THE COMMUNITY OF THE SACRED PASSION
IN The Fulness of Christ (p. 156) the Bishop wrote as follows:
The Christ is certainly responsible for the conception of special vocations to celibacy, poverty, and obedience. While we rejoice in the universal note of His Life on earth, the note of full share in life's joys and pleasures, we must confess that He had a sterner note for those who were called to listen to it. With His own lips He summoned souls to the simple life and to poverty, for the sake of the kingdom of God; and by example as by word He gave to entire obedience all the beauty, dignity and power of a life's work for God's glory. And the idea of isolation from all that is not God, that God may be the better loved, glorified and followed, is clearly Christ's; and being Christ's it is essentially divine, eternal. In monks and nuns it expresses the powers of the Divine Word incarnate to rejoice in God alone, and to surrender self wholly and entirely to God for the sake of all, and also the complete unhindered indwelling of God in His manhood. The true love of Christ and of God, pouring out from and returning to the Divine heart, requires for its complete expression both family life and celibacy for God's glory. And since no one man can express both, the two forms of life are needed for the adequate unveiling of Love. Therefore we may be sure that down the ages, without end, the mystic Body requires members who have, in the religious life, become useful agents and instruments both of Divine Love regarded as supreme in claim and requirement, and of human love in its single-hearted response thereto.
He Who graced the marriage feast at Cana, blessed little children, and tightened the bonds that hold the family together, is one and the same with the stern Christ Who called on men to forsake wife and children, and marched alone to Calvary in the lonely sorrow of His soul. And the mystical Body, that to all eternity exhibits and voices so complex a love, has need of each type of love and service, permanently and in human form; nor can such be had except in their persons who on earth fulfilled their several vocations and ministries.
It has been said that during his early years in Africa Frank longed for the religious life but was not allowed to enter on it. It was during those years that he became chaplain to the nurses who belonged to the Guild of St. Barnabas, and it was natural that he should awaken in some of them a desire for testing their vocations. From the Guild of St. Barnabas came two of the co-founders of the Community of the Sacred Passion of Jesus.
The very name chosen for the Order suggests the teaching of Frank. It was in an address to the Guild, given while in England in 1905, that he had said:
So many people go to Communion seeking peace. We go into His Presence, Whose hands are marked with the nails, and we ask for peace; and we get no peace, because we ought rather to ask for that deeper sense of His Presence as He leads us into war. Reach out your hand to receive His Body, and your hand will be marked with the wound. And in each Communion as you make it faithfully, my sisters, you will find our Lord preparing for you some new wound. There is always something more in your nature which He wills to mark with the Cross. This is the primary purpose of Communion that you should learn, in company with Him, to endure, that you should learn to be passive, to be quite still, as He carries you along on the path, ready to suffer. Only so can He do His work in us.
If that were our attitude towards Communion, if we went to Him that we might go back more brave to our work and our warfare, then indeed our Communion would be to us what He means it to be. It would be the cleansing of the mirror of our soul, that it might reflect the Divine Glory in us. It would be the increase of the Divine Life in us, making us ready for the final revelation, the Blessed Vision of God.
In the same address, he said:
If we cannot see Him in His Glory, if we cannot feel the power of His Presence with us while we pray, we can at least see Him as He denies to us what we long to have. If we cannot see Him as the Saints seem to have seen Him of old, we can at least see Him as He has pity on us. We know that He is with us, hating to deny us the joy of seeing Him. And we must not get up from our knees until we have felt the Presence of Jesus, though it be to see Him in seeming anger, though it be that He is with us while yet turning away His Face from us. Yet even so to know Him we ought to try. Will you remember that? Think of it when things are very difficult. 'Lord Jesus, keep Thy hand upon me lest I do Thee any harm.' 'Lord Jesus, I am nothing, I have nothing, I desire nothing but Thee and Thy Love.'
It was teaching such as this that inspired some to desire a life in communion with our Lord in His Passion. Frank knew that some nurses and others wished to test their vocations. He did not wish that they should go home and join Sisterhoods. He wanted to retain them in Africa, and he thought that the Mission needed what a religious community could alone supply.
He thought that some, by uniting themselves with the reparation which our Lord made upon the Cross, might offer themselves and their lives as a reparation for all the wrongs which the white races had inflicted on Africa. Might not white women, vowed to chastity, in some way atone for all that black women had suffered from the lust of white men?
He wanted a community also for the sake of the Africans themselves. The natives naturally looked upon white people, even on missionaries, as bustling, dominant and superior. They looked up to them with envy and felt themselves despised. They were tempted to think of Christianity as producing this attitude of pride. The community was to provide a new ideal--realised in poverty, humility, and service. The sisters were to show in their lives that for the honour of Christ no sacrifice could be too complete, and that in Christ all distinctions of race and colour are done away.
In May 1908 Frank was nominated as the new Bishop of Zanzibar, and a few days afterwards he wrote for help to the Reverend Mother of the Community of the Holy Name in Malvern Link. He told her of his scheme for a community in Africa, he asked for her help in training the first novices, he asked also that in the convent at Malvern the sisters, when professed, might find a home during their furlough.
Two days later, he himself followed up his letter, and the arrangements were soon concluded. Before he was consecrated six novices were in training; and, soon after he returned to Africa, they were joined by one or two others.
By 1910 he had arranged with the Community of St. Margaret of Scotland, in Aberdeen, for the loan of a sister who should act as mother for three years in Zanzibar until the first novices were professed. He then wrote summoning five from Malvern to come out, and two paragraphs from his long letter may be quoted.
You will forgive me if I impress upon you with all solemn earnestness the greatness of the responsibility which lies upon you. We have not only to found in the diocese the religious life: we have to justify ourselves to the rest of the workers, who will probably regard the experiment with something akin to alert criticism! Everyone is very anxious to be kind:
you will have the prayers and sympathy of all: but it is only human to regard with critical eyes a movement within a society which separates some members from the rest, and which implies a claim to a very close walk with God. For myself, I am quite convinced that through the power of the Spirit your coming will approve itself to all, through the humility, poverty and cheerfulness which will mark your Community. . . . The new life will be very difficult to you all, removed as you will be from the influence of the Malvern House; but God will be with you and make your new home what it should mean to each of you--the outward surrounding of the Presence of God within you. In God there is no loneliness and no overpowering failure!
In May 1910, the five novices arrived with the sister from Aberdeen who had, before entering her religious community, served in the Mission. Mbweni had been assigned to them as a home, while the Girls' Boarding School and the parish were their sphere of work. They also managed the dispensary. It was for them a great change after the peace, order, and seclusion of Malvern, and the Bishop's forebodings were justified--at first they found their new life very difficult. A community life just beginning, with no tradition behind it, in circumstances which could not be foreseen, was bound to be a trial. Besides, their Father Founder, the Bishop, was away on the mainland until September, and correspondence involving intimate questionings is never satisfactory. Then, shortly after returning to Zanzibar and blessing the new Community House, the Bishop fell ill and had to go home. The novices were naturally anxious about the future, and so was the Bishop.
By March he was better, and he had made up his mind. He knew how precarious was his life, and he could not wait another two years, nor expose these novices to the chances of what might happen if he died. He determined that it would be better if they were professed as soon as he returned to Africa, although he knew the dangers of a short novitiate and the difficulties which would beset a new community with no one of experience at their head. He wrote to them:
My daughters, this vocation to religion in C.S.P. requires just that personal recklessness of obedience which characterises a response to a missionary vocation. Be reckless about the future, reckless about the outcome of a C.S.P. Chapter: reckless because you know the personal call of the Lord Jesus.
A very reckless person was Frank Weston! Yes, in a sense he was: he was entirely reckless of all else when he felt that the mighty hand of God was upon him; and in answer to prayer he believed that he had been guided to his decision.
He was prompt to act. Having written his letter, he interviewed lawyers, learnt and settled the financial and other complications incident upon a common life. He drew up a Charter, composed a Rule, and soon after returning to Africa in July 1911, the first professions were made, the first Chapter was held, and the first Reverend Mother was elected.
The Rule, of course, is private and concerns the sisters alone, but I am permitted to quote a few extracts, which reveal the spirit in which it was drafted and the mind of the Father Founder.
The Community is founded:
(a) To honour our Lord Jesus Christ by exhibiting to Africans the joy and power of the Passion of Jesus.
(b) To offer to God a life of complete poverty, chastity, and obedience in union with the reparation offered to Him by our Lord upon the Cross.
(c) To win souls for our Lord Jesus by a life of prayer and missionary work.
The Community is one of the weapons of Jesus in the present warfare. Here, in Africa, hostile wills are gathered in overwhelming numbers; hostile wills that resist the Church, and weak wills that betray the Church from within. The Community is called to stand by the lonely Jesus Christ, a small band of surrendered wills, wills at one with His Will, enduring with and in His Will unto the end.
The Lord came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His Life a ransom for many.
And the sister, who is His companion in obedience, must seek to be generous as He is generous. She must not measure out her service: she lives to serve. She labours for others, prays for them and searches them out: she serves them and when found pleads for them. . . . She suffers for them in serving them, and serving them is content to suffer for and with the Lord Jesus.
Those who love the Passion must not seek praise while living, nor a public reputation after death. Both the Community and the individual sisters must be hid with Christ in God.
For a time the Community went on quietly at Mbweni, slowly increasing in numbers. In 1912 two sisters were sent into the town to act as sacristans in the Cathedral Church, and to work among the women at Ng'ambo. The Bishop, however, intended that the Mother-house should be at Mkuzi on the mainland. Huts were being built for them, and by August 1914 three sisters were already there--and the three sisters disappeared in the fog of war. For eighteen months it was not known whether they were alive or dead, and it was more than two years before they were released from Tabora.
The war was a testing time. One day the Konigsberg destroyed the Pegasus in Zanzibar harbour, and the shells came hurtling over Mbweni. Some of the girls were panic-stricken and their brown legs carried them helter-skelter inland. But the sisters remained at their post.
Then the Reverend Mother, who had gone on furlough with two sisters, was refused passports and could not return, and the Community had to carry on as best they could. 'It is your vocation,' wrote the Bishop on another occasion, 'to face difficulties calmly.'
The Mother's enforced sojourn in England was, however, fortunate, for while she was at home a house at Poplar, in connexion with St. Frideswide's Mission, was offered her. There the sisters have established their home base, there postulants are received and pass the first year or eighteen months of their novitiate, there sisters on furlough, or sisters whom the doctors forbid to return to Africa, find a home and a sphere of work. The Bishop loved to be with them when in England, and even during the busy days of the second Anglo-Catholic Congress he found time to attend to their wants.
After the war, the Bishop more than once changed his mind as to where the Mother-house should be. For a time the sisters were lodged at Masasi, but finally he handed over to them the buildings at Msalabani (Holy Cross) --the Magila of many memories and great traditions. There they have a hospital for men and one for women, help in the parish, and supervise a large school of 180 girls.
From the Mother-house, sisters have gone out to Mkuzi, which is close at hand, while down in the south they are working at Newala, Lumesule, Saidi Maumbo, Namagono, and Njawara. This is a wild country, and the Bishop once described the walk of seventy-five miles from Newala to Lumesule as 'like walking through the Zoo with all the railings down.' Yet the sisters, two and two, move on to the great adventure. Their work is ever extending, and their opportunities are only limited by their numbers.
But, as their work extended, the Bishop's conception of that work somewhat changed. He began by insisting on their lives as a reparation for the wrongs that Africans had suffered. He grew to think of their lives as a reparation for the sins of those to whom they ministered. He argued that as our Lord came to be the friend of publicans and sinners, so any who would join themselves with Him in the reparation which He offered to the Father must, first of all, get into the environment of sinners and know their temptations. This was the corollary of the idea expressed in his little book called In His Will: 'God became man, that He might claim a natural right to act for men.'
In one of his last letters to the Sisterhood, he wrote:
What we are bound to aim at is such a level of fellowship (with Africans) as will convince the people that Christianity is not a religion for white people and their dependants, but a religion of actual fellowship between race and race, and colour and colour.
He much desired that special sisters should get into intimate touch with African women in their home life, should try to live as they did, and be ready to feed with them. He sometimes, in his humorous way, would deplore the clothes which sisters wore, and try to picture a habit more in accordance with the dress of Africans. He grew to hate boarding-schools for girls because they separated the girls from their families and tribes; and when at the second Kikuyu Conference a lady pleaded for such schools in order that the moral standard of girls might be raised, he replied: ' If you want to help African women, go and live in their villages and share their life.' He was more and more convinced that this was the only way.
The Bishop felt the responsibility of the Community, and was always distressed that he could give them so little time. While they remained in Zanzibar, and during the war, when he also was often there, he gave them weekly addresses and said Mass in their chapel on Fridays. He conducted their annual Retreat, and made a point of being present at their annual Chapter. In 1916 he wrote to the Reverend Mother:
Please never think for a moment that you and yours are a burden. C.S.P. is the best fruit of my work, and that chiefly because there is so little in it that is not independent of my work.
It is possible for us to understand the way in which he trained souls in the spiritual life from the Retreat addresses (In His Will) which he gave in 1914, at Red Lion Square, to associates of the Sacred Passion. These addresses were luckily taken down by one who heard them, and as luckily he refrained from rewriting them. We can also learn something from The Revelation of Eternal Love, which appeared chapter by chapter in The Treasury, and from the few spiritual letters which are known.
Of these, the little book called In His Will seems to me the most important, for it was not designed for publication and shows Frank in a spontaneous mood. He did not prepare his addresses long beforehand. He had no time to do so; and it would have been useless if he had had time, for Frank needed to be face to face with an audience if his personality was to find expression. Half an hour before each address, he would put down the headings. That hardly took a minute, and he could spend most of the time in prayer. It was then the audience which determined the manner of treatment and the practical application of his thoughts.
Every Retreat was a great strain upon him, and he was very tired afterwards. He had not been reading out truths, long garnered, from a note-book; he had not been meditating aloud, regardless of those who listened; but all the powers of his sensitive soul had been concentrated on the hearts of those before him.
His matter did not greatly vary. Like all great teachers, he repeated himself again and again. The Revelation of Eternal Love reproduces with more elaboration what has been said in In His Will, but how great is the difference! The first book is simple, direct and practical, and any devout person could understand it. The second book may be theologically more valuable--it contains some shining truths. He did much hard thinking in producing it, but he never thought of the readers for whom it was intended; and I have often wondered how much 'the gentle readers' of The Treasury understood. The book was written on his way back to Africa on board a liner, where most men find it hard to concentrate, but he was able from a second-class deck to soar into a heavenly sphere, and to fuse thought, emotion and energy in his approach to Eternal Love.
Frank was essentially a mystic. He was never content with appearances, he was always seeking the reality which lay behind them. His heart was very restless, seeking for God. But Frank was an intellectual mystic, he was not satisfied with vague emotions and was impatient of hazy speculations. He started from a dogmatic system of belief which was verified in prayer and expressed in life. He had a passion for accuracy of definition, and the accuracy he strove after could only be expressed in abstract terms.
He was not a contemplative like St. John, who could brood on what he had seen, heard and handled, until the spiritual meaning of his experience shone through the facts. Frank had very little power over pictorial imagery. He was interested only in persons. His religion was in maintaining a direct communion with a Person. He had learnt to pray, and he had learnt the prayer: 'Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.' Unfortunately the language of the Spirit is very undeveloped, and Frank often found that his vocabulary was inadequate to express the precision of thought with which he believed God had inspired him.
The following is an extract from a long letter which was not written to a sister. It illustrates his understanding of the mysteries of our life with God; and it illustrates perhaps more clearly the trouble he was prepared to take in order to elucidate the perplexities felt by a correspondent.
Our fundamental danger is individualism, and our tendency is to judge religion as it affects our own soul apart from the mystical Body. We therefore look to see in our personal relation with Jesus at least some of the marks we find in the relations wherewith He binds to Himself souls whose history we have studied. Hence our standard by which we measure devotion, love, self-sacrifice, spiritual peace and the like.
Whereas in fact Jesus uses each soul as one of the Body, one among many, and to each one He looks as His agent to express before Godhead one variety of one out of many possible forms of His own service of love and obedience. So that each soul has its particular vocation that binds it to some one detail that can be separated off from the universal love with which He loves the Father: and each of these details has its analogy in some one of Christ's experiences here on earth. It is only so that all that He did on earth can be reproduced richly through His mystical Body in each generation.
Hence it is essential to His scheme that, the world being what it is because of sin, in each generation some of His children should reproduce in themselves joy like that of Easter and Ascension, while others express the moods of Gethsemane and Calvary. It is true that one soul may, in its earthly life, express more moods than one: it is, however, the fact that some excel in one mood beyond all others.
And here two words need saying:
First, it is not God's primary Will that the sad moods be perpetuated: He wills that some reproduce them not because He likes them, but because without their re-expression and extension in His mystical Body the Sacrifice for sin would not be crowned. It would, on the contrary, remain in isolation from us sinners: whereas, by ourselves being identified with Him in all His moods, we make the Sacrifice our own and give it its proper fruit. God desires our pain no more than He desired Christ's pain: both are essentially contrary to His purpose, and both are necessary now (because of sin) to its fulfilment. Secondly, those sad moods are valuable only because of the spiritual effort required to endure them faithfully. To pass out from them brings no merit, nor does it add to the richness of His Self-sacrifice: whereas to continue in filial confidence throughout the whole period of the vocation to suffer is indeed to add to Calvary's glory. To add, that is, not by causing to exist some new sacrifice, but by extending the scope and fruitfulness of the one Sacrifice.
Supposing, then, that a soul finds itself in a mood of darkness lasting over years.
We may, perhaps, ask whether its own sin is at all to blame. But we shall be wise to put it otherwise. And in place of questioning, lay it down once for all (assuming of course no wilful sin to be present) that Jesus calls each soul to the task most suitable to it naturally and supernaturally; so adjusting vocation to character as to make use of what we have been and are, to the highest possible extent. Past sins will be most thoroughly purged in following our present calling: because God's power of redeeming us as we are is in truth wonderful: but the calling is not the punishment for our sins; it is His wise way of making the most of a soul that has either punished itself in certain ways or requires punishment for certain weaknesses: and the soul in darkness will acknowledge that from whatever cause it comes, the darkness well endured is its highest possible offering to the store of Christ in His Church.
At the point of self-surrender, it will begin to experience a solemn joy in its own lack of happiness: joy because it is fulfilling God's present vocation, without any modifying sense of happiness or human feeling: and from joy it will pass into peace, from the knowledge that it is exactly within God's present Will for it; while a refuge from self-commiseration is provided for it in the knowledge--not, mark you, in the feeling--that Christ it is Who is really within it, enduring the darkness through it. The soul's sadness is Christ's: its temptation to desire relief is also His: just as the firm resolve to endure to the end is His resolve.
Further, the knowledge that we are members one of another allows us to believe that others benefit by the soul's agony: just as it is helped by the different activities of its neighbours.
Prayer for such a soul is therefore based upon an uttermost readiness to be Christ's agent and instrument in facing darkness: a readiness that is glorious--as Christ's Passion and Death are glorious. Nor will the soul boggle at the continued disability to discern Christ's presence and co-operation. It will remember that when Christ Himself gave highest, broadest and longest expression to Divine love, He was Himself almost overpowered by a sense of being forsaken by Him whose love He was revealing.
No doubt, at first sight the soul shrinks from receiving the part of the forsaken member in the great Drama of Redemption; but a second reading of the drama dispels the shrinking. For the victorious Christ within her is to enact the past: not she herself alone. And where the victorious Christ works there is supernatural joy and peace, though human happiness and peace be far to seek, and there will be an exceeding measure of heavenly bliss when this, the first act of the drama, is finished. If we suffer with Him we shall also reign with Him.
Now, you may take it as beyond question quite certain that souls surrendered to God for the redemption of Africa will receive such lofty and glorious, such painful and Christ-like callings. One of the great risks a diocese, such as ours, runs, is the worker's surprise at vocations to share the Passion. So many of us recoil from the real Cross. We have our limits, and we too easily find reasons for this way or that of dodging painful callings. We marry and are given in marriage, when resistance might be a reparation for our people's easy self-indulgence; we accept doctors' verdicts when self-sacrifice would be reparation for our people's light-hearted revolt against Christ's claims; and in countless smaller ways expect far more from God's bounty than the conditions of our work permit us to hope for, much less to ask. I say this humbly, I hope, for I am in the same condemnation.
Nor can any more noble contribution to the brotherhood be imagined. For conceive for oneself what vocation one will, none is more free from taint of self, none more unmixed in motive, than this to which the soul we have been considering has been called by Christ. It remains therefore to view the sorrow not as some consequence, nor as evil to be avoided, but as occasion of serving Christ and the Church with a service of which the value is supreme; while the profit to Him and His is so vast that to win it He risks His reputation as Good Shepherd.
Here is a very different letter, written to a lady who, in a time of great depression, felt that she dared not make her communions.
The great art of religion is clinging to God with your will, when your heart is dead and your mind won't work, because it is by our will we shall be justified or condemned. It does not seem to me to matter much what you want or don't want: what matters is that you should do the right thing. And please remember that you cannot hide the fact that you do not communicate: it is not hidden and can't be hidden.
You must also face the additional fact that, while Miss ------+ God's grace is of some use, Miss --------God's grace is of no use. And your work must be done in spite of a tired mind and weary heart.
Of course, what you really need is a complete holiday, but before you get that you have to pass through Easter and the Feast days that follow; and you owe it to our Lord to give Him your will. He knows the exact state of your heart and mind: and it is just because you are ' weary and heavy laden ' that He says, ' Come unto Me.' And if you would be so wise as to face Him and His invitation, you would see that you must come.
That it is sudden and will be a difficult task is neither here nor there: clearly it is your fault for not coming regularly, and you can't justly punish our Lord for what is your own doing.
So just face the matter for a few minutes, and see if you can't once and for all give your will to Him and be His, no matter how your heart and mind behave.
Try! Because His joy and your usefulness both depend to a great extent upon you winning this victory over yourself.
It may be interesting to conclude this chapter with a scheme for Advent meditations which he drew up for a correspondent.
Sunday The Holy Trinity He came to reveal God to man and to me.
Monday The Incarnation to raise man to God's throne.
Tuesday The Holy Spirit in the power of the Spirit to give knowledge.
Wednesday The Heart of Jesus in love to love us and give love.
Thursday The Blessed Sacrament to give new life.
Friday The Passion to redeem.
Saturday The Saints to sanctify and perfect.
Sunday The Holy Trinity He comes that we may choose self or God.
Monday The Incarnation to meet our daily needs.
Tuesday The Holy Spirit to be our daily Guide.
Wednesday The Heart of Jesus to demand our daily work.
Thursday The Blessed Sacrament to be our Food.
Friday The Passion to heal our souls of daily sins.
Saturday The Saints to make us daily holy.
Sunday The Holy Trinity He will come to vindicate God's Righteousness.
Monday The Incarnation to complete His mystic Body.
Tuesday The Holy Spirit to perfect His elect.
Wednesday The Heart of Jesus to rejoice in the Saints whom He loves.
Thursday The Blessed Sacrament to be our perfect bliss.
Friday The Passion to punish the wilful.
Saturday The Saints to offer all to God in Himself.