FEAST OF THE HOLY CROSS

14 September

Introduction-Author-Talks

My brethren, when those we love have come to die, when the parting has taken place that gives to death a bitterness which else it would not have, when we long in vain for the well-remembered greeting of the now cold hand, and the music of the voice that has gone silent, how we cling to every object that can bring back the memory of the past!   The light has left the eyes of the dead friend, but on everything they used to look upon whilst living, they left a spell that can unseal the fount of tears.  The warm hand has grown motionless and cold, but on everything it touched, it has left a peculiar sacredness.  And so, following the irresistible promptings of the nature that is in them, the world’s mourners treasure up the relics of the buried past.

Now, my brethren, grace does not destroy nature, it presupposes it and builds on it – it elevates its faculties, it purifies its powers, it ennobles all its instincts.  And hence is it not wonderful that, under the operation and in the sphere of grace, we should find developed in their noblest forms, the instincts of the human heart.  Can we wonder, then, that the shadow of the cross falls upon the myriad altars of the Church? Can we wonder that, it was under that sacred standard she has marched to all the victories that make her history the wondrous record that it is?  Can we wonder that, in her darkest hour of peril, when her power was assailed by external enemies, and when her heart was bleeding because of the treachery of recreant children, the Cross has sweetened the waters of her bitterness, and given priceless value to the tears of her affliction?  Ah! No my brethren, it could not be otherwise.  The altar of the great sacrifice can never lose its hold on the affections of a ransomed race; the wood which the wounded body of the Savior touched, which was purpled with His sacred blood, must remain forever an object of peculiar veneration.  Nay more – even to those who, by a special instinct of wickedness, have brought themselves to hate the cross, and to scoff at the mysteries which it symbolizes – even to those it can never become an object of contempt: for they must acknowledge that it has gone forth with wondrous power upon the world.  It has subjected kings and princes to its sway; it has moulded human genius, and modified human thought; it has gone into the family and into the state, and has left its mark on both; and what was once the disgraceful gibbet of the malefactor, has come to be the symbol of the greatest power that has arisen among the sons of men.

But to us, my brethren, who share in all the sympathies of the household of faith – to us who feel that our eternal destinies are bound up in the story with which the cross is eloquent – how grateful a thing it is, to go back upon that story, and refresh our world-worn hearts, with the sweetness of its music!  Looking, then, upon the past and on the present, and opening up the future by the aid of prophecy, the story of the cross seems naturally to divide itself into three great stages – the stage of conflict, the stage of triumph, and the stage of final victory, which it shall have, when the angel’s trump of doom shall have quickened the dead world.

     1.  It told them that the world would hate them – that the enmity which was placed by the ordinance of “God, between the serpent and the woman’s seed, was about to become manifest, in the conflict which should go on forever between the upholders of the kingdom which He established, and the myriad followers of the prince of darkness.  And, in the early days of the Apostle’s mission, while the figure of a dead Christ was looming amid the shadows of the Churches’ mourning, the words began to be fulfilled.  When their timid souls were strengthened, and their tepid hearts grew hot with the fire of Pentecost, they raised aloft the standard of the cross in which they gloried, and went forth to battle with the powers of earth.  It was a wondrous thing to see; and looking at their means of warfare, and knowing now the victory they have gained, we need scarce another proof that their mission was divine.  Just think of it, my brethren.  In an obscure corner of the world, there had grown up a hunted nation.  They claimed for themselves an antiquity, which carried the mind back to the time when the history of the leading nations of the earth were wrapped around in the shadows of fable.  They had their history carefully preserved, and its pages were crowded with the strangest assertions, and the most miraculous incidents.  It could be seen at a glance, that they were a peculiar people, isolated, by almost feature of their national polity, from the other families of the human race.  And yet, they boasted that, in some mysterious way, the destinies of mankind were bound up with the history of their nation.  Their prophets had spoken of a Messiah – of one whom God was to send to lead His people.  The words of promise had rung in the ears of the Jewish patriarch, and his heart swelled high with hope. But, ah! The watch, hopeful though it was, grew weary because of the delay.  King after king went down from the throne of Judah to the tomb, and a heart, because he had not lived to see the Messiah.  Prophet after prophet sat in his lonely watchtower, looking through the darkness, watching, waiting, hoping for the faintest glimmer of the dawn.  Each generation went to the tomb with hope for the generation yet to come; and when the Jewish father blessed his son upon his death-bed, his fondest prayer was, that his child might live to see the crowning glory of his race, in the rising of the sun of Justice.”  But time went on; the earthly power had passed from the house of David, his scepter was broken, and diadem of Judah’s princes was humbled in the dust.  A pagan and a stranger ruled in the palaces of Israel, and the Roman soldier tramped hourly through the streets of the Holy City, whose every stone was hallowed by memories of the long glories of the fallen people.  And in this their hour of desolation, there appeared a Man, Who claimed to unite in Himself the qualities, with which the tongues of prophets had gifted the Messiah Who was to come.  He had gone among the people, and had confirmed His claims by stupendous miracles.  He had made the blind to see and the dumb to speak, and more than once His voice had pierced beyond the barriers of the tomb, had pierced unlistening ears, and quickened hearts whose throbbing death had stopped, men thought, forever.  But-blind, they saw not – deaf, they did not hear, and the people whom He had come to save, fastened Him to a cross.  But His doctrine died not with Him; He had sown the little seed that was one day to grow into a mighty tree, under whose branches the world’s weary hearts were to find repose.  And now, my brethren, behold the solemn spectacle: twelve men, poor in the world’s riches, unskilled in the world’s learning, go forth to conquer the world.  Surely, my brethren, the success that would come from such a mission, must be a success that comes from God.  And now commenced that long struggle, between the world and the Cross that will only end when the Cross is borne by angels, before the victorious Judge of the living and the dead.  Men began to feel that there was abroad a mysterious influence which they could not understand.  The new doctrines, strong with the might of truth and attractive by their intrinsic beauty, won upon the hearts of men.  They stole upon the world like strains of half-forgotten music, and wakened echoes that all the world’s voices could not stifle.  It made its proselytes in the corrupt city that ruled the world; voices from the catacombs sounded in the chambers of pagan palaces, and heats that had been steeped in worldliness, recognized their teaching as divine.  And, oh! my brethren, how could it be otherwise.  They had drained the cup of pleasure to the dregs, and had found it very bitter; they had felt their weary hearts turn with half despair, to a vague something that might satisfy its cravings, but hitherto they found it not.  And here was presented to them a teaching, which surpassed in sublimity the teaching of the wisest, and a morality, purer and less earthly than pagan sage had ever dreamed in his hour of the most austere wisdom.  Here they found the mystery of life explained, and the darkness cleared away, that had shrouded the world’s destiny.  Here they found an object worthy of immortal spirits, and a means to satisfy the cravings of their weary hearts.  But, my brethren, the new religion made its way not without a struggle.  For centuries, a cloud of persecution hung over the Church, and her children were baptized in blood.  For centuries, the throne of Peter was the surest passage to the martyr’s grave, and the mitered fronts of the Church’s sainted prelates became the mark for the tyrant’s deadliest vengeance.  Surely, my brethren, truth has the inalienable right to penetrate into any empire, without paying the tribute of blood.  But God designed, in the early stages of the Cross’s progress, to show that those who marched beneath that sacred standard, could give their lives for the cause which they upheld.  He determined that, for three centuries Peter and his successors – for, in that time, but two popes died quietly in their beds – should give their blood to seal their testimony, and make the infant Church independent, with the independence that comes of utter fearlessness of death.  And, not in vain was the copious blood shedding of the martyred followers of the Cross.  It produced fruit a thousand fold, and, one day, when, by all the calculations of human prudence, the event seemed most unlikely, it came like a thunderclap on the ears of men, that the ruler of the world, who swayed the scepter of the Caesars, had given in his adherence to the persecuted creed.

 

     2. The tombs of those whom their predecessors had slain, and the diadem of the world’s masters, lay humbled in the dust of buries saints.  Freed from the lengthened persecution of the past, the Church began to perfect her organization.  The voices of her doctors were eloquent in the explanation of her dogmas, and the harmonious teaching of her councils silenced the swelling voices of heresy.  The Cross went onward through the world, conquering and to conquer.  Kingdom after kingdom was added to the fold of Christ.  The Church took up what civilization she found, and left a mark on it, which even her deadliest enemies must acknowledge to be ineffaceable.  She took the rough barbarians who were laying Europe desolate, and she molded them into a Christian people, with a strong hand and a determined purpose.  North and south, and east and west, her footsteps passed, with a music like the tramp of armies, and a power that could come only from the God of Battles.  She has seen kingdom after kingdom rise, and rule, and perish, and yet she grows not old; she has seen histories begun and finished, and yet she has not failed; she has fixed her capital among the tombs of persecutors, and, from the crumbled monuments of the faded glory of the buried Caesars, the voice of one old man, seated on the throne of the first pope, who, in the old time, came to Rome to be crucified, can speak with mystic power, to the hearts and consciences of millions.

 

     3.  But doom shall ring through the dead world; when the assembled sons of Adam shall stand, with various feelings, waiting to be judged, then, there shall be a growing brightness in the distant east, and, borne by hosts of angels, the standard of the Cross will herald the approach of Him, to Whom it has been given to judge the living and the dead.  That will be the hour when the Cross shall be vindicated against the sneers of those who deemed it folly, and the cold neglect of those who treated it with indifference.  And, when the judgment shall be passed and done; when the blessed promise of eternal joy shall have thrilled the gladdened hearts of those who have fought and conquered; when the sentence of eternal reprobation shall ring like a knell that will sound forever and forever in the ears of the accursed; the victorious Cross will be carried back amid the canticles of the elect, and shall gladden their eyes, for all eternity, in the kingdom they have won.  And, Oh! my brethren, what shall be our part in that dreadful day?  Shall the Cross bring joy to us, or shall it bring despair?  Ah! My brethren, let us see to it in time.  It depends upon our conduct here, whether we shall look with gladness or with dread on the emblem of our salvation.  We may delude ourselves for a little while, we may sink into neglectful slumber, and purchase at the fearful peace that comes of want of thought.  But, one day there shall come an awakening, and then, there can be peace no more.  There are some sad awakenings even in this world.  It is sad to dream at night of vanished joys – to feel the pressure of hands that have long mouldered into dust – to hear the sound of voices that are still, and to seem to see again the shadowy forms of the loved and lost, and, then to wake, and find it but a dream.  It is sad for the poor criminal, on the night before his execution, to dream of the home of his childhood; to seem to lisp again his childish prayers, at the knees of the mother whom his crimes have killed; to seem to live again in the days when his heart was innocent; and then, to be awakened by the knell that tolls away the scanty remnant of his life.  But, oh! my brethren, what are awakenings such as these, to that of the self-deluding sinner, whose dream of forgetfulness is broken by a summons to judgment?

 

But, brethren, with all the triumphs of the Cross there is one name inseparably linked – it is the name of Mary.  As she was appointed the earthly guardian of the Savior, so, it would seem, has she been appointed the guardian of His Church.  That name in every age has been a tower of strength.  It sounded in the early councils above the din of faction, and heresy could not stand before its mystic power.  As she stood, with all a mother’s watchfulness, beside the cradle of the Incarnate God, so has she stood since, jealously guarding the mystery of the Incarnation.  As she stood beneath the Cross amid the shadows of Calvary, so has she stood beneath it ever in its hour of trial and its hour of triumph.  In every age she has had her special mission to conquer heresy, and to battle with the evils of the time.  And, in our own days, when the spirit of the age was a spirit of growing indifference, when, by a seeming liberality which was the caricature of Christian charity, which Satan preached to his followers, men began to think lightly of sin, then Mary came as the champion of truth; and, by the definition of the Immaculate Conception, the enormity of sin was made manifest by the fact that, the most glorious privilege that God bestowed upon the mother of His Son was, that she should be conceived without a stain.  If, then, we wish – as who would not wish – to fight upon the side of the Cross, we must take our part with Mary.  We cannot go to Jesus but through her; where the Son is, there also is the mother.  Let us, then, in this month, which the instinct of filial affection has consecrated to her honor, let us seek her aid and invoke her patronage; let us ask her to enlist us, under her special patronage, in the arm of the Cross.  And then, when the angel’s trumpet shall have quickened the dead world – when the standard of the Cross shall be borne aloft by angels – her eyes of mercy will dispel the terrors of the judgment, and, anticipating the solemn sentence of the Judge, will tell us that it is well with us for ever.  Amen.