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Preached at the opening of St. Mary s, Liverpool, on Thursday, July gth, 1885.
" I will open rivers in the high hills, and fountains in the midst of the plains ; I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, and the myrtle, and the olive" (Isaias xli. 18, 19).
WE are assembled to praise God and to give Him thanks for the successful completion and dedication of a church ; of a house and temple to His holy Name ; of a centre of faith and a home of Catholic life to His people. When a new church is built and this is especially true of missionary countries and of districts like this of Liverpool it usually means a new flock and a new parish ; it means growth and expansion. But this church, as I need not remind the flock of St. Mary s, is both new and old. In the days when Israel journeyed through the wilderness, they pitched, every night, the great tent which was the Lord s tabernacle, and struck it again in the morning. Each night s halt brought them to a new
camping ground, to another rocky shelter, to a new watercourse, to fresh difficulties and strange con ditions. But, as they rested in the desert, there were still above them the same stars which had shone on their father Jacob ; there was always the Divine pillar of fire for their beacon and their guide.
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So in the midst of this wilderness of interests which we call the world, of this wilderness of houses and of men which we call a city, you move the tabernacle of the Lord. As the years go on all things change ; commerce grows, men come and depart ; there are new conditions and fresh problems, an altered horizon and strange ground under foot. But it is not all new. Move your church where you will or where you must, there is still God s light over your head. Men have only to raise their eyes ; the fires which God has placed in the firmament of the human reason shine on, leaving man without excuse; the light of Divine revelation, far brighter than the radiance which shone
at night on the dark rocks of the desert, brings com fort to the anxious heart seeking for truth ; comfort to this age as to every age, to this year as to the years gone by ; to the children as to the fathers, to the living as to the departed, and to you, my friends, now here gathered under the freshness of a new roof and before the glitter of a new altar, as to those some departed, some still here who all these years have worshipped God within the hallowed walls of old St. Mary s.
The dedication of a church the rejoicing over a new home of the Blessed Sacrament, a new fortress of Divine teaching in the midst of this vast town cannot fail to stir up one great thought, one great longing in the hearts of the servants of Jesus Christ. Would to God that all men understood ! Would that our brethren who feel, so many of them, the want and the necessity of faith, could see that
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nowhere but before this altar can their hearts find peace ! You hear them say that they find faith im possible. Modern conditions and modern difficulties have so altered the outlines of spiritual problems that the old teachings are useless ; the altar has no longer any power ; the word of preaching is obsolete ; the sanctuary has lost its holy awfulness. Faith, they tell us, was a dispensation for the infancy or the childhood of the race ; man is too mature now either to accept it, or indeed truly to need it.
It is not my intention to dwell upon the nature or the conditions of faith ; but, briefly put, our Catholic view is this that faith is a light beyond what man s reason supplies, given by God to enable man to live for the bliss of God s vision in the everlasting time to come. The analogy of the word " light " implies two things ; first, a visible, substantial system of true ideas, somehow or other given as a gift to the world by God, through Jesus Christ ; and secondly, a per sonal power or faculty, by which the human mind is enabled to see, and, what is far more, to cling to those saving truths of God. Faith is the light left us between two great visions. One vision has come
and gone ; the other is to come in the fulness of time. The first vision was Jesus in the flesh, seen and heard of men ; mighty, gentle, attractive, and Divine ; illuminating, drawing, and convincing the minds aud the hearts of those who humbled them selves to Him ; the God of reason, the God of reve lation, the Head of the Church, the author and the finisher of faith. That vision went away. The
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second vision will be on that day when the heavens shall part asunder, and the clouds roll up their masses ; when the angel s trumpet shall sound, and the armies of the host of Heaven shall throng the upper air of this little world ; when the Son of Man shall come with the standard of His Cross, and " every eye shall see Him " as He sits to judge the living and the dead. Between these visions there is a light ; not the light which Peter saw, and Andrew, and Zaccheus, and Mary Magdalene ; not the lightning which shall bring conviction at the last day to every
mind and heart of every people and every generation ; but still the light of God, sufficient for the needs of men. When Jesus went away, He said : " A little while and ye shall not see Me, because I go to the Father." 1 But let us understand what He meant by that. On that very same evening He had said, as you read two chapters earlier in the same Gospel of St. John : " A little while and the world seeth Me no more. But^<??/ see Me because I live." 2 It is only the world, those who keep apart from Him, who shall not see Him ; His servants shall see Him because He lives, and His living power, in word, in act, and in presence, can be recognised, can be used, by every man who enters within the magic circle of Divine faith.
Here, then, we have before us to-day, as in the days gone by, faith confronting unbelief; and the question is, Why do men not believe? Or, rather,
1 John xvi. 16. 2 Ib. xiv. 19.
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we have our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ offering belief and life to every man, and the problem is, Why do so many stand apart? It is well for us, who have our altar which we hold so dear, and our Divine oracle to which we cling with firm conviction, to be very gentle with those who do not believe or who only half believe. It is true, no doubt, that thou sands of men, in their fallen nature, reject faith through passion or through pride. With such as these argument is useless until their passion has been exorcised and their pride extinguished. But I would rather speak of those who are not led by pride or passion ; to men whose pride is not their tyrant, whose passions have not blinded them ; men who are not unwilling to believe, and who, if they did believe, would on the whole live the life of believers. Are there not many such ? And is there not, in such countries as this, a widely-spread feeling, quite dis tinct from that hatred of religion which we find in other countries? In too many countries men, marked with the sign of holy Baptism, rage wildly and furi ously against the Name of Christ, until the day when
the near vision of death drives them to seek His pardon if haply they are allowed to find it. But in countries like this you have men who think faith is not needed for virtue and for well-being. You have men who live contentedly in the sterility of a natural life ; in a barren land, a land of stony soil and in clement skies, of stunted trees and sour fruit ; because they do not believe in any other. To them the life of faith is not, what we believe it to be, a
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realm of fertility, of luxuriant development and glorious results ; but rather a dream of priests, a philosophic system, a complication of the simplicity of human existence which is unnecessary, and there fore mischievous.
To lead to Christian belief such souls as this is a task which is very dear to the heart of every priest, of every Catholic. I would like to take hold of that very human nature in which they entrench them
selves, and let them see, as if I showed them a wounded man on a battlefield crying out for water, that there are clamours and longings of their nature which they have let go too long unnoticed. It is difficult to make people reflect. It is difficult for a man to make himself reflect. Work, human interest, and the perpetually changing show which we call existence, distract the mind from itself. But if we could get this heart of ours in some secret and silent place, and let it hear its own beatings, then truths would be revealed. There have, probably, been moments not many, perhaps, but some in which we have seemed to hear the voice of our very being. It may have been in the darkness of the night, when sounds were hushed, and brain and faculty were resting, like some sea-cliff when the tide is out and the waters are murmuring far in the distance resting from the beating of those surges of sensible emotion which fall all day, wave on wave, upon the tired sense. Or it may have been when the night was rather in the soul itself when pain, disappointment, or loss had clouded the light of day in those outer chambers
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of the spirit where dwell imagination and her train. It is then that the spirit sees itself. Distraction de parts like a mist, the noise of outward existence ceases like a huge machine run down. And in those precious moments of insight one sees what one is, and what one must have what is one s destiny, and what is one s deadly peril better than if a hundred wise men had talked for a hundred years. It is then that a startling revelation is made ; then something asserts itself, as if a hidden man had sprung out upon us. This something is ourself; yet not that self that we have any power over, not the self that we can direct, rebuke, or rule like a master. It is a self which says, " I am not content, and I charge you to satisfy me." It is an imperious self, which sees far into dim distances, and has instincts which cannot be argued away. It is a self which spurns this world as a folly, and seems to wither it, all in a moment, into insignificance this world which is so pleasant, so satisfactory, so engrossing. Terrible questions come up, which nothing on the earth s sur
face can answer. What are we living for ? Are we right in using the world as we do ? Why do so many suffer ? Why are beautiful lives cut short ? Why must immortal souls spend themselves in hard, de grading labour ? Why must the rich drop their riches just as they have grasped them, and the poor live from day to day in insufficiency? Nothing can answer these questions but a voice from some other world than this. But at these moments answers do come ! This spirit of ours answers. It is a spirit
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which has tremendous convictions, just as the frame of nature has tremendous forces which man cannot cross and live. Your spirit believes, first of all, in the right and the good. Some things are right to it and some things wrong. On this matter, it has one or two clear rules which are as much a part of its essence as instinct is a part of the animal. And as right and wrong imply a standard, being only the approach to or departure from an apprehended ideal,
therefore your spirit sees, holds, and has, a standard of right and wrong, altogether independent of human law and human accidents. But next, it cannot acquiesce in the failure of the right, or the final success of the wrong. You may argue, and you may seem to prove, the possibility that evil will triumph. But your spirit revolts at it. Things were, meant to be right. Justice was intended. There must be law or prayer or personal interference, or some power that will straighten what is crooked, punish the guilty, and help the innocent and oppressed. This is your heart s conviction, rooted in it, or shining from it, evidencing itself like the bird s song or the diamond s light. And, thirdly, your spirit proclaims that there is no such thing as annihilation ; no final and complete death. " Surely," it seems to be crying out, " I shall not be extinguished. Even when worlds crash together, surely some refuge will be found for me ; when time tries and changes all, still that which I call myself will surely survive." Reasoning has no place here. My spirit, left to itself, resists the thought of dying and holds on to
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perpetual existence. It is not a blind instinct of selfpreservation, as with the animals ; but it is a deliberate intuition, part of its nature, only not innate because it springs up at the contact between the spirit and its environment, as the falling star bursts into flame when it touches the atmosphere of the earth.
These convictions, or instincts, of the spirit of man the conviction of good and evil, or right and wrong ; the conviction of the final triumph of the right, and the conviction of immortality are part of the essen tial nature of the soul. They are often obscured, covered over by prejudices imbibed in childhood, warped by wrong education, hidden out of recog nition by the eruptions of passion or the mists of pride. But reflection brings them out as they are. The spirit of man has recognised and recorded them in every age and country ; the lives of your philoso
phers witness them, the careers of your heroes em body them, your books are full of them, the speech of the people rests on them, the little child, brought face to face with them, takes them in as if he knew them. And now, what are they ? They are the spirit s native light, a light which in every spirit is the same ; whence is that all-pervading light? When a traveller has lost his way in the night, and has sat down to wait for dawn, he at last sees, in one quarter of the heavens, the pale light of morning, and he knows it is the east, and that the sun is climbing there. And when man finds, in the universal world of the human spirit, a light which he cannot control
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or banish, as he could not produce it, it does not take many steps to prove the existence of the Sun of all existence, the radiating Mind of minds, the everlasting One and only God.
And then, at the vision of God even His dim and
imperfect vision there breaks forth from the human spirit, as the eagle breaks its bonds when it feels the desert air, the whole of its longing and its want its worship and its love. Speculation is only half of the nature of man. He has intuitions which, the more he interrogates, the faster they stand ; he has fountains of intellectual light which, the deeper he digs, gush out with the greater force. But he has also that immense, that mighty, that glorious power and necessity which we call worship, or attraction, or simply love. No sooner does he see that the light of his instincts is but the reflection of the ever-shining light of an Eternal Being, than that Being becomes to him the beginning and the end. The Infinite ex plains all. He is the ruler of good and bad. He is the power which will finally make all things right. He is the loving Father Whom my nature longs for, to cherish me in elemental war and in the vicissitudes of universal being. Above all, He, and He alone, can fill the capacity of this spirit of mine, whose vision and reach keep slowly, but surely, overtopping every horizon of created things. He alone can satisfy a heart which has been made to such a startling likeness to Himself.
These truths affect every man. Those to whom they are new are either those who have lived in them
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unconsciously, or those who have never taken their spirits to task. And now, let us bethink us where we are. We are in God s own house, surrounded as honoured guests by evidences on every side of the wealth, and the benevolence, and the affection of the Master to whom the house belongs. That is to say, that God, Whom the instincts of the spirit prove, and W T hom the instincts of the heart must worship here, and must possess hereafter, has brought Himself down to our very doors. This is the true, the real Christianity. Christianity means God given to our human faculties. Some revelation, some Divine con descension, some kind of incarnation, we may justly say, was necessary necessary, seeing what man is, and what God is. For God is very far away ; very high up, wrapt in a light which is very difficult of
approach. Or, rather, the atmosphere of this created world is so thick and heavy that His Divine light penetrates with difficulty, and His never-extinguished voice is easily passed by unrecognised. And yet our immortal souls must have Him near. And, there fore, He has come near us. That He has taken flesh and dwelt amongst us is the sum and the short abridgment of a long history of Divine skill and contrivance. The Almighty and Infinite God has a human story, and a human name, to seize and to fill our fancy and our thought. The immovable God of Heaven has passed through the vicissitudes of a human life, bearing the burthen of it ; He has taken a human heart, with all its sympathies and its com passions, that we might feel Him nearer to us. He
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has taken up suffering sought her out, lived with her, died as she stood over Him, in order that the fountains of our hearts might be unsealed by the sight of His pain, and that suffering might never
stand beside us, in our turn, without whispering to us the secrets which she has learnt beside the Cross. The attributes of His divinity are now translated into every picture made by human speech ; into literature and into art, into law and custom. And there is a living presence of Him in this earth which is a real, a strong, and a persisting fact, giving solidity and efficacy to the image of His attractiveness left by the Incarnation, The reason why this church and altar are here, is that Christ still speaks ; in no figurative sense ; but because He guards and protects from mistake the pastorate which He has left. This church is here because His hand still falls upon the sinner and the innocent, healing and giving life as only His hand can do, in the Sacraments. This altar is here, because, in a way that stupendously combines the strength of faith with the impressiveness of sensible experience, He has left us His Real Presence. And, lastly, this church is here, and the clergy and the people are here, and ministers minister and a voice speaks, because, amid all the turmoil and the distraction of human life, we know that Christ has said, " The charity of God is spread abroad in your hearts by the Spirit of God which is given you "j 1
and that every man may have in his being, if he will,
1 Rom. v. 5.
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the intimate presence of that Divine and supernatural grace which is the very shining of the Divinity itself. These are the rivers in the mountains the springs in the plainr,, opened by the hand of God. These are the glories the cedar, the myrtle, and the olive, planted by God in the wilderness of this world.
And now we turn to Him, Whose presence is the light and life of the Church. Now the ranks of the sacred priesthood close round the altar, and the people join their prayer and praise. Now the Lord of Heaven comes down, and the greatest act that this world knows is about to be accomplished. Pray that the power of this Royal Presence may spread and be widely felt, in this flock, in this city, among those who believe, and among those who believe not
yet. And as I speak these walls seem to vanish, and this roof to dissolve into the sky ; and the spirits of the just seem to gather silently to this altar, joining themselves to the faithful people here present in the body ; the spirits of those who have lived their Catholic lives in this ancient district of St. Mary s, keeping their faith amid many trials : the spirits of the good and faithful priests who have ministered to so many generations passed away, who have spent themselves in work and zeal, and even died martyrs of charity for their flock ; these gather here to-day. And there join them for there is only one altar and one Sacrifice the spirits of all the faithful departed who have lived in this north-western land, and of all who, from other lands, have gone to Heaven, and still love those who bear their name ; the men and
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women, the priests, the martyrs of Catholic Lanca shire and of Catholic Ireland. Nay, the hosts of the heavenly courts themselves are making ready to
sweep down with countless legions, with banner and with canticle, to receive Him Who prepares to make this new-built church His home. May the day be prosperous, and the moment auspicious ! May He Who wearies not, but delights to dwell among the children of men, diffuse His knowledge and His love from this place, henceforth for many peaceful years to come, till we meet again, where to know Him is to see Him, and to love Him is to rest in our life s term and our being s perfect bliss !
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