Sunday, February 9, 2020

Newman on Septuagesima Sunday

Today is Septuagesima Sunday, the first Sunday of the Carnival or Shrovetide season before Lent, observed on the calendars of the 1962 Missal. The old Missal illustration depicts the Gospel of the day in which Jesus tells the parable of the master who pays all the day laborers the same wage, whether they were hired early or late (Matthew 20:1-16).

In the first sermon published in Newman's Sermons on Subjects of the Day, "The Work of the Christian," he commented on this parable, determining at what stage of the day's work we have started in the vineyard:

Nor, secondly, can we argue that our work is shorter from the labourers' complaint, "These have wrought but one hour." For we are called, as is evident, in the world's evening, not in our own. We are called in our own morning, we are called from infancy. By the eleventh hour is not meant that Christians have little to do, but that the time is short; that it is the last time; that there is a "present distress;" that they have much to do in a little time; that "the night cometh when no man can work;" that their Lord is at hand, and that they have to wait for Him. "This I say, brethren," says St. Paul, "the time is short; it remaineth that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it, for the fashion of this world passeth away." [1 Cor. vii. 29-31.] It was otherwise with the Jews; they had a grant of this world; they entered the vineyard in the morning; they had time before them; they might reckon on the future. They were bid "go their way, eat their bread with joy, and drink their wine with a merry heart, and let their garments be always white, and let their head lack no ointment, and live joyfully with the wife whom they loved all the days of the life of their vanity: ... for that was their portion in this life, and in their labour which they took under the sun." [Eccles. ix. 7-9.] But it is otherwise with us. Earth and sky are ever failing; Christ is ever coming; Christians are ever lifting up their heads and looking out, and therefore it is the evening. We may not set our hearts on things present; we may not say to our soul, "Thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry:" [Luke xii. 19.] and therefore it is the evening. We may not think of home, or brethren, or sister, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or land; and therefore it is the evening [Mark x. 29.]. The evening is long and the day was short; for the first shall be last, and the last first. What seems vigorous perishes; what seems ever expiring is carried on; and this last age, though ever-failing, has lasted longer than the ages before it, and Christians have more time for a greater work than if they had been hired in the morning.

O may we ever bear in mind that we are not sent into this world to stand all the day idle, but to go forth to our work and to our labour until the evening! Until the evening, not in the evening only of life, but serving God from our youth, and not waiting till our years fail us. Until the evening, not in the daytime only, lest we begin to run well, but fall away before our course is ended. Let us "give glory to the Lord our God, before He cause darkness, and before our feet stumble upon the dark mountains;" [Jer. xiii. 16.] and, having turned to Him, let us see that our goodness be not "as the morning cloud, and as the early dew which passeth away." The end is the proof of the matter. When the sun shines, this earth pleases; but let us look towards that eventide and the cool of the day, when the Lord of the vineyard will walk amid the trees of His garden, and say unto His steward, "Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first." That evening will be the trial: when the heat, and fever, and noise of the noon-tide are over, and the light fades, and the prospect saddens, and the shades lengthen, and the busy world is still, and "the door shall be shut in the streets, and the daughters of music shall be brought low, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond-tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail," and "the pitcher shall be broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern;" then, when it is "vanity of vanities, all is vanity," and the Lord shall come, "who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts,"—then shall we "discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not." [Mal. iii. 18.]

May that day and that hour ever be in our thoughts! When we rise, when we lie down; when we speak, when we are silent; when we act, and when we rest: whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, may we never forget that "for all these things God will bring us into judgment." [Eccles. xi. 9.] For "He cometh quickly, and His reward is with Him, to give every man according as His work shall be." [Rev. xxii. 12.]

"Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city." Blessed will they be then, and only they, who, with the Apostle, have ever had on their lips, and in their hearts, the question, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" [Acts ix. 6.] whose soul "hath broken out for the very fervent desire that it hath alway unto His judgments;" who have "made haste and prolonged not the time to keep His commandments;" [Ps. cxix. 20, 60.] who have not waited to be hired, nor run uncertainly, nor beaten the air, nor taken darkness for light, and light for darkness, nor contented themselves with knowing what is right, nor taken comfort in feeling what is good, nor prided themselves in their privileges, but set themselves vigorously to do God's will.

Let us turn from shadows of all kinds,—shadows of sense, or shadows of argument and disputation, or shadows addressed to our imagination and tastes. Let us attempt, through God's grace, to advance and sanctify the inward man. We cannot be wrong here. Whatever is right, whatever is wrong, in this perplexing world, we must be right in "doing justly, in loving mercy, in walking humbly with our God;" in denying our wills, in ruling our tongues, in softening and sweetening our tempers, in mortifying our lusts; in learning patience, meekness, purity, forgiveness of injuries, and continuance in well-doing.

Notice the emphasis on "shadows" in the last paragraph: the shadows and imaginings we must leave behind to enter into the truth.

Ancilla Press has issued another excellent seasonal devotional for Septuagesima:

Recover the ancient Catholic tradition of the pre-Lenten season with special devotions and prayers for the three Sundays before Ash Wednesday. Features two versions of the burial of the Alleluia; commemorations and prayers proper to Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima; Divine Office propers for the Patriarchs Adam, Noah, and Abraham; and devotions for Shrovetide and Mardi Gras, including instructions, reparations, and an examination of conscience.

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