hidden by trash, that it had been entirely forgotten; its discovery was a thrilling surprise. It is low on the wall, and tradition says it was carved that way, so that the little children could kneel and kiss our Lord's feet. From behind the rubbish of years, the Romsey crucifix has been recovered. So the Catholic revival has brought forth our blessed Lord, and restored to us the privilege of kneeling at His feet to tell our love and to receive His blessing.
6. There is a striking aspect of the Catholic revival disclosed by a thoughtful consideration of the past. That is, that the work has been done by individuals, not by an organization. To call a complete roll of our spiritual fathers is beyond our powers and our time. But here in New York we may well mention Thomas McKee Brown, Morgan Dix, George Houghton, Arthur Ritchie. As we look back, each of them seems a solitary figure. When Dr. Dix was founding the Community of Saint Mary, he could not have assembled a group as large as this congregation in active support of his work. Father Ritchie, in the little church on 40th street, teaching and practising the faith—and suffering for it—was a lonely priest. He had no influential organization behind him to support him and encourage him.
Think how it has been in small places, where there is only one parish. There solitary priests have labored, and there, as well as in the cities, have the contributions been made to the amazing total; contributions small in themselves, perhaps, but swelling the main account. All honor to the unsupported priests, who kept their faith in the Catholic Church and did what they could for the honor of their incarnate Lord.
In seventy-five years, these individuals, wherever they did their work, have wrought marvels. They have changed the spirit of the Episcopal Church, they have changed its appearance, they have changed its work.
In its spirit, the preaching of a sacramental religion has largely taken the place of the preaching of individual experience and the celebration of the Holy Communion has become the essential for its meetings of whatever kind. In old days, Morning Prayer sufficed to open a diocesan convention, but that is the exception now. During the recent General Convention in Washington, there was a daily Mass in every church and chapel in the city. Elderly delegates bore their testimony that such a thing would have been impossible forty years ago.
In the appearance of the church, the change is so marked as to be almost incredible. What was once the extreme of ritualistic practice has become so usual that young men, proudly calling themselves Churchmen, accept their colored stoles as the custom of the Episcopal Church, without ever stopping to inquire how they became the custom. We shall have far to look to find a pulpit erected above the altar; and candles on the altar—that old rallying point for parochial battles—are now almost as much in demand as the altar flowers, once banned by formidable bishops.
In the work of the Church, the time has passed when a diocesan bishop can also be rector of a parish; there is too much to do now, both in parish and in diocese. The National Commission on Evangelism clamors for missions and more missions, but where did they learn the value of a mission? That seed was sown in the years when bishops interdicted missions because they disagreed with the theology preached.
All these things, in the mercy of God, have come to the Church through the work and sufferings of individuals who, each in his degree, caught some portion of the vision of the Church Catholic and did his part to make the vision come true. Let us thank God for them and for their work. God shined in their hearts; they saw His glory in the Face of Jesus Christ and helped to clear away the rubbish which concealed that Face.
7. There is another aspect of the Catholic revival which is implied in what has just been said, but it is worth being made more explicit. The revival is a wider thing than a list of prominent Catholic parishes or of people well-enough taught to accept such a classification for themselves. It is from such people and parishes that the main stream pours out, but its remotest trickle is still traceable to its source. There must always be leaders; and if they are true leaders, they will be seen and known. They must bear the burden of introducing what will be called new things; things not really new, old, in fact, but things obscured until forgotten. We are not inventing the Catholic religion; we are proclaiming it as the very best way to see and know Jesus Christ. But as there are leaders, so there are followers. Some are treading on their leaders' heels; some are so far behind that they neither see nor own their leaders; others are safely marching as near the center as they can get; but followers they are just the same and, whether they know it or not, they are living and working in the power of the Catholic revival. There is a bishop who hates ritual, who would not consider attending a Catholic Congress; but he believes in seven sacraments. There is a layman to whom fasting communion is idle talk; but he always goes for his communion before breakfast; it seems a more decent way to do. Surely these people are in the stream of the revival, but the skilled sorters of ecclesiastical tints would not call them Catholics. At any rate, they help us to realize what a wide-reaching thing the revival is, and how its results have penetrated into the farthest corners of the Church. Let us thank God for it. His light is shining and the blessed Face of our Lord will grow more clear as the years go on.
8. Those of us who are gathered for this Catholic Congress are content and proud to be known as Catholics. We are eager to announce our position in the Church. We own our leaders and honor them for their steadfastness and courage. We admit the debt we owe to those gone before us, who have made our Catholic worship and life possible. We look forward to a future beyond our days, which will be marked by changes at least as great as those seen in this generation and the last. We are not in a hurry. We can dream of a day when, in every parish of the American Church, the Holy Sacrifice will be offered daily and will be the chief service of Sunday; when the discipline of the Church in confession and fasting will be the normally accepted thing for all people; when the altars will be thronged with frequent communicants. Too visionary, you say? It might be, if we did not have the past to encourage us by letting us see what seemingly impossible things have already been accomplished, what incredible changes have taken place. And we do not expect these things to happen all at once. We can accept the psalmist's injunction, "O tarry thou the Lord's leisure." But the hope for the future adds to the fulness of praise and thanksgiving for the past. God hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.