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The Priests’ Convention

Philadelphia, April 29-30, 1924

From The American Church Monthly, June, 1924, Vol. XV, No. 4.

Edited by Selden Peabody Delany, D.D.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012

Opening Sermon at the Priests' Convention
Preached in St. Mark's Church, Philadelphia, April 29, 1924
by The Rt. Rev. William Walter Webb, D. D.
Bishop of Milwaukee

But God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world. Gal. 6:14.

THE cross borne for us and the cross borne by us sums up our religion.

I. The Cross borne for us.

"The crucifix presents to us three things—first, God's great love; secondly, man's great need; and thirdly, the way in which God's great love met and supplied man's great need." How the fathers loved to see everywhere in the Old Testament the sign and symbol of the cross: the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, the wood of the ark, the wood that Isaac carried up Mount Moriah, the crossed spits of the Paschal Lamb, the blood on the lintel and on the door posts in the form of a cross, the brazen serpent on the pole, that our Lord Himself said was a type of the cross—"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up"—the mark that Ezekiel signed on the foreheads of those that were righteous in Jerusalem.

The cross again and again! So our blessed Lord is continually referring to the cross. It must ever have been before His eyes and in His mind: "Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" "And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me," and again, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up." "He that taketh not his cross and followeth after Me is not worthy of Me." "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow me." It stands for the Christian religion. It is the symbol of our faith, the standard [243/244] of His kingdom. We place it over our churches, on our altars, on our rood beams. We mark it on the things we use in His service. It is signed on our foreheads in baptism. We use it again and again in our prayers, in our blessings, in His service. We wear it as a sign of some special dedication: to the religious life, to some rule. It is often given to the bishop at his consecration. It stands for the greatest love the world has ever known: "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." It stands for the supreme sacrifice of the Son of God for the sins of the whole world.

The humility of the Incarnation when the Second Person of the adorable Trinity took to Himself human nature in the womb of a Virgin Mother and became man! ''Conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary," was but the beginning of that "one, full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world," on the altar of the Cross, in which our Lord gathered up the sacrifice of His whole life.

The humility and poverty of Bethlehem, the obedience and work of Nazareth, the whole work of the three years of the active ministry, the temptations, the weariness, the homelessness, the poverty, the discouragements, the apparent failures, the loss of friends and disciples, the misunderstandings and misjudgments, the agony of Gethsemane, the betrayal, the Way of the Cross, the passion of Calvary, the shedding of His most precious blood, all the sacrifices of the Son of God—the cross stands for it all, for everything that could be done to save a world. Through the merits of that sacrifice, every sacrifice ever offered in the world, that has meant anything for the souls of men, has had its efficacy.

The sacrifices of Abel, and of Noah, and of Abraham, of the whole Patriarchal and Levitical systems, were but types of that Sacrifice and availed for the sins of men on account of it. Even the pagan sacrifices, if they availed at all, did so through the sacrifice of Calvary.

"The Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood" shed upon the cross is to carry on the work of that Incarnate Son of God down through the ages. That Church [244/245] becomes a living organism when He sends the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, to fill it with His life, to make it His body, to enable it to teach His truth down the ages, so that they who hear the Church may hear Him. The grace which He won upon the Cross is through that Church given to the souls of men. That Church takes of the things of Christ and gives them to us. "In the redeemed community, the Holy Spirit imparts to human personality the life of Christ: not merely its life-principle of sacrifice, nor its human perfections, but the actual, divine life of him in whose image man was made and for whose glory he exists." [The Return of Christendom, page 173.]

In it His ministers perpetuate His work. "As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you." As He is prophet and priest and king, they carry on His prophetical, priestly, and kingly work. As prophets they teach by word and act His truth. As priests they intercede as He intercedes, they plead especially in the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood on the altars of Christendom, that "one, full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction" which he made on the altar of the Cross for the sins of the whole world, and which now He pleads before the throne of God. "The Cross is at once God's gift and Christ's offering, and the same is true of the Mass. Each is an act of the same Person: and so Mass is not simply a sacred action which we perform in obedience to Christ's command, but a divine action which He performs in virtue of His office as our great High Priest." [Report of the Anglo-Catholic Congress, page 92.]

His Body broken and His Blood shed He gives to us in the Holy Communion to be the food of our souls. "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the Blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the Body of Christ?" To preserve our bodies and souls unto everlasting life! Always the Cross and that which comes from and through the Cross!

As kings, they govern His Church here on earth, as He is King of the whole Church in heaven and on earth, triumphant, expectant, and militant. They baptize souls in His mystical Body, so that we become members of Christ, branches of the [245/246] true Vine, so united to Him that His divine life flows into our souls. His blood shed upon the Cross is poured over our souls in absolution; ''whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them;" ''to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it, in the person of Christ."

II. The Cross borne by us.

Our Blessed Lord has done all that He could for us. He has become incarnate. He has died on the Cross. The cross has been borne for us, the cross must be borne by us. It was marked on our foreheads when we were baptized, perhaps when we were confirmed. We often use the sign of it. Some of us wear a cross.

Do we carry our cross? We are to take up our cross daily or we cannot be His disciples. Sometimes He lays crosses on us, the passive crosses, as they are called, that we must learn to bear as He bore the Cross and burden of our sins up the way of Calvary. They come to us in the death of those we love, in sickness or pain, in poverty, in the loss of our friends, in the failure of our plans, in the fact that our work seems very small, insignificant, hidden away, as He was hidden away for nearly thirty years in Nazareth. We are despised—so was He. We are poor—so was He. Our friends, our followers, desert us—so did His. We are misunderstood—so was He. Our life or work seems a failure—so did His.

Then there are the active crosses that we must take up ourselves. How many priests expect their people to give, but will not give themselves? How much self-indulgence there is, the craving for easy, pleasant things. How hard to find men for the difficult, small mission stations, for the rural work, for the mission field! How men give up a work when everything is going well, because they want work in a city, a larger field, they say, or because the salary is a few dollars more.

The first question is not, as it should be, the good of souls, our own sanctification, but some work that is easier or better known or less lonely. How few vocations for the religious life! How few clergy are willing to lead an unmarried life, even for a few years, that they may care especially for the things of the Lord! The one idea of so many seminaries and of the younger clergy is to have a nice parish, with a comfortable rectory, [246/247] where they can marry, settle down, and lead a pleasant life. There is not much thought of the Cross. The Cross means hardness, discipline, self-sacrifice.

This past year we have been thinking much of the Oxford Movement, as we have been keeping the ninetieth anniversary of Keble's Assize sermon. That Oxford Movement has developed into what is now generally known as the Anglo-Catholic Movement. How that Movement, for it is fundamentally one, has affected the Anglican Church! What a revival there has been in doctrine and worship! How it has changed our conception of the Church, how it has taught us the value of the ministry to carry on the work of the Incarnate Son of God! "As My Father sent Me, even so send I you." How it has made us realize the necessity of Baptism, the importance of Penance, the value of Confirmation! Above all, how much more the Blessed Sacrament of our Lord's Body and Blood means to us! The sacrifice of the Mass, the Holy Eucharist, as the chief act of worship; daily Masses, the value of frequent Communion—"Give us this day our daily bread"—the blessing and help of our Lord's Presence in the tabernacle over our altars, the forgiveness and healing in the sacrament of Unction, the comfort of praying for our dead and our ability to help them—"Make them to be numbered with Thy saints in Glory everlasting"—the realization of the fullness of the Communion of Saints as we pray to our dead. We ask the prayers of those whom we love, who have always prayed for us. Now that they are nearer and closer to our Blessed Lord, will they not continue praying for us, and do they not know now how much their prayers may mean for us?

We invoke the Blessed Mother and All Saints to pray for us, as many of the great doctors and saints of the Church have done from the earliest ages, as the whole Eastern and Latin Churches do today.

Then there is the revival in worship. Such a service as we are taking part in this morning would have been impossible a few years ago. The carelessness and slovenliness of a hundred years ago would not now be tolerated in any of our churches. Architecture, painting, sculpture, embroidery, music, are all used to make our churches and services as beautiful as possible. Restored churches, beautiful altars, and stately reredoses, [247/248] vestments, surpliced choirs, special devotions, the Three Hour Service, the Stations of the Cross, Retreats, and Missions, all are the result of the Oxford Movement. Sometimes the ritual has gone ahead of the teaching. Far better a frequent Mass than an elaborate service and gorgeous vestments; many penitents than much ritual.

How many parishes have been ruined by an insistence on questions of ritual! On the other hand how many strong parishes have been built up by teaching the Catholic faith until the people were ready for the ritual.

There is no better background, no better foundation than the old Evangelical teaching with its personal devotion to our blessed Lord and its insistence on the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Atonement; its belief in miracles and in the power of prayer; its zeal for missionary work.

We all admit a revival in doctrine and worship, but when we come to discipline it is another matter. We Anglo-Saxons are all more or less Pelagian. We are self-willed. We are individualistic. We dislike authority or obedience, anything that means bringing our wills into subjection. We dislike even to be called humble or meek. In these days of wealth and ease and pleasure, we do not like things that are hard, that require self-sacrifice or poverty. Here is just where the bearing of the Cross comes in. There was the severity and hardness of the early Tractarians. They really fasted as they really prayed. They lived lives of very real and hard sacrifice. There was a real bearing of the Cross. We do not want to be in obedience to any law or to any person. We solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of this Church. We believe the doctrine, at least we say we do; we practice the worship: how much do we conform to the discipline? We care little for canons, whether they be general or local. We care still less for rubrics and still less for authority. We are largely a law unto ourselves. We chose what laws we will obey, and those we dislike we pay no attention to. We will obey those in authority over us when they agree with us, not otherwise. The whole realm of discipline has been neglected.

Until very lately, moral theology has been forgotten. Canon law most of us know very little about and care less. We have a very meager literature of moral theology; it is only in the [248/249] last few years that any books have been written on that subject, most of them small handbooks. The outline drawn up by James Skinner at the request of some of the later Tractarians, a really great work in itself, and intended as a synopsis for a still greater work to be carried on by individual priests, is almost unknown. [It is very rare, nearly the whole edition having been destroyed by fire.] Moral theology has had no real place in the curriculum of our seminaries; in only a few of them has it been taught at all. In the Lambeth Conference of 1903, when I was on the Committee on the Training of the Clergy, it was with the greatest difficulty that we were able to get the subject into the report at all, and the same was true when we were drawing up a curriculum for our seminaries in this country. How little moral theology most of us have studied, and how little influence it has had on our own lives! If this is true of moral theology, it is still more true of ascetical theology; this is largely an undiscovered country.

As the Bishop of St. Albans said in the closing sermon of the Anglo-Catholic Congress: "How many of us priests ever really try systematically to learn to make ourselves experts in the work of teaching our people and training them in the manifold enterprise of prayer and sacrament? How many of us really know anything about diagnosis or treatment?" [Report of the Anglo-Catholic Congress, page 194.]

If the cross is to be borne by us, if it is to be taken up daily, it means penitence above everything else. "Penitence of the mind, in a knowledge of ourselves, in self-examination; penitence of the heart, in our contrition, in our deep sorrow for our sins; penitence of the lips, in our confession of our sins; penitence of the will, in our firm purpose of amendment and willingness to do anything we can to show our sorrow for our sins and our longing to make restitution for the harm we have done, and to make amends at any cost." [Cleaver. Plain Sermons on Penitence.]

We seldom hear anything about restitution; have we tried to make it ourselves? The false doctrine of justification by faith only has influenced strongly not only our dogmatic but also our moral theology. How few realize that unless we try to put things back into the condition they were in before our sin did the harm, there is no real penitence, no true contrition. We leave debts unpaid, forget grave wrong done to others in [249/250] person or property. If you take something that belongs to me, and say you are sorry, but still keep it, I have not much faith in your penitence. The obligation of making restitution is far wider reaching than we often realize, involving restitution to whole families, groups of people, communities, corporations, the city, state, or nation, God Himself. Sometimes it involves a very heavy cross, a supreme sacrifice, poverty for ourselves and those we love; but it is necessary if we would have forgiveness. Through our penitence we are able to lead other souls to penitence, those souls whom God has given into our care. If in the power of the Cross, and by preaching of the Cross and of the dear Lord who died for us upon the Cross, we bring souls to repentance, we are especially carrying on our Lord's work, that for which He died.

Thus as we try to do His will, we shall know the doctrine, we will love the Cross, and all the Cross stands for. We will want the strength that comes from the Cross, that we may be members of His body, that our souls may be washed clean in His most precious blood, that we may, day by day, feed on His Body broken and His Blood poured out.

The cross in our lives must, of necessity, mean a sympathy and love for all those for whom our blessed Lord died; a longing to bring the knowledge of the crucified Saviour to all souls, that they may have the comfort that comes from the Cross and all it stands for. It should make missionaries of us, fill us with zeal to do all that we can to bring the knowledge of Christ crucified to those who have forgotten Him—or have never known Him, in our homes and parishes, in our dioceses, in this country, throughout the world. The motto of the Anglo-Catholic Congress is ''To extend the knowledge of the Catholic Faith and practice it at home and abroad, and by this means to bring men and women to an acknowledgement of our Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour and King.'' [Report of the Anglo-Catholic Congress, 1923, page 2.]

The Cross means that we will not only be willing to give, but long to give, of our strength, our thought, our time, our money, to spread the glad tidings of the Gospel. Of necessity it will mean sacrifice, it will cost us much, be hard; mean a cross that we will have to bear.

He died for all; the poor, the neglected, the ignorant, the [250/251] despised, the sick, the suffering, the sorrowful; sinners, and those who suffer from the results of sin; all humanity. "So God loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." In the light of the Cross, in the strength and power of the Cross, we want to go out to help to heal the miseries that He came to heal; to help the helpless, those who are downtrodden, abused, or oppressed, who suffer from the evils of injustice or economic wrong, to give homes to the homeless, just wages and safety to those who labor, an equal opportunity to every soul to do the best that it is capable of and to be happy.

May I quote the concluding words of the closing address of the Bishop of Zanzibar at the last Anglo-Catholic Congress? Those of us who heard them will never forget them: "It is folly, it is madness, to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacrament and Jesus on the throne of Glory"—and, may I add, Jesus on the Cross—"when you are sweating Him in the bodies and souls of His children. It is our present duty to serve Jesus in the souls and bodies of our fellow men. You have your Mass, you have your altars, you have begun to get your tabernacles. Now go out into the highways and hedges, and look for Jesus in the ragged and the naked, in the oppressed and the sweated, in those who have lost hope and in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus in them; and when you find Him, gird yourselves with His towel of fellowship, and wash His feet in the person of His brethren."

Therefore our orphanages and our schools, our hospitals and homes, are the outcome of the lessons of the Cross. Religious, priests, missionaries, nurses, those working for the good of humanity, those that are Christian teachers, are carrying the work of the Cross to all nations, to all people down the ages. They are listening to the cry that comes from the Cross. "This I have done for thee; what doest thou for Me?" Will ye answer "God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world?"

"O Saviour of the world, who by Thy Cross and precious Blood hast redeemed us; Save us, and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord."

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