Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Blessed John Henry Newman on Lent

On Ash Wednesday in 2007, Edward T. Oakes, SJ, offered some quotations from Blessed John Henry Newman appropriate to the beginning of Lent (featured on First Things):

No theologian working inside the traditions of western Christianity was more sensitive to the rhythms of the Church's liturgical year than was John Henry Newman. Which, of course, stands to reason, given the fact that, as an Anglican curate at St. Clement's in Oxford and later as vicar at St. Mary's in Littlemore, he gave sermons "in season and out" that were soon recognized as the most theologically rich ever delivered since patristic times, later published in eight volumes as Parochial and Plain Sermons. Yes, his appointment as a Fellow of Oriel College at Oxford gave clear testimony to his academic brilliance, a verdict of his peers that he vindicated with such scholarly publications as Lectures on Justification and The Arians of the Fourth Century. But his real work during that period from 1824 to 1843 was in pastoral care, including preaching nearly every Sunday with a tenacity and depth that caught the imagination of hearers and readers from his day to our own.

This being the onset of the season of Lent—when Christians think especially on the reality of sin in their lives—I thought I would offer a string of quotations from Newman appropriate to this season now begun, a catena, as it were, of "edifying discourses" from a master at homiletical brilliance.

What has always struck me about his Lenten sermons are two themes delicately balanced: On the one hand, Newman sets the bar of Christian holiness very high; yet, on the other, he shows an acute awareness of the weaknesses that beset Christians and so understands them when they fail (as we are all bound to do) to measure up to his extraordinarily demanding standards. As to the first theme, take this typical passage from his sermon "The Religion of the Day":

We dwell in the full light of the Gospel, and the full grace of the Sacraments. We ought then to have the holiness of the Apostles. There is no reason except our own willful corruption, that we are not by this time walking in the steps of St. Paul or St. John, and following them as they followed Christ. . . . Nothing is more difficult than to be disciplined and regular in our religion. It is very easy to be religious by fits and starts, and to keep up our feelings by artificial stimulants; but regularity seems to trammel us, and we become impatient.

Read the rest here.

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