Friday, February 2, 2018

Father Stanton's Candlemas Sermon

Elsewhere on ths blog is the story of Father Arthur Stanton, who was for fifty years a curate at St. Albans, Holborn, London. He was also a greatly loved eccentric who combined the fulness of the Catholic faith with evangelical fervour. He is still remembered as wonderful priest, powerful preacher and caring pastor. He died at the age of seventy-four in March 1913. Father Stanton was once asked what he hoped might be carved on his tombstone. His answer was simple yet profound: “He preached Jesus and only Jesus.” 

The following is taken from Arthur Stanton, a Memoir, by G.W.E. Russell, published in 1917 (pages 134-137). It is an eyewitness report of Father Stanton’s sermon at the Candlemas High Mass in 1873:

“Father Stanton . . . gave out his text, which was from Malachi iii., part of the Scripture appointed for the Epistle of the Festival -  ‘The Lord Whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His Temple.’ He dwelt on the peculiar character of the Festival under its double aspect of the Purification of ‘our Blessed Lady,’ and the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple. It was, he said, like a last look at Christmas, over which was beginning to be cast the dark shadow of the Passion. The curtain was lifted for one moment and the spectacle showed us the power of Christian heroism. We saw our sweet and blessed Lady, carrying in her arms her Divine Son. It was, as he had said, a last lingering glance at Christmas, and a spectacle dear to every Catholic heart, that Mother with that Child at her breast. To-day she is passing, with St. Joseph, the foster-father, through the streets of Jerusalem. There are the dark shadows of the houses, and the glare of the Eastern sunshine, and the passers-by going to and fro. How often has she come before to the same place! Now, though a mother, she is ‘spotless as the driven snow.’ Father Stanton cleverly pressed this image into his service (- the snow fell heavily that day in London). 

“What thoughts must have been in her mind as she held in her arms her Son, the Everlasting God, the Prince of Peace! Yes, she bore the Eternal Son, as she ascended those steps. 

“In the Temple, how simple was the scene! An old man takes the Child, and a thrill of joy passes through his heart. He had waited for the Consolation of Israel. He speaks a few words;and then a woman stricken in years comes in. She utters her prophecy. She recognizes the Lord of lords in the Child. The offering is made, the purification is over, and they leave. Night closes, and the Temple-doors are shut. The Lord had suddenly come to His Temple. He Whom they yearned for had come. Heaven and earth had met together; God and man had met. The glory of the latter House had exceeded that of the former. The latter outshone its predecessor. The glory of the Temples had come. Only two persons recognized it. It had come - and gone. 

“The great thought of this festival is the superhuman manifestation of God to those who watch for Him. He was not recognized by the scribe who knew the law; by the Sanhedrim, the rulers, the learned, or the mighty. Two old people who had long been waiting were the only ones who knew Him. That Babe Who was set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Those who saw Him were ‘full of the Holy Ghost.’ To them it was revealed that they should see the Lord’s Christ; and a light greater than that of the sun came to their hearts. That old man saw what the wise could not see. He took up the Lord of life in his arms; and he felt that now he could depart in peace, for he had seen the Lord’s salvation. 

“‘Dear friends,’ said Father Stanton, ‘this realization of Jesus Christ is far beyond all learning, art, or science. There is given to those who seek it, a light above that of the sun. Christ communicates Himself in His Divine Personality as well as Essence. 

“ ‘Religion is unsatisfactory unless we can thus have personal intimacy with Christ. If we have but heard of Him through men and books. He only exerts a secondary power on us. Our conception of Him merely amounts to a moral certainty, as with any other great hero we read of in history. We have seen Him only through the shadow of ideas. We have not taken Him in our arms and gazed on Him with ineffable joy. 

“ ‘There is, you know it well, a special light, transcendent and transluminous. The converted man will say, “ I have read, and heard, and argued laboriously about Christ, but some day there came to me, at the comer of the street, or at my own fireside, or during some sermon, a mystic certainty about Him. The scales dropped from my eyes. I saw my Lord, as I had never seen Him before. I felt the power of salvation. I went back again to my books, and, as I read the old pages, a new light flashed upon me. New arguments came which I had never seen before; and Faith, got from that mystic light, confirmed them. I never can deny this, for to do so would be to deny the secret of my life.” 

“ ‘No one can say that Jesus is the Christ, but by the Holy Ghost. You may say you think so; the Child might be God. But to see it with the light of the superhuman day is another thing. Far different to know that the Lord Whom you have looked for has suddenly come to His Temple. Then you may say  -  

‘Oh! my sweet Jesus, come to me 
My longing heart’s desire ; 
With tears of love I’ve wept for Thee, 
Thee doth my soul require. 

‘A thousand times I’ve yearned for Thee 
Jesu ! when wilt Thou come ? 
When will Thy Presence gladden me. 
And make in me a home?‘ 

‘If the Revelation of Christ is not so, if it depends on knowledge or reading, where is the Sacred Democracy of the Faith? It would be an oligarchy of genius. How could the little child make the Sign of the Cross? How could the poor man be lifted up from the dunghill? Jesus Christ Himself seemed to burst into enthusiasm when He thought of this, saying: “I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth, that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.” 

“ ‘Of course, the great question is. Have all these people conscious communion with God; this mystic knowledge of things about which we hear so much and see so little? Yes. Wherever God has created life, He has given certain powers, going out beyond the organism of the life itself. Plants have powers which seem to trench on animalism. The vine throws out its tendrils for support, and roots pierce down to a congenial soil. Animals show powers which seem beyond instinct. We speak of the sagacity of the dog and the cunning of the fox. So in the higher life of man, there are strange instincts. There are impressions we cannot account for; there are moments when we seem to stand out beyond ourselves. We feel intelligences within us which we cannot explain - such as prognostications and presentiments. 

“‘When God makes His faithful ones partakers of Himself, He gives them a certainty far greater than that which is arrived at by logic and science. We can see this in the lives of the Saints, in the annals of the Church. People lead lives of extraordinary faith, which neither they nor you can account for. “By the Grace of God I am what I am,” is all they can say. 

“‘But, you will still ask, Is it likely I shall ever feel like this? I have heard of conscious conversion and intercourse with God, but it seems far above my head. I never felt it, though I have practised religion for years. I cannot put my hand on a particular day of my life, and say, “On that day I became converted.” How is it I cannot do as others? Do not be distressed. Go on waiting for the Consolation of Israel. Do you not see that they in the Temple had been doing so? That old man had been promised that he should see the Lord’s Christ. He waited patiently, “full of the Holy Ghost,” and at last the Lord suddenly came to His Temple. He did depart in peace. 

‘”So, too, that old woman; she had long fasted and prayed. Day and night, Scripture says, she had waited for the Consolation. It had not come, but day after day, and night after night she still went on — still fasted and prayed. “In eternity time struck the hour,” and Jesus Christ came. She had not waited in vain; and henceforth she could talk of nothing else to those others who were waiting too. And have you not felt this? You groan and pray to see God: to press Him to your heart and feel Him yours. You want to grasp what lies behind all your Prayers, Communions, and Confessions. You want religion to be a personal affection for Christ, something you can never let go. It shall come to you: when or how I cannot tell; but it shall come. Perhaps it may be at the end of your life, when the shadows of this world pass away, and the morning breaks over the everlasting hills. You shall see the King in His beauty. Whom you had tried to follow at such a distance off. Then will you say, “O God, Thou art my God. Jesus Christ, Thou didst come to earth for me.” And you will be able to add, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” ‘ “


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