Friday, June 3, 2022

Preview: Newman and the Church in Whitsuntide

So the first event in my Very Newman Summer has passed: I delivered my EDI Ad Fontes Patronal Lecture on St. John Henry Newman on Thursday and I think it went well. I also met with my "boss" for this summer session's class on Newman and the New Evangelization for Newman University.

Now on to the next Very Newman Summer project: weekly (Monday morning) spots on the Son Rise Morning Show on EWTN Radio! Matt Swaim and I will discuss Whitsuntide (post-Pentecost) sermon from Newman's Parochial and Plain Sermons (PPS) on Monday, June 6 at my usual time: about 6:50 a.m. Central/7:50 a.m. Eastern time. Please listen live on EWTN Radio.

In this sermon, "The Weapons of Saints", Newman takes as his text Matthew 19:30: "Many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first." He's talking about how the world really has changed after the events we remember and celebrate during the Easter Season: the Resurrection and Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost:

THESE words are fulfilled under the Gospel in many ways. Our Saviour in one place applies them to the rejection of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles; but in the context, in which they stand as I have cited them, they seem to have a further meaning, and to embody a great principle, which we all indeed acknowledge, but are deficient in mastering. Under the dispensation of the Spirit all things were to become new and to be reversed. 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." What was before in honour, has been dishonoured; what {314} 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." 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.

Thus Newman presents many examples of how the world has been turned upside down, starting with Mary's Magnificat and her celebration of what was already happening after the Holy Spirit had overshadowed her and she had conceived her and our Savior ("So she spoke of His "scattering the proud," "putting down the mighty," "exalting the humble and meek," "filling the hungry with good things," and "sending the rich empty away." This was a shadow or outline of that Kingdom of the Spirit, which was then coming on the earth.")

Then Newman, referring the Saints as the members of the Church on earth, doing great things, continues:

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 "is alive and was dead, and is alive for evermore." The beloved disciple saw Him mounted on a white horse, and going forth "conquering and to conquer." "And the armies which were in heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations, and He shall rule them with a rod of iron." [Rev. xix. 14, 15.]

But, as ever, Newman wants to awaken a greater awareness of the impact of these doctrinal truths in the minds and hearts of his congregation and how they must live them out:

Now let us apply this great truth to ourselves; for be it ever recollected, we are the sons of God, we are the soldiers of Christ. The kingdom is within us, and among us, and around us. We are apt to speak of it as a matter of history; we speak of it as at a distance; but 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 {317} 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?

As he so often does in these PPS, Newman displays a great imaginative knowledge of how we think: we yearn for peace, for Utopia, for everything to be easy--but at the same time we want greatness and achievement. We want what the world cannot give us:

We have most of us by nature longings more or less, and aspirations, after something greater than this world can give. Youth, especially, has a natural love of what is noble and heroic. We like to hear marvellous tales, which throw us out of things as they are, and introduce us to things that are not. We so love the idea of the invisible, that we even build fabrics in the air for ourselves, if heavenly truth be not vouchsafed us. We love to fancy ourselves involved in circumstances of danger or trial, and acquitting ourselves well under them. Or we imagine some perfection, such as earth has not, which we follow, and render it our homage and our heart. . . .

That line about building castles in the air ("fabrics in the air") reminds me of Newman's own youth. As he writes in the first chapter of the Apologia pro Vita Sua quoting a note he'd made in journal in 1820, "I used to wish the Arabian Tales were true: my imagination ran on unknown influences, on magical powers, and talismans … I thought life might be a dream, or I an Angel, and all this world a deception, my fellow-angels by a playful device concealing themselves from me, and deceiving me with the semblance of a material world." 

Newman thought of The Matrix long before the Wachowskis!

And remember that he is speaking to young men at the University of Oxford, one of the heights of greatness for the elite of England! Imagine a preacher telling students at Harvard or Brown University about this different way to greatness and fulfillment.

Then he reminds them of the only way they can approach these dreams as reality in their lives:

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. He seems to say, in the words of the Apostle, "What ye {319} ignorantly worship, that declare I unto you." You are seeking what you see not, I give it you; you desire to be great, I will make you so; but observe how,—just in the reverse way to what you expect; the way to real glory is to become unknown and despised.

Because everything will be opposite of what the world says because Jesus gives us a different way to be great: wash the another's feet as He did; sit at the lower place to be asked up higher; turn the other cheek; dont' seek revenge; embrace poverty as a blessing . . .

Then as ever, Newman ends with the stirring promise of the fulfillment of God's promises. In this world and the next, through God's grace and favor, and our own cooperation with those gifts, we will succeed:

Let us then, my brethren, understand our place, as the redeemed children of God. . . . Let this be the settled view of all who would promote Christ's cause upon earth. If we are true to ourselves, nothing can really thwart us. 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 [Unless] 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. But let all who would labour for God in a dark time beware of any thing which ruffles, excites, and in any way withdraws them from the love of God and Christ, and simple obedience to Him.

This be our duty in the dark night, while we wait for the day; while we wait for Him who is our Day; {326} while we wait for His coming, who is gone, who will return, and before whom all the tribes of the earth will mourn, but the sons of God will rejoice. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure." [1 John iii. 2, 3.] It is our blessedness to be made like the all-holy, all-gracious, long-suffering, and merciful God; who made and who redeemed us; in whose presence is perfect rest, and perfect peace; whom the Seraphim are harmoniously praising, and the Cherubim tranquilly contemplating, and Angels silently serving, and the Church thankfully worshipping. All is order, repose, love, and holiness in heaven. There is no anxiety, no ambition, no resentment, no discontent, no bitterness, no remorse, no tumult. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because He trusteth in Thee. Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength." [Isa. xxvi. 3, 4.]

Come Holy Spirit, enkindle in us the fire of Your Love!

Saint John Henry Newman, pray for us!

Image credit (Public Domain): Duccio's Pentecost

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