For our first Newman sermon reflection/meditation for Advent on the Son Rise Morning Show
Monday, December 5, I've chosen "The Weapons of Saints
", a Parochial and Plain Sermon
. It seems appropriate to reflect on saints during the Second Week of Advent since we'll celebrate several holy memorials and one Solemnity during the week:
Saint Nicholas of Myra on December 6
Saint Ambrose of Milan on December 7
The Immaculate Conception on December 8 (a Holy Day of Obligation!)
Saint Juan Diego on December 9
Our Lady of Loreto on December 10
So I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show at my usual time, about 6:50 a.m. Central/7:50 a.m. Eastern. Please listen live here.
In this sermon, originally delivered in October 29, 1837, Newman reflects on a verse from the Gospel of Saint Matthew, "Many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first" (Matt. 19:30), exploring how the Kingdom of God has turned the world upside down:
Strength, numbers, wealth, philosophy, eloquence, craft,
experience of life, knowledge of human nature, these are the means by which
worldly men have ever gained the world. But in that kingdom which Christ has
set up, all is contrariwise. "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal,
but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds." (2 Cor 10:4) What was
before in honour, has been dishonoured; what before was in dishonour, has
come to honour; what before was successful, fails; what before failed, succeeds.
What before was great, has become little; what before was little, has become
great. Weakness has conquered strength, for the hidden strength of God "is
made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor 12:9) Death has conquered life, for in that death is
a more glorious resurrection. Spirit has conquered flesh; for that spirit is an
inspiration from above. A new kingdom has been established, not merely
different from all kingdoms before it, but contrary to them; a paradox in the
eyes of man,—the visible rule of the invisible Saviour. . . .
Yes, so it is; since Christ sent down gifts from on high,
the Saints are ever taking possession of the kingdom, and with the weapons of Saints. The invisible
powers of the heavens, truth, meekness, and righteousness, are ever coming in
upon the earth, ever pouring in, gathering, thronging, warring, triumphing,
under the guidance of Him “who died and came to life” (Revelation 2:8)
Newman then asks his congregation and his readers to apply this "great truth" to themselves because they and we "are the sons of God" . . . "soldiers of Christ." Crucially, he advises, "the kingdom is within us" and
really we are a part of it, or ought to be; and, as we wish
to be a living portion of it, which is our only hope of salvation, we must
learn what its characters are in order to imitate them. It is the
characteristic of Christ's Church, that the first should be last, and the last
first; are we realizing in ourselves and taking part in this wonderful
appointment of God?
Newman, speaking to a university congregation, explores the hopes and dreams of youth to achieve great things, "something greater than the world can give". . . "having desires after things about this world":While their hearts are thus unsettled, Christ comes to them, if they will receive Him, and promises to satisfy their great need, this hunger and thirst which wearies them. He does not wait till they have learned to ridicule high feelings as mere romantic dreams: He comes to the young; He has them baptized betimes, and then promises them, and in a higher way, those unknown blessings which they yearn after. . . .
But he applies the same rule to all of us, young or old:
The way to mount up is to go down. Every step we take downward, makes us higher in the kingdom of heaven. Do you desire to be great? make yourselves little. There is a mysterious connexion between real advancement and self-abasement. If you minister to the humble and despised, if you feed the hungry, tend the sick, succour the distressed; if you bear with the ill-tempered, submit to insult, endure ingratitude, render good for evil, you are, as by a divine charm, getting power over the world and rising among the creatures. God has established this law. Thus He does His wonderful works. . . .
They rise by falling. Plainly so, for no condescension can be
so great as that of our Lord Himself. The more they abase
themselves the more like they are to Him; and the more like
they are to Him, the greater must be their power with Him.
Finally, Newman offers a warning about the true power of the saints, which the world cannot understand:
Our warfare is not with carnal weapons, but with heavenly. The world does not understand what our real power is, and where it lies. And until we put ourselves into its hands of our own act, it can do nothing against us. Till we leave off patience, meekness, purity, resignation, and peace, it can do nothing against that Truth which is our birthright, that Cause which is ours, as it has been the cause of all saints before us.
And I'd propose that we could look at the lives of each of these saints to find examples of this rule: both Saint Nicholas of Myra and Saint Ambrose of Milan were known for their great works of charity and their battles against the Arian heresy, defending the true Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation, despite the conflict and danger.
Saint Ambrose had the office of bishop forced upon him by popular demand, giving up his secular power. He had to receive the Sacraments of Initiation before he could be ordained! Saint Juan Diego obeyed Our Lady of Guadalupe with great patience and humility--like any visionary, his path was difficult.
In the midst of her Magnificat, the Mother of God demonstrated that she knew this rule of life from God's actions; as the handmaid of the Lord, she had submitted to His will:From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
And, as Newman himself reminds us, no One abased Himself like Our Lord (". . . no condescension can be so great as that of our Lord Himself. The more they abase themselves the more like they are to Him; and the more like they are to Him, the greater must be their power with Him."):For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man.
He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.
For which cause God also hath exalted him, and hath given him a name which is above all names:
That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth:
And that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.
Saint Nicholas, pray for us!
Saint Ambrose, pray for us!
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!
Saint Juan Diego, pray for us!
Saint John Henry Newman, pray for us!
(Public Domain): Saint Nicholas by Jaroslav Čermák (1831-1878)
(Public Domain): Saint Ambrose by Claude Vignon
(Public Domain): Saint Juan Diego by Miguel Cabrera