Father Ronald Knox, c. 1928, National Portrait Gallery
In spite of tremendous academic and literary achievements, Mgsr. Knox is best known and loved as a preacher. He delivered sermons from the most famous pulpits in England, was frequently heard on the radio and travelled all over the country to give retreats. Msgr.Knox's profound knowledge of Scripture, elegant style, poignant wit, and tender heart make his sermons still relevant and enjoyable today.
"For [Msgr.Knox] the platitudes of the textbooks were living realities, because they referred to living men and women, genuine human situations. So, too, is it with his sense of the priesthood. Because he was aware of the tremendous wealth at the disposal of Christ's priests, he was not less conscious, partly out of his own self-examination, partly out of his personal friendships with so many priests of every kind, that we do indeed keep this wealth in frail vessels. Aware of all this, he used the countless oportunities that came his way in the many retreats to priests he was invited to give, not to exaggerate a burden but to help to a response to a challenge, not to depress but to console, not to criticize but to inspire...No wonder they found in him stimulus and consolation; no wonder they loved him...They were proud of him; they were glad that he was enabled by his special circumstances to shed lustre on their common priesthood and on their common religion." - Thomas Corbishley, S.J., Ronald Knox, the Priest, 1965 Sheed & Ward
PASTORAL AND OCCASIONAL SERMONS is the largest collection of Ronald Knox's sermons and was republished in 2002 by Ignatius Press in a beautiful hardcover edition. It covers a wide variety of sermons on Christian themes as well as the feasts of the Church year, sermons for special occasions and panegyrics. In his introduction to the original edition Father Caraman, S.J. comments, "Only after I had read the sermons in this volume a second time, with the purpose of giving the references to Scriptural and other quotations, did I realize that this collection formed perhaps the most impressive body of pastoral teaching of our time. In scope and brilliance it appeared an achievement comparable only with Newman's Oxford sermons; yet more valuable because the idiom and message belonged to our own generation."
It includes 31 sermons on the Eucharist, 26 of which were originally delivered at Maiden Lane, London, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, from 1926-1956, and published under the title The Window in the Wall. "How many a priest, reading The Window in the Wall, has been filled with a kind of holy envy at the mastery of his exposition of eucharistic doctrine and at the fertility of mind which, year after year, in the same church and to much the same congregation, could find something not merely new but absolutely penetrating and enriching to say on this subject! Most priests have two or three sermons on the Blessed Sacrament; here we have close on two score of them, redolent of the preacher's own devotion, and challenging us to a fuller realization of the wealth at our disposal." - Thomas Corbishley, S.J., Ronald Knox, the Priest, 1965 Sheed & Ward
RETREAT FOR LAY PEOPLE (1955), THE LAYMAN AND HIS CONSCIENCE (1961), A RETREAT FOR PRIESTS. (1946), THE PRIESTLY LIFE (1959) and RETREAT IN SLOW MOTION (1960) are ever-popular collections of retreat meditations. In retreat Msgr.Knox was even more intimate with his audience; everyone felt as if he were being addressed personally, that this was really a tete-a-tete. "No one who listened to him as he preached could doubt that here was a man who was setting out an ideal not just for his listeners, but for himself. His capacity for affecting others, by probing into the secret places where we try to hide from ourselves, arose from his own self-knowledge, from his own genuine humility. His effectiveness as a preacher came in the end, not from his skill in language but from his knowledge of the human heart." - Thomas Corbishley, S.J., Ronald Knox, the Priest, 1965 Sheed & Ward
THE MASS IN SLOW MOTION (1948), THE CREED IN SLOW MOTION (1949) and THE GOSPEL IN SLOW MOTION (1950) are sermons delivered to the schoolgirls at Aldenham Park during World War II. RETREAT IN SLOW MOTION (1960) was added to this collection posthumously.
STIMULI (1951) and LIGHTNING MEDITATIONS (1959) contain shorter meditations, such as those written for newspapers.
IN SOFT GARMENTS (1942) contains sermons delivered to Oxford undergraduates while Msgr. Knox was their chaplain (read an excerpt) and THE HIDDEN STREAM (1952) those he delivered to them by invitation after his chaplaincy came to an end (read an excerpt).
UNIVERSITY SERMONS (1963) is sometimes referred to as Volume III of Knox's collected sermons. Edited by Fr. Caraman, it contains In Soft Garments, The Hidden Stream, 28 sermons which Fr. Caraman discovered only after the publication of Pastoral and Occasional Sermons (Volumes I & II), and 14 sermons delivered by Knox as an Anglican before his reception into the Church.
BRIDEGROOM AND BRIDE (1957) is a collection of wedding sermons. "Here, again, the sacramental, theological, incarnational aspect of the occasion is always beautifully blended with the tender humanity of a man who, it seemed, could enter into the very hearts of those listening to him at this, the most solemn and the most personal moment in their lives." - Thomas Corbishley, S.J., Ronald Knox, the Priest, 1965 Sheed & Ward
EPISTLES AND GOSPELS FOR SUNDAYS AND HOLYDAYS (1946) Translations and Commentary.
THE SACRED HEART
Come to me, all you that labour and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you and learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart, and you shall find rest to your souls. – Matthew 11. 28-9
Come – it is not enough to stand still; the movement will not be all on God’s side. Christ stretches out his arms, as if the gesture of crucifixion had become habitual even to the glorified body; it is your part to respond to the invitation, to come to him, though your steps be weak and tottering, like the first steps of a child. The Sacred Heart of the Crucified would draw all men to him, yet draws them, not by any chain of necessity, but with cords of love; it must be a free choice of your will by which you step forward from the ranks that waver and hang back, to consecrate yourself to him. True, in this devotion we consecrate ourselves as a family, but it is the individual surrender he prizes, not the mere herd-instinct that bids us, to avoid singularity, associate ourselves in a public act of homage: the word is addressed to each soul individually – Come unto me.
Come unto me – other voices, maybe, in later years will endeavour to distract us, the false religious systems of yesterday, the world with its easy standards, ambition with its insistent call for action, or money, the hardest master of them all: their prizes will seem more ready to our hand, their voices closer in our ear, but none will woo so gently or so patiently as the Sacred Heart, the Heart that loves so much and is loved so little in return, no one else dares to ask or claims to offer as he does. Unto me – not as if your devotion to the Sacred Heart could rival or replace your devotion to Almighty God: for that Heart is the life-centre of the Sacred Humanity, wherein, not by some overshadowing influence, as in Mary and the saints, but by a real and personal union, the fullness of revealed Godhead dwells. Unto me – not to some abstract idea, some expressive image, some memory of a dead past, but a Human Heart, real, concrete, living as your own, living now amid the splendours of the glorified Humanity in heaven.
All you that labour – it is a fashion, a pose you affect among your friends, to despise anything that comes to you openly under the name of work: but labour is rightly measured not by the distastefulness of the occupation or by the value of the results achieved, but by what it costs you, the strain that tells on you, the disturbance and distraction it sets up in your thoughts. At this moment, ask yourself if there is not some day-dream or some project humming in your brain, distracting your attention or ready to do so the instant your vigilance is relaxed. That day-dream, that project, however trivial and however distant, though it be only some scheme for your enjoyment, innocent or misapplied, some affection, some grievance, some grudge, is the labour with which you labour under the sun, the prisoner of your own brooding thoughts. You know that at times when these worries and distractions interfere with your sleep, or when you feel dull and jaded after long hours of them. You that labour, leave here on one side for a moment the petty cares which tyrannize over you: be still, and see that I am God.
Come to me, all you that are burdened – labour distracts the mind; it is sin that weighs upon the shoulders and clogs the feet. That burden, too, we must lay down for a little, if we are to lift up our eyes to the tabernacle. Last time we kept the first Friday, there was some resolution, an occasion of sin to be avoided, a bad habit to be checked, an improvement to be made in our rule of prayer. Nothing very much has come of it, and conscience feels uneasy at this reminder. Put it aside just for the moment; we must turn our faces towards the future and consecrate ourselves anew.
And I will refresh you – this is to be a breathing-space from the dusty business of life, the daily, common round of earthly occupations in which we seldom catch a glimpse of the supernatural. We are to draw ourselves up, breathe deep in the fresh air of grace, stretch the cramped muscles of the soul and rejoice to find them still responsive to the will. We shall forget for a while the work that lies at our feet as our cheek catches the cooling influence of grace that comes from Him.
Take my yoke upon you – not the yoke of a conqueror, imposed on his unwilling vassal, but the yoke which eases your burden by distributing the weight so that all but all of it rests on him. It is not servitude he offers, but partnership. Oh, if we could believe what we see so often in lives which have greatly devoted themselves to him, that, in proportion as we resign ourselves to his love, care and sorrow and all the burden of mortality lies lightly on us, till we have to ask for suffering lest we should lose the sense of the privilege that partnership bestows! We will make an offering here of all the work and all the suffering God will have us undergo, in union with the merits of the Sacred Heart, Fountain of all Consolation.
And learn of me – not the lessons we learn in class, not Christian doctrine or apologetics, nothing that tires the brain and wrinkles the forehead, not the dreary formulas that seem only intended to catch us out by being so difficult to remember. In this lesson it is not mind that speaks to mind, but heart to heart, no elaborate considerations are necessary, no theological subtleties. You have only to stand still and contemplate the Sacred Heart, bruised for our sins and made obedient unto death; only to remember one simple formula – how easy to remember, how difficult to mean: “Heart of Jesus, full of love for us, make our hearts like thy Sacred Heart”.
Because I am meek and humble of heart – meekness that will not be driven to resentment even by ill-usage, humility that will not be puffed up even where there is cause for self-congratulation. Meekness that in our case – not in his – sees its own sinfulness and acknowledges that the discomforts and reverses of life are only its lawful due; not assuming that the word which wounded you was aimed with intent, that you were right when you quarreled, unfairly hampered where you failed to come off; not for ever engaged in drawing up that long list of grievances against your fellow-men which leaves behind it no satisfaction, but only a character soured and blasé, a nature suspicious and difficult to please. Humility that in our case – not in his – realizes its own insignificance; humility that will not let you stand on your dignity, or lose your peace of mind when you are criticized and held up to ridicule; humility that, above all, approaches God with infinite reverence, and does not seek either to search out his hidden counsels or to presume on the graces he bestows.
And you shall find rest to your souls; rest in this life, when the wayward passions of your heart have been calmed and regulated by learning to beat in time with his; rest in the world to come, when you shall contemplate openly the Heart from which those graces used to flow, and, as you have been faithful yoke-fellows and docile scholars of your Lord below, be made partakers of his eternal glory in heaven.