The Ladder of St Augustine
Saint Augustine! well hast thou said,
That of our vices we can frame
A ladder, if we will but tread
Beneath our feet each deed of shame!
All common things, each day’s events,
That with the hour begin and end,
Our pleasures and our discontents,
Are rounds by which we may ascend.
The low desire, the base design,
That makes another’s virtues less;
The revel of the ruddy wine,
And all occasions of excess;
The longing for ignoble things;
The strife for triumph more than truth;
The hardening of the heart, that brings
Irreverence for the dreams of youth;
All thoughts of ill; all evil deeds,
That have their root in thoughts of ill;
Whatever hinders or impedes
The action of the nobler will; --
All these must first be trampled down
Beneath our feet, if we would gain
In the bright fields of fair renown
The right of eminent domain.
We have not wings, we cannot soar;
But we have feet to scale and climb
By slow degrees, by more and more,
The cloudy summits of our time.
The mighty pyramids of stone
That wedge-like cleave the desert airs,
When nearer seen, and better known,
Are but gigantic flights of stairs.
The distant mountains, that uprear
Their solid bastions to the skies,
Are crossed by pathways, that appear
As we to higher levels rise.
The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.
Standing on what too long we bore
With shoulders bent and downcast eyes,
We may discern — unseen before --
A path to higher destinies,
Nor deem the irrevocable Past
As wholly wasted, wholly vain,
If, rising on its wrecks, at last
To something nobler we attain.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807-1882
O merciful Lord, who didst turn Saint Augustine from his sins to be a faithful Bishop and teacher: grant that we may follow him in penitence and godly discipline; till our restless hearts find their rest in thee; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
At the Cross thy station keeping
With the mournful Mother weeping,
Thou, unto the sinless Son,
Weepest for thy sinful one.
Blood and water from His side
Gush; in thee the streams divide:
From thine eyes the one doth start,
But the other from thy heart.
Mary, for thy sinner, see,
To her Sinless mourns with thee:
Could that Son the son not heed,
For whom two such mothers plead?
So thy child had baptism twice,
And the whitest from thine eyes.
The floods lift up, lift up their voice,
With a many-watered noise!
Down the centuries fall those sweet
Sobbing waters to our feet,
And our laden air still keeps
Murmur of a Saint that weeps.
Teach us but, to grace our prayers,
Such divinity of tears,--
Earth should be lustrate again
With contrition of that rain:
Till celestial floods o’er-rise
The high tops of Paradise.
Francis Thompson, 1859-1907
O God, who art the Comforter of them that mourn, and the Salvation of them that hope in thee, who didst graciously regard the tearful pleading of blessed Monica for the conversion of her son Augustine: grant, we beseech thee, at their united intercession; that we may truly lament our sins and be made worthy to obtain thy gracious pardon; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
They laid her down, all woman-hood’s crown, with holy Mass and prayer,
And they carved the sign of the Cross divine above her with loving care,
They deemed she would lie till the trumpet-cry should waken the dead from gloom;
But He Who in fight had quelled death’s might, hath opened His Mother’s tomb.
The body fair hath passed away from out that hallowed ground,
And roses bloom where Mary lay, and lilies spring around:
The winding-sheet which wrapped her feet no longer holds the dead,
And useless lies the wimple white which bound the Virgin’s head.
Yet not for her a robe of gold with broidered art is meet;
Christ clothes her with the radiant sun, the moon is at her feet;
A crown of beamy stars is set upon her maiden brow;
Her soul doth magnify the Lord, high is the lowly now!
Richard Frederick Littledale, 1833-1890
There was silence in heaven, as if for half an hour -
Isaiah’s coals of wonder sealed the lips
Of Seraph, Principality and Power,
Of all the nine angelic fellowships.
The archangels, those sheer intelligences,
Were silent, with their eyes on heaven’s door.
So must our fancy dower them with senses,
Make them incarnate in a metaphor.
There was silence in heaven as Mary entered in,
For even Gabriel had not foreseen
The glory of a soul immune from sin
Throned in the body of the angels’ Queen.
Blessed be God and Mary in whose womb
Was woven God’s incredible disguise.
She gave Our Lord His Body. In the tomb
He gave her hers again and bade her rise.
Bright from death’s slumber she arose, the flush
Of a chaste joy illumining her cheeks;
Among the motherless in heaven there was a hush
To hear the way a mother laughs and speaks.
Eye had not seen, nor ear of angel heard,
Nor heart conceived - until Our Lady’s death -
What God for those that love Him had prepared
When heaven’s synonym was Nazareth!
Her beauty opened slowly like a flower,
Beauty to them eternally bequeathed.
There was silence in heaven; as if for half an hour
No angel breathed.
Alfred Barrett, 1906-1985
Almighty and everlasting God, who didst assume the Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of thy Son, body and soul to the glory of heaven: grant us, we beseech thee; that being ever intent on things above, we may be worthy to be partakers of her glory hereafter; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen. – Divine Worship: The Missal.
Martha her love and joy expressed
By care to entertain her guest;
While Mary sat to hear her Lord,
And could not bear to lose a word.
The principle in both the same,
Produced in each a different aim;
The one to feast the Lord was led,
The other waited to be fed.
But Mary chose the better part,
Her Saviour’s words refreshed her heart;
While busy Martha angry grew,
And lost her time and temper too.
With warmth she to her sister spoke,
But brought upon herself rebuke;
One thing is needful, and but one,
Why do thy thoughts on many run?
How oft are we like Martha vexed,
Encumbered, hurried, and perplexed!
While trifles so engross our thought,
The one thing needful is forgot.
Lord teach us this one thing to choose,
Which they who gain can never lose;
Sufficient in itself alone,
And needful, were the world our own.
Let grovelling hearts the world admire,
Thy love is all that I require!
Gladly I may the rest resign,
If the one needful thing be mine!
John Newton, 1725-1807
Almighty and most merciful God, whose Son did vouchsafe to be welcomed in the home of blessed Martha: grant, we beseech thee, by the merits of her who lovingly served him; that we of thy mercy may be received into our heavenly home; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Hail Sacred James; in Graces so Compleat,
That the whole Church gave Thee, the stile of Great,
Yet, till in Him, the Spirit did Reside,
Hee felt the Stormes of Dire Revenge, and Pride;
So much did Passion Him, and John Inflame,
That Christ did Both, the Sons of Thunder Name.
They in Their Mothers Proud Suite did Partake,
And twixt th’ Apostles, the First strife did make.
When a Samarian Village did Refuse
To Lodge Him, and the Rest, Since They were Jews,
Had His Pow’r Equall been, to His Desire,
Hee had, Like Sodome, Ruin’d it with Fire.
Such darken’d Frailty does to men Belong,
Till Grace Enlightens Them, and makes them Strong.
He Could not See, till Christ the Vaile did Draw,
How mild the Gospell is, above the Law.
These Crimes, the Sacred Scripture does Relate,
After His Call to the Apostolate:
To shew, That in the Church the Loftiest Place,
Will not Restrain, Since nothing can, but Grace,
But Christ, who what He would bee, did Foreknow,
(Since Hee who makes us doe, Knows what wee’ll Doe)
And who did Goodnes more, then Kinred Rate,
Did Choose Him, one of his Triumvirate,
While Those, who nearer were to Him Ally’d,
To share in that vast Honour, were Deny’d.
But He, and John, JESU’S First call obey’d
Leaving their Home, Their Father, and Their Trade.
Which proves, Those are unworthy of Christs Call
Who to obey it, will not give up all.
Peter, and these great Brothers, were made Blest,
With Favours not Extended to the Rest.
Twas These Three only, Jesus with Him Lead,
When He Rais’d Jairus Daughter from the Dead.
These on Mount Tabor saw the Glorious Three,
The Greatest sight, next to the Trinity.
And onely They, the Griev’d Spectators stood,
When on the Mount Hee sweat great Drops of Blood.
After Our Lords Ascention first of All,
Hee taught the Jews, disperst at Stephens Fall.
Then spread the Faith, (if Elder Times say True)
...And, to His Pious Life Due Rev’rence Pay,
When in the west Saint James much time had spent,
Back to Jerusalem again he went.
Herod Agrippa, by Decree of Rome
To the Judaick Empire being Come,
That Slavish Fawning to His Countrey brought,
Which Hee, under Caligula, was Taught;
Tho, Hee in the Jews Paths did strictly Tread,
Yet Hee, Romes Emperour a God Decreed.
By this, the Tyrant Hee did hope to gain,
And then, to wash off that Blasphemous Stain,
The Christian Church Hee did with Fury wast,
And Our Apostle into Prison Cast.
The Jews extolling this, Hee did proceed,
And his Sin Finish’d, Cutting off his Head.
How Frantick are th’ Idolators of Fame?
Who fell their Soules in hope to buy a Name.
At our Saints Death, such Charming Truths Hee said,
That Hee, his Keeper a Blest Martyr, made.
Nothing can to the Spirit give Restraint,
One moment turn’d a Goaler, to a Saint.
Of All th’ Illustrious Twelve, the Sacred Word
Does only Our Saints Martyrdome Record.
Angells to Heav’n His Blessed Spirit Bear,
And then, an Angell struck His Murtherer.
Cesarea saw Him, whom They did Admire,
And call a God, under God’s wrath expire.
But All Spaines Empire Judge, that They are Blest,
Thinking His Bones at Compostella Rest.
Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery, 1621-1679
Dear, beauteous Saint! more white then day,
When in his naked, pure array;
Fresher then morning-flowers which shew
As thou in tears dost, best in dew.
How art thou chang’d! how lively-fair,
Pleasing and innocent an air,
Not tutor’d by thy glass, but free,
Native and pure shines now in thee!
But since thy beauty doth still keep
Bloomy and fresh, why dost thou weep?
This dusky state of sighs and tears
Durst not look on those smiling years,
When Magdal-castle was thy seat,
Where all was sumptuous, rare and neat
Why lies this Hair despised now
Which once thy care and art did show?
Who then did dress the much lov’d toy,
In Spires, Globes, angry Curls and coy,
Which with skill’d negligence seem’d shed
About thy curious, wilde, yong head?
Why is this rich, this Pistic Nard
Spilt, and the box quite broke and marr’d?
What pretty sullenness did hast
Thy easie hands to do this waste?
Why art thou humbled thus, and low
As earth, thy lovely head dost bow?
Dear Soul! thou knew’st, flowers here on earth
At their Lords foot-stool have their birth;
Therefore thy wither'd self in haste
Beneath his blest feet thou didst cast,
That at the root of this green tree
Thy great decays restor’d might be.
Thy curious vanities and rare;
Odorous ointments kept with care,
And dearly bought, (when thou didst see
They could not cure, nor comfort thee,)
Like a wise, early Penitent
Thou sadly didst to him present,
Whose interceding, meek and calm
Blood, is the worlds all-healing Balm
This, this Divine Restorative
Call’d forth thy tears, which ran in live
And hasty drops, as if they had
(Their Lord so near) sense to be glad
Learn, Ladies , here the faithful cure
Makes beauty lasting, fresh and pure;
Learn Marys art of tears, and then
Say, You have got the day from men .
Cheap, mighty Art! her Art of love,
Who lov’d much and much more could move;
Her Art! whose memory must last
Till truth through all the world be past,
Till his abus’d, despised flame
Return to Heaven, from whence it came,
And send a fire down, that shall bring
Destruction on his ruddy wing.
Her Art! whose pensive, weeping eyes,
Were once sins loose and tempting spies,
But now are fixed stars, whose light
Helps such dark straglers to their sight.
Self-boasting Pharisee ! how blinde
A Judge wert thou, and how unkinde?
It was impossible, that thou
Who wert all false, should’st true grief know;
Is’t just to judge her faithful tears
By that foul rheum thy false eye wears?
This Woman (say’st thou) is a sinner:
And sate there none such at thy dinner?
Go Leper, go; wash till thy flesh
Comes like a childes, spotless and fresh;
He is still leprous, that still paints:
Who Saint themselves, they are no Saints.
Henry Vaughan, 1621-1695
O Almighty God, whose blessed Son did call and sanctify Mary Magdalene to be a witness to his Resurrection: mercifully grant that by thy grace, and assisted by her prayers, we may be healed of all our infirmities, and always serve thee in the power of his endless life; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
The Paschal feast was ended. Multitudes,
Unweeting what was done, that day had left
The gates of Zion for their far-off homes;
And there was silence, where but yesterday
Had been the hum of thousands. Olivet
Slept calmly underneath the waning moon,
And darkening shadows fell across the steeps
And hollows of Jerusalem. Deep night
Had drench’d the eyes of thousands. But, behold,
Within the upper room where Jesus broke
The bread of life, and pour’d the mystic wine
The night before He suffer’d, once again
The little band of those who loved Him most
Were gather’d. On the morrow morn they thought
To leave the holy city, holier now
Than ever in their eyes, and go to meet
Their Lord upon the Galilean hill.
All bosoms swell’d with gladness, all save one;
One heart amid that group of light and love
Was desolate and dark: nine weary days
Of doubt, which shado’d all eternity,
Had written years of suffering on his brow.
The worst he fear’d to him was realised,
Life quench’d, for ever quench’d, and death supreme.
Jesus was dead. And vainly others told,
How they had seen and heard their risen Lord;
Himself had seen the lifeless body hang
Upon the cross; and, till he saw like them
And like them touch’d the prints in hands and side,
He would not, for he could not, hope again.
But there has been enough of sorrow now
For that true mourner, sorely tried but true:
And as they communed of an absent Lord
Jesus was there, though doors were shut and barr’d,
There in the midst of them; and from His lips,
Who is Himself our Peace, the words of peace
Fell as of old like dew on every heart,
But surely sweetest, calmest, tenderest
On one most torn and tost. The waves were still;
Day broke; the shadows fled: nor this alone,
Love offer’d all which bitterest grief had ask’d,
And laying bare the inly bleeding wound
Heal’d it, which haply else had bled afresh
In after years, till faith adoring claim’d
In One, whom sense no longer sought to touch,
The Lord of life, the everlasting God.
O Master, though our eyes have never look’d
Upon Thy blessèd face and glorious form,
Grant us to trust Thee with a perfect trust,
And love Thee and rejoice in Thee unseen,
And prove the heaven of Thy beatitude
On those who, though they see Thee not, believe.
Edward Bickersteth, 1825-1906
(Bishop of Exeter, 1885-1900)
Almighty and everliving God, who for the greater confirmation of the faith didst suffer thy holy Apostle Thomas to be doubtful in thy Son’s Resurrection: grant us so perfectly, and without all doubt, to believe in thy Son Jesus Christ; that our faith in thy sight may never be reproved; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. – Divine Worship: The Missal.
The gleaming river glides between
Broad meadows glad with gold and green;
Radiant with light and rapturous with song
June’s shining hours pass along;
And, plucking flowers, moves her following throng.
A thrush sits singing on a willow bough,
Which bends to meet the murmurous water’s flow
That makes a soft accompaniment while he sings,
And every trembling lead with his glad rapture rings.
Ah, is Time’s pageant, passing day by day,
This change from grey to green, from gold to grey,
This sighing, singing circle of the year,
A rather long procession ending here
And never really leading anywhere?
Ah, no! Life’s river seeks the sea of God;
Life’s sin may find the cleansing of His blood.
Not only wisdom made the world so fair,
But Love, Who, sparing others, did not spare
Himself the cruel Cross, if He might lead
To living waters and green pastures there.
Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
Listen sweet Dove unto my song,
And spread thy golden wings in me;
Hatching my tender heart so long,
Till it get wing, and fly away with thee.
Where is that fire which once descended
On thy Apostles? thou didst then
Keep open house, richly attended,
Feasting all comers by twelve chosen men.
Such glorious gifts thou didst bestow,
That th’earth did like a heav’n appear;
The stars were coming down to know
If they might mend their wages, and serve here.
The sun which once did shine alone,
Hung down his head, and wisht for night,
When he beheld twelve suns for one
Going about the world, and giving light.
But since those pipes of gold, which brought
That cordial water to our ground,
Were cut and martyr’d by the fault
Of those, who did themselves through their side wound,
Thou shutt’st the door, and keep’st within;
Scarce a good joy creeps through the chink:
And if the braves of conqu’ring sin
Did not excite thee, we should wholly sink.
Lord, though we change, thou art the same;
The same sweet God of love and light:
Restore this day, for thy great name,
Unto his ancient and miraculous right.
George Herbert, 1593-1633
The white dove cooeth in her downy nest,
Keeping her young ones warm beneath her breast:
The white moon saileth thro’ the cool clear sky,
Screened by a tender mist in passing by:
The white rose buds, with thorns upon its stem,
All the more precious and more dear for them:
The stream shines silver in the tufted grass,
The white clouds scarcely dim it as they pass:
Deep in the valleys lily cups are white,
They send up incense all the holy night:
Our souls are white, made clean in Blood once shed:
White blessed Angels watch around our bed: —
O spotless Lamb of God, still keep us so,
Thou Who wert born for us in time of snow.
Christina Rossetti, 1830-1894
Once more I hear the everlasting sea
Breathing beneath the mountain’s fragrant breast,
Come unto Me, come unto Me,
And I will give you rest.
We have destroyed the Temple and in three days
He hath rebuilt it – all things are made new:
And hark what wild throats pour His praise
Beneath the boundless blue.
We plucked down all His altars, cried aloud
And gashed ourselves for little gods of clay!
Yon floating cloud was but a cloud,
The May no more than May.
We plucked down all His altars, left not one
Save where, perchance (and ah, the joy was fleet),
We laid our garlands in the sun
At the white Sea-born’s feet.
We plucked down all His altars, not to make
The small praise greater, but the great praise less,
We sealed all fountains where the soul could slake
Its thirst and weariness.
‘Love’ was too small, too human to be found
In that transcendent source whence love was born:
We talked of ‘forces’: heaven was crowned
With philosophic thorn.
‘Your God is in your image’, we cried, but O,
’Twas only man's own deepest heart ye gave,
Knowing that He transcended all ye know,
While – we dug His grave.
Denied Him even the crown on our own brow,
E’en these poor symbols of His loftier reign,
Levelled His Temple with the dust, and now
He is risen, He is risen again,
Risen, like this resurrection of the year,
This grand ascension of the choral spring,
Which those harp-crowded heavens bend to hear
And meet upon the wing.
‘He is dead’, we cried, and even amid that gloom
The wintry veil was rent! The new-born day
Showed us the Angel seated in the tomb
And the stone rolled away.
It is the hour! We challenge heaven above
Now, to deny our slight ephemeral breath
Joy, anguish, and that everlasting love
Which triumphs over death.
Alfred Noyes CBE, 1880-1958
A Better Resurrection
I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numb’d too much for hopes or fears;
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimm’d with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.
My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall—the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.
My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish’d thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.
Christina Rossetti, 1830-1894
A delayed (on account of the Easter Octave), but nonetheless blessed Saint George’s Day! A solemnity here in England, St George is also held in high honour in Canada. The Cross of St George was raised by John Cabot in Newfoundland in 1497, during the reign of Henry VII, thus earning its contemporary residents (and those in Labrador also) a provincial holiday! Today St George’s Cross features on four provincial flags, as well as within the Royal Union Flag. So in tribute to my former home of Alberta, here’s a poem in honour of the saint and his English settlers in the True North.
St George that savest England,
Save us who still must go
Where leads thy cross of scarlet
Upon its field of snow.
Beyond the life of cities,
Distractions and dismays,
Where mountain shadows measure
The passing of the days.
Among the lonely snow-peaks
Where golden morning shines,
Stands thy undaunted outpost
Among the lodge-pole pines–
A little stone-built chapel
As modest as can be,
Touched with a loving glory,
To house thy God and thee.
Here, where majestic beauty
And inspiration bide,
Be thou, to make us worthy,
Our counsellor and guide.
Be with us, Soul of England,
Where the last trail puts forth,
To keep unsoiled forever
The honour of the North.
St George’s in the Pines
Bliss Carman FRSC, 1861-1929
Seven Stanzas at Easter
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that-pierced-died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
John Updike, 1932-2009
Almighty Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification: grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness; that we may always serve thee in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for Low Sunday, Divine Worship: The Missal.
Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
O let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.
My tender age in sorrow did beginne
And still with sicknesses and shame.
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Let me combine,
And feel thy victorie:
For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.
George Herbert, 1593-1633
Break the box and shed the nard;
Stop not now to count the cost;
Hither bring pearl, opal, sard;
Reck not what the poor have lost;
Upon Christ throw all away:
Know ye, this is Easter Day.
Build His church and deck His shrine,
Empty though it be on earth;
Ye have kept your choicest wine--
Let it flow for heavenly mirth;
Pluck the harp and breathe the horn:
Know ye not ’tis Easter morn?
Gather gladness from the skies;
Take a lesson from the ground;
Flowers do ope their heavenward eyes
And a Spring-time joy have found;
Earth throws Winter’s robes away,
Decks herself for Easter Day.
Beauty now for ashes wear,
Perfumes for the garb of woe,
Chaplets for dishevelled hair,
Dances for sad footsteps slow;
Open wide your hearts that they
Let in joy this Easter Day.
Seek God’s house in happy throng;
Crowded let His table be;
Mingle praises, prayer, and song,
Singing to the Trinity.
Henceforth let your souls always
Make each morn an Easter Day.
Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ, 1844-1889
In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopped my wild career.
I saw one hanging on a tree,
In agonies and blood,
Who fixed His languid eyes on me,
As near his cross I stood.
Sure, never to my latest breath,
Can I forget that look;
It seemed to charge me with his death,
Though not a word he spoke.
My conscience felt and owned the guilt,
And plunged me in despair,
I saw my sins his blood had spilt,
And helped to nail him there.
Alas! I knew not what I did:
But now my tears are vain;
Where shall my trembling soul be hid?
For I the Lord have slain.
A second look he gave, which said,
‘I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid;
I die that thou mayst live’.
Thus while his death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue;
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.
With pleasing grief and mournful joy,
My spirit now is filled,
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by him I killed.
John Newton, 1725-1807
O what a cunning guest
Is this same grief! within my heart I made
Closets; and in them many a chest;
And, like a master in my trade,
In those chests, boxes; in each box, a till:
Yet grief knows all, and enters when he will.
No screw, no piercer can
Into a piece of timber work and wind,
As God’s afflictions into man,
When he a torture hath designed.
They are too subtle for the subtlest hearts;
And fall, like rheums, upon the tend’rest parts.
We are the earth; and they,
Like moles within us, heave, and cast about:
And till they foot and clutch their prey,
They never cool, much less give out.
No smith can make such locks but they have keys:
Closets are halls to them; and hearts, high-ways.
Only an open breast
Doth shut them out, so that they cannot enter;
Or, if they enter, cannot rest,
But quickly seek some new adventure.
Smooth open hearts no fast’ning have; but fiction
Doth give a hold and handle to affliction.
Wherefore my faults and sins,
Lord, I acknowledge; take thy plagues away:
For since confession pardon wins,
I challenge here the brightest day,
The clearest diamond: let them do their best,
They shall be thick and cloudy to my breast.
George Herbert, 1593-1633
It was from Joseph first I learned
of love. Like me he was dismayed.
How easily he could have turned
me from his house; but, unafraid,
he put me not away from him
(O God-sent angel, pray for him).
Thus through his love was Love obeyed.
The Child’s first cry came like a bell:
God’s Word aloud, God’s Word in deed.
The angel spoke: so it befell,
and Joseph with me in my need.
O Child whose father came from heaven,
to you another gift was given,
your earthly father chosen well.
With Joseph I was always warmed
and cherished. Even in the stable
I knew that I would not be harmed.
And, though above the angels swarmed,
man’s love it was that made me able
to bear God’s love, wild, formidable,
to bear God’s will, through me performed.
‘O Sapientia’ by Madeleine L’Engle, 1918-2007
O God, who from the house of thy servant David didst raise up Saint Joseph to be the guardian of thine incarnate Son, and spouse of his Virgin Mother: give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to thy commands; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. – Divine Worship: The Missal.
Robert Herrick, 1591-1674
One step more, and the race is ended;
One word more, and the lesson’s done;
One toil more, and a long rest follows
At set of sun.
Who would fail, for one step withholden?
Who would fail, for one word unsaid?
Who would fail, for a pause too early?
Sound sleep the dead.
One step more, and the goal receives us;
One word more, and life’s task is done;
One toil more, and the Cross is carried
And sets the sun.
Christina Rossetti, 1830-1894
Rossetti’s poem is based on the traditional Epistle, found in the Book of Common Prayer and the Extraordinary Form, appointed for Septuagesima from 1 Corinthians 9:24-27: ‘Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things: now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a cast-away’.
Septuagesima – seventy days
To Easter’s primrose tide of praise;
The Gesimas – Septua, Sexa, Quinc
Mean Lent is near, which makes you think.
Septuagesima – when we’re told
To ‘run the race’, to ‘keep our hold’,
Ignore injustice, not give in,
And practise stern self-discipline;
A somewhat unattractive time
Which hardly lends itself to rhyme.
But still it gives the chance to me
To praise our dear old C. of E.
So other Churches please forgive
Lines on the Church in which I live,
The Church of England of my birth,
The kindest Church to me on earth.
There may be those who like things fully
Argued out, and call you ‘woolly’;
Ignoring Creeds and Catechism
They say the C of E’s ‘in schism’.
There may be those who much resent
Priest, Liturgy, and Sacrament,
Whose worship is what they call ‘free’,
Well, let them be so, but for me
There’s refuge in the C of E.
And when it comes that I must die
I hope the Vicar’s standing by,
I won’t care if he’s ‘Low’ or ‘High’
For he’ll be there to aid my soul
On that dread journey to its goal,
With Sacrament and prayer and Blessing
After I’ve done my last confessing.
And at that time may I receive
The Grace most firmly to believe,
For if the Christian’s Faith’s untrue
What is the point of me and you?
But this is all anticipating
Septuagesima – time of waiting,
Running the race or holding fast.
Let’s praise the man who goes to light
The church stove on an icy night.
Let’s praise that hard-worked he or she
The Treasurer of the PCC.
Let’s praise the cleaner of the aisles,
The nave and candlesticks and tiles.
Let’s praise the organist who tries
To make the choir increase in size,
Or if that simply cannot be,
Just to improve its quality.
Let’s praise the ringers in the tower
Who come to ring in cold and shower.
But most of all let’s praise the few
Who are seen in their accustomed pew
Throughout the year, whate’er the weather,
That they may worship God together.
These, like a fire of glowing coals,
Strike warmth into each other’s souls,
And though they be but two or three
They keep the Church for you and me.
Sir John Betjeman CBE, 1906-1984
Fr Lee Kenyon
A Treasure to be Shared
The Acolyte’s Toolbox