St Mary’s Chapel, Nashotah House Theological Seminary
O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of thy people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calleth us each by name, and follow where he doth lead; who, with thee and the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.
May the words of my lips and the thoughts and meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength, and our redeemer. Amen.
If ever there is a time to preach a perfect sermon at Nashotah House, it would be the senior sermon.It is the culmination of your time here in this place. An opportunity to share the best insights you’ve learned in your time here. The trouble with preaching a perfect sermon is that different students have different criteria for what that means.
For one student here, the inclusion of the word ‘sandwich’ makes a sermon complete. For another, using no more than half the time Father Pryor has allotted you at the pulpit. For many juniors, any sermon you preach where no feedback is received would seem to be perfect. For others, a good glower is key.
It’s hard to do all of that in five minutes, so maybe rather than technique, the ‘perfect’ sermon must instead focus on what we have in common: what brings us all to this chapel today.
Each of us has matriculated here at Nashotah. Matriculation sermons are a summary of our common purpose here. This year, Dr Anderson exhorted us to that purpose saying:
“You are enlisting in the cause for which Christ died and on behalf of which [the] Archangel Michael is battling still – ‘rank on rank the host of heaven spreads its vanguard on its way.’ This only looks like a seminary; it is actually – if you’ll forgive me – a war college. If you bristle at that militaristic image, you should, because “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). And we contend not against people, but for them, following a slain lamb into battle, bearing reproach exchanging it for wholeness.”
Each of us here has signed up for that mission.
As Dr Anderson highlighted, our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil. Yet, those dark forces impact the fight in this world. They deceive. They distort. They defile. They take the name of Jesus and ask every Christian, “Did Jesus really say that?” We are called to stand up and say, “Yes. He did.”
This senior class has broad theological diversity, but each of us remains called to stand up for Christ, and each of us will no doubt face opposition for doing so. For different reasons, we will face opposition, revulsion, and mockery.
For holding to traditional Catholic teachings on matters of the sacraments,
ethics, poverty, and other Christian doctrines, Christians are labelled variously as misogynists, homophobes, regressive, reactionaries, science-deniers, socialists, and
a range of other petty insults.
As Jesus said in our Gospel, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man!” We face those insults because we challenge the established groupthink of society. We challenge what is viewed as right. We face those insults because we shine the light of truth on a society that has been deceived, distorted, and defiled.
Some seventy years ago, the then Princess Elizabeth said, we have been “commissioned to be witnesses to the truth of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. A witness is one who speaks of that which he knows about first hand. We need to have such a knowledge of our faith that we can be bold in our witness and adventurous in our living… We know that we shall probably be in a minority whereever we are. We know we shall have to face insecurity, opposition, and perhaps danger, for the confession of our faith. But the Christian Church has always prospered in adversity, and we must certainly never be afraid.”
Our task goes further. In the ordination of a Priest in Canada, the ordinand is traditionally asked, “Will you be ready, with all faithful diligence, to drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word; and to use both public and private monitions and exhortations, as well as to the sick as to the whole, within your cures, as need shall require, and occasion shall be given?”
Our job is not simply to speak the truth of Christ to the people in our pews when we preach; we are actively to correct and challenge those who speak falsely.
In answering whether we will do this, the liturgical response can be adjusted slightly: “I will, Nashotah having taught me the ways of Christ; and the Lord himself being my helper.”
Several recent sermons have made the statement that we graduating seniors are not ready for ministry. That is true. We all know, though, that we do not minister alone. We minister on behalf of and with him whom we have come to know more deeply here at Nashotah. The one who leads us in all things.
Nashotah is a place in which our hands have been trained for war. Not a war against culture, but a war for Christ, and against the powers of darkness. We have been trained in what it means to show forth the light of Christ into the darkness of this world. This training has involved not just learning theology, but also of learning Christ himself.
We have spent countless hours in prayer to Christ, received his most precious Body and Blood, and have adored him. We have been strengthened for the task we are to be called to, drawing deeply from a well of grace given by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
It is not sentimentality that has us respond that we will be able to follow this charge because the Lord is our helper. Christ himself comes alongside us to empower our ministry by God’s grace. Our preparation here has involved breaking us down, and
stretching us beyond our own capacities, so that we may learn the necessity and
practice of relying on God’s grace.
He knew we would be reviled for his sake. That should not surprise us.
But we must take comfort that we are members of Christ’s Church, which cannot be overcome by the powers of Hell.
How can Satan deceive us, when we are led by Truth himself?
How can darkness overcome us, when we are led by Light himself.
We are trained for the mission ahead.
Following Christ into battle, we shall ever sing again, the strife is o’er, the victory won.