SERMON--PSALM xlv, II, 12, 14, 15, 16:
Hearken, O daughter, and consider, incline thine ear: forget also thine own people, and thy father's house. So shall the King have pleasure in thy beauty: for He is thy Lord God, and worship thou Him.
The King's daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold. She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework: the virgins that be her fellows shall bear her company, and shall be brought unto thee.
With joy and gladness shall they be brought: and shall enter into the King's palace.
IN this song of loves, as it is called in our Bible version of the psalms, is heard the glad and joyful ring of a wedding feast. The bride leaves her own people and her father's house, her preparation within and without completed, in her pure, unsullied soul, and her brilliant garments, to go to the King of her heart. The words invite to more than one application. They have been interpreted as suggesting that bridal, wherein, by faith and grace, the spirit of the believer, renouncing old things, and coming into a new realm, is joined to God. They have also been applied to the care of those who seek what we call the Religious Life, of such as leave this world behind them, and withdraw from the general view, desiring to make of themselves, their souls and bodies, a living sacrifice, in complete, unreserved and final dedication to the service of our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. They may be taken as a fitting preface to what is to be said here and to-day.
The occasion which brings us together is a Home Feast. It lifts up hearts to gratitude, and suggests thoughts hard to be uttered or expressed. We, from without, are come to these holy precincts, to bring our quiet but deep and warm congratulations to the Reverend Mother and the Sisters of a Religious Community on the consummation of the desires and prayers of many years. The event of the day is the Dedication of your new Mother House. How long have you waited, how constantly have you prayed, for the coming of this hour and its precious gift! The time is accomplished; the prayers have been answered. "Let us arise and build," have you repeated, day by day in your antiphon; and now may you say, "We have built." Upon this eminence, overlooking the mighty river and the broad lands below, has arisen a mansion, apt for the purposes of a Home for the daughters of Christ; and thus we are keeping, as it were, a Home Feast. We rejoice with you as they who rejoice in the harvest, and as men rejoice when they come into the places of their rest. Out of the stony rocks of apathy and indifference, where you are regarded without sympathy in your aims and purpose and with cold refusal of help, hath the Lord brought forth the waters of grace; and we sing to Him our psalm of thanks. We count it an honor and a privilege to have been invited to a share in the happiness of the day, to rejoice with you, and to bear our part in the action of. gratitude and praise to God.
The occasion invites us naturally to a retrospect. The thoughts revert to the history of Sisterhoods in the Church of England and in our own. There and here, alike, the beginnings were small, the results amazing. First, we recall the work, undertaken almost alone by that great Saint of the Mother Church, Edward Bouverie Pusey; undertaken with so much caution, with such anxiety, without experience, with drawbacks which might have daunted any thoughtful man; the tiny house, 17 Park Village, Regent's Park; the two good women who occupied it as Sisters, May 26, 1845; the two or three who timidly joined them after a while; the early trials of the little band, suspected, misunderstood, disliked, even by those poor and needy whom they longed to help; of the devices and expedients to lessen opposition, some of them so ingenuous and simple as all but to provoke a smile; of these modest beginnings; and then of the great and mighty outgrowth of the first trembling effort, the venture, for Christ's honor, and the development of earnest souls thirsting for Him like as the hart de-sireth the water brooks. What now may be beheld across the ocean! I have passed through the great gateway at East Grinstead, admiring the scene to which it gives entrance. I have walked through the grounds and gardens of Clewer, and have been admitted to the severe enclosure of the House of All Saints, Margaret Street, in London, and to the parish house and mission buildings at Kennington; and all the while wondering, and rejoicing more and more. That story has been told, in the same terms, here, in this American land, and within our own church. I saw the beginning of this Community in 1865: the five devout women, kneeling side by side, in St. Michael's Church and placing themselves in the Hands of the Almighty, with an intelligent and clearly defined purpose and a simple Rule of life; I have watched the progress of that movement, year by year, its extension and expansion, till now, when the descendants of those five who now rest in the Lord, are counted by scores, and we see of the travail of their souls and are satisfied, as establishments in the Dioceses of New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Iowa attest the power of their work, a work now grown so large that it is soon to be organized into Provinces, as a step essential to its better prosecution. In all this, what cause to give glory to God, and to rejoice in the works of the Holy Ghost, the Enlightener of the unlearned, the Lifter up of the fallen, the Comforter of the penitent, the needy, the poor! If, at any time, proof be asked by the doubtful or the perplexed, of the power of Anglo Catholic and American Catholic religion, of the validity of our Orders, and the divinity residing in our sacraments, such proof is given in these outcoming fruits of the system; to ask us, or anyone, to suppose that the things which we see could have come of natural causes, or mere human effort, without the instrumentality of a supernatural power working through ordinances of Christ's own appointment, would be too great a tax on human credulity. Wherefore, the life led in the religious communities, in addition to the practical benefits which result from it, has a value, as evidence greatly needed at this present time, wherever men stand in the way of sinners and sit in the seat of the scornful. So, while we record with gladness the steps of your advance and progress, as a corporate body formed for the practice of good works in a world where help is sorely needed, we rejoice as much, or more, that God has raised up in you, and in similar organizations here and elsewhere, witnesses to the truth and abiding power of the Gospel. You are honored with the office of defending the sacred deposit of Catholic truth, in promoting the cause of Christ, and in helping to save an imperilled society. For everyone must see about him the signs of a great falling away. The irreligious exult in it; the faithful lament it; all agree in admitting the fact. Furious is the attack on our common Christianity; on the Word of God, the Creeds, the traditions by which we are linked to a venerable past, the Sacred Ministry, the Church. One, writing from abroad, alludes to " a peculiarly malignant, and at the same time an insidiously alluring modern assault of scepticism, which decks itself in the garb of the purely scientific spirit, and asks, that while occupying a professedly Christian standpoint, it may undermine and shatter the foundations upon which Christianity is based. Every vital doctrine of Christianity, every fact embodied and enshrined in the Creeds, every incident on which the believer founds his comfort in temptation, his consolation in sorrow, and his confidence in death,--the Incarnation, the Temptation, the Resurrection, the Ascension of Jesus Christ,--all are swept aside under the irresistible solvent supplied by the Higher Criticism."* And, alas! among those most active in this devil's work, are, to their disgrace and our shame, men in Holy Orders in our own Church, who once swore in the presence of the congregation and on the Holy Gospels, to teach only what the Church teaches, and so to represent and realize her word and her system to the people; while others, looking on, though not as yet going to the same length, justify this gross dishonesty, and attempt to prove, by argument, that every clergyman has a right, while using and reciting the Church's creeds and formularies, to hold his private views as to their meaning. This is the peril, the special peril, of our day; and to escape it we need two things: courage, and a firm resolve, to adhere unflinchingly to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church; and, secondly, a demonstration of the truth and power of our religion in consecrated lives. And here you can help, as Religious Orders have helped hitherto, by steadily and calmly asserting the Christian Faith, without change, without reservation, without sophistical and disingenuous playing with words and phrases, the Faith as it has been held semper ubique et ab omnibus, and transmitted to us from the age of the General Councils; and then by leading that supernatural life, which is the conclusive argument for the truth of the Gospel, because it is the Gospel put in practice. By such weapons, heretofore, the hosts of Satan have been put to flight; by such may they always be baffled and cast down. The arrogance of the critics, the trickery of sophists, the impatience of the conceited, the selfishness of prosperous and fat indifferentism are nothing to you: they belong to the order of that world which lieth in wickedness. You draw us away from that corruption, you help us, by your constancy to the truth as it is in Jesus, and you cheer us by the sight of your devoted love of Him. The Sisterhoods of the Church, and the Religious Orders, of which our Church Almanac contains a list of 27, with the Orders of Deaconesses, 5 in number already, help us more, perhaps, than they have realized. Of divers types, as it is right that they should be, they are all aiming at one thing, to glorify God by lives detached from the world and consecrated to Jesus Christ. They stand for faith in the supernatural, for practical Christianity, for self-renouncing service of Christ in the needy and the poor. We are indebted to them for splendid assistance in the battle for the truth and the right which is on to-day.
Yes: it is even so: and we gladly bear this testimony to our allies in our work. But what do they care for you in the world? or what aid comes to you from the wealthy, the prosperous, the possessors of those enormous fortunes, which pass almost the power of calculation, and justly awaken the alarm of observers of the awful inequalities of social position and class to-day? I said some time ago, and may repeat, for it is still true, that no rich woman has thus far joined your community; it is, I think, as true, that of the vastly accumulated wealth of the time, very little has come your way, by gift from its possessors. You seem to me to be somewhat in the condition of Elijah, to whom the ravens brought bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening, while he drank of the brook; or like the children of Israel of whom it was said: "He gave them bread from heaven to eat." It is best that it should be thus, since it is God's will; though one would be glad to know that there were some who were laying up treasure in heaven, by gifts to God's servants here on earth, His witnesses to a generation who walk without Him in the earth, and heap treasure together for the last days.
I wish that this Church could be emptied of its present occupants, and filled with a very different class of persons. I wish that there were here the leaders of fashion, the most frivolous of the women of society, those whose aim and object in life appear to be pleasure and amusement; women who count their possessions by hundreds of thousands, nay by millions of dollars; who lavish their incomes, many of which are enormous, on their dress, their entertainments, their rivalries in smart and fast living; surrounding themselves with every delight that money can procure; drawing fences of gold between themselves and their neighbours; arrogant, insolent, in that lowest of all arrogances and insolences, the pride of wealth; living to self and for their equally thoughtless companions; roaming from place to place, from continent to continent, for diversion and variety, shining like baleful fires in the view of the sorrowful people who tread the roadway of this hard world. I wish that this Church could be filled, though but once, with women of that class and rank, that they might see, with their own eyes, the picture of another and a different life, and see their own images reflected, just as they are, in the pure mirrors of that heaven, which they are sacrificing to the enjoyment of the death-struck earth, the fast-receding world. The sight would present a duty, and a condemnation: the duty to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness; the condemnation, that light is come into the world and that they love darkness rather than light. It might,--there is a bare possibility,--it might lead some to reflection, self-examen, repentance; it might bring some to your altars as penitents, to your courts with presents, to your side as friends beloved in the Lord; decided on aiding you by gifts of their abundance, and by their social influence. Such things as these you do not need; God's work has gone on thus far, with little or no such aid from without; but it would help them. For what is a life centred in itself but suicide? And what is a woman who liveth in pleasure but dead while she liveth? And what is anyone, be it man or woman, who forgets God, and hardens the heart, and walks in the way that seemeth right and is his own, but a rebel against the decree that orders the life given to us to be given back, lovingly, and frankly, to Him who gave it?
May I now ask your leave, dear Sisters in Our Lord, to say a few words to you by way of counsel and warning? There are two persons here present, who have been connected with the Community, by divers ties, for many years. My Reverend Father in God, the venerable Bishop of Springfield, has in his memory full many a recollection of the early days, as one who knew your souls in adversity; and I like him can go back to the time, far distant now, when I was your Pastor and your own familiar friend. Indulge me then if dreaming myself back into those first days of the existence of this Sisterhood, I venture to re-assume for the last time the office of the teacher, and address you in the way in which I used to talk to those who then were my beloved charge, and of whom the larger part are now at rest with God. Let me say a few words about the responsibilities of the Religious Life, and some of the things to which you should take heed, if desirous to run your course in faith, and to finish it with joy.
First, then: the Sister is bound by her calling to repress the spirit of self congratulation; never to lift up the heart in pride, never to ascribe the smallest worth to what she does, never to think of herself as better than others because of her vocation and her solemn vows to God. "For who maketh thee to differ from another? or what hast thou that thou hast not received? Now then if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?" There is in the heart a subtle spirit of vanity, of complacency, which it would shock you to discover; which nevertheless may remain undiscovered, eating into the inner life. Be not arrogant, nor censorious, nor critical, nor look down on others, as if from a higher plane: nor say, in your heart, to others who are not so advanced as yourselves, "Stand ye there, or sit ye here at my footstool, for I am much more of a Catholic than you." Alas! what are we in His eyes? less than nothing, and vanity. To lift up the heart in satisfaction over imagined superiority of tone, or quality, to draw about one carefully the skirts of separation from the common sort as they are esteemed; to indulge the class temper, the class feeling, is to follow the worst of all the evil examples set by the children of this world. What a word is that, the daily precept for those in Christ: "In lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves."
Next, repress the temper of individualism. That should be struggled with, and choked, and killed in the life of religion. Say, I am nothing; and do not only say, but believe, that you are nothing. The whole creation is held together under law; in law we live and move and have our being. Obedience to the Law is life; rebellion is death. Individualism, take it what shape it may, is revolt from God. It is the habit of the times; restiveness under authority. Shun it; and say, Rather than be caught in that trap, I will give up every opinion of my own, every notion of my own, every conclusion spun in the web of my own thoughts, that I may stand in the liberty wherewith Christ has made me free, and merge all of mine own into the wider, fuller life of His servant. Why is the 119th psalm daily recited in the religious houses of the West? Why is it the alphabet of study of the spiritual life? Because it dwells, from the first verse to the last, on the Law of the Lord, and the blessedness of walking therein. Look forth upon the sad pageant of this world, and see the results of resistance to authority: the divisions in the Church; the jealous rivalries of nations; the degradation of political life; class alienation; the turbulence of labour unions; the fury of mobs; the wild blasphemies of infidels and atheists; the insolence of free thought: one vast scene of stormy rebellion against the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Turn to your rest from all this, and bless God for the Rule which realizes to you His will concerning you. In your Houses, in your relations one to another, in heart, mind, soul, will, go in the path of His commandments, and keep His word, and live. "Teach me, O Lord, the way of Thy statutes: and I shall keep it unto the end."
Once again: be loyal to that branch of Christ's Holy Catholic Church in which you are called. Look not enviously in other directions; be content, where God has placed you, and stand in your lot to the end of the days. Restlessness is the temper of the sect; the weakness of the unsettled and unstable. In the history of the Oxford Movement we read, (and it is sorry reading,) the narratives of some who were anything but loyal to their Mother Church in England; drawing unfavourable comparisons, wanting things, mostly petty, which they had not got; meditating defection; induced by craving for change; though voices to which no ear should have been deaf attested the purity of their lineage, the validity of priesthood and sacraments. Of such disloyalty there may be little to-day among us; but the fault appears in other directions. In an age consumed like others with impatience and unrest, boastful of emancipated thought, and prophesying great things of an unknown and topsy-turvy future, we need to be reminded of the duty to be still, and trust, and fulfil our calling in our own place in the Kingdom of God.
And, lastly, be jealous for the honour of your great and growing Community; give to it your best, of body, soul, and spirit; pray for wisdom to perceive how to serve the cause, and maintain the standard which has been set before you from the first. We believe that greater things are in front than those of today: help with all the might, with all the strength you have, towards their realization in the future.
In conclusion, I bid you for a few moments to another scene. To realize the vocation, and keep the straight and narrow way, it is a help to be in thought of your predecessors, now with God, who, watching from their place of rest, rejoice with you to-day, in the fulfilment of their own hopes and prayers in years gone by. For verily I say unto you, that many have desired to see those things which ye see and have not seen them, and to hear those things which ye hear and have not heard them. In taking part in the observances of this day, we must have been conscious of impressions and influences from another land, so very far off and yet so very near. Within these hallowed precincts, there is a place of quietness and stillness, dearer to you perhaps, in its own way, than any other, than church, or chapel, or convent, or school, or home for the needy; from which enclosure come voices reminding of the swift lapse of time and the peace which follows when the work on earth is done. That resting place gives to these buildings, these woods, these sequestered grounds a special consecration. There sleep in Jesus Christ the mortal bodies of those who laboured in the formation and building of your sisterhood; into whose labours you have entered or are just about to enter. The dear Mother Foundress; her immediate successor; heads of houses; Sisters whose influence was strongly felt for their official position, and Sisters who, though attaining to no high place of responsibility in the Order, were none the less blest. Of these let us be in thought to-day; they are not far away; in spirit they are here. Let the thought of them be a means of grace, an inspiration. Gain; grow; perfect your system; build; expand; organize your Provinces; and may the Lord increase your number, and bring to you of the riches of the land wherewith to do what is in your hearts for Christ, for the Church, for those, whosoever and wheresoever they be, who need your help. But remember this: the time is short:
"Be the day weary, or be the day long,
At last it ringeth to Even Song."
And blessed are they who when those evening bells are ringing, can be glad and rejoice. It ends, in the sleep of the mortal body beneath its mound, marked simply by a cross, without name or without inscription, and in the joyful transit of the soul to God who gave it. Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord, and light perpetual shine upon them.
Reverend Mother, Sisters Superior, Choir Sisters, Novices, may it be to each of you according to the words of the psalm, your own psalm, if ye be minded to claim it as such. Be ye also brought unto the King in raiment of needlework, the broideries of the Holy Spirit illuminating the active earthly life with many a thread of silk and gold; and the virgins that be your fellows shall bear you company to the verge of Jordan's flood, and shall be brought on their way with you, and you with them. With joy and gladness be ye brought; with joy and gladness shall ye enter into the King's palace, to be with the Beloved for ever and ever.