Friday, April 12, 2024

Preview: "Christian Reverence" on the Son Rise Morning Show

I'll start a new series with the Son Rise Morning Show Monday, April 15 (Tax Day!) with one of Saint John Henry Newman's Parochial and Plain Sermons, "Christian Reverence" ("Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling." Psalm 2:11.)

I'll be on at my usual time, about 7:50 a.m. Eastern/6:50 a.m. Central. Listen live here or catch the podcast later.

Newman begins this sermon with a question:

WHY did Christ show Himself to so few witnesses after He rose from the dead? 

And then provides the answer:

Because He was a King . . . Kings do not court the multitude, or show themselves as a spectacle at the will of others. They are the rulers of their people, and have their state as such, and are reverently waited on by their great men: and when they show themselves, they do so out of their condescension. They act by means of their servants, and must be sought by those who would gain favours from them.

Newman then continues to show that Jesus conducted Himself in the same way before His Passion and Resurrection: 

. . . even before He entered into His glory, Christ spoke and acted as a King. . . . When He taught, warned, pitied, prayed for, His ignorant hearers, He never allowed them to relax their reverence or to overlook His condescension. Nay, He did not allow them to praise Him aloud, and publish His acts of grace; as if what is called popularity would be a dishonour to His holy name, and the applause of men would imply their right to censure. The world's praise is akin to contempt. Our Lord delights in the tribute of the secret heart. Such was His conduct in the days of His flesh. Does it not interpret His dealings with us after His resurrection? He who was so reserved in His communications of Himself, even when He came to minister, much more would withdraw Himself from the eyes of men when He was exalted over all things.

As he notes, no humans saw Jesus rise from the tomb: the Angels did, but not even the soldiers set to guard the tomb, who were asleep. The Risen Christ chooses to whom and when He will appear, and Newman catalogs those appearances:

First of all, He appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden itself where He had been buried; then to the other women who ministered unto Him; then to the two disciples travelling to Emmaus; then to all the Apostles separately; besides, to Peter and to James; and to Thomas in the presence of them all. Yet not even these, His friends, had free access to Him. He said to Mary, "Touch Me not." He came and left them according to His own pleasure. When they saw Him, they felt an awe which they had not felt during His ministry. While they doubted if it were He, "None of them," St. John says, "durst ask Him, Who art Thou? believing that it was the Lord." [John xxi. 12.] However, as kings have their days of state, on which they show themselves publicly to their subjects, so our Lord appointed a meeting of His disciples, when they might see Him. He had determined this even before His crucifixion; and the Angels reminded them of it. "He goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see Him, as He said unto you." [Mark xvi. 7.] The place of meeting was a mountain; the same (it is supposed) as that on which He had been transfigured; and the number who saw Him there was five hundred at once, if we join St. Paul's account to that in the Gospels. At length, after forty days, He was taken from them; He ascended up, "and a cloud received Him out of their sight."

Then Newman turns to his congregation and applies these reactions of the Apostles to them (us):

Are we to feel less humble veneration for Him now, than His Apostles then? Though He is our Savior, and has removed all slavish fear of death and judgment, are we, therefore, to make light of the prospect before us, as if we were sure of that reward which He bids us struggle for? Assuredly, we are still to "serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with reverence,"—to "kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and so we perish from the right way, if His wrath be kindled, yea but a little." In a Christian's course, fear and love must go together. And this is the lesson to be deduced from our Saviour's withdrawing from the world after His resurrection. He showed His love for men by dying for them, and rising again. He maintained His honour and great glory by retiring from them when His merciful purpose was attained, that they might seek Him if they would find Him. He ascended to His Father out of our sight. Sinners would be ill company for the exalted King of Saints. When we have been duly prepared to see Him, we shall be given to approach Him.

In heaven, love will absorb fear; but in this world, fear and love must go together. No one can love God aright without fearing Him; though many fear Him, and yet do not love Him. . . .

Now how does this apply to us here assembled? Are we in danger of speaking or thinking of Christ irreverently?

Even if we are not, Newman warns us not to even to seem to speak or think of Christ without that fear and love of reverence, lest we "allow ourselves to appear profane" and then actually become irreverent "while we are pretending to be so" out of fear of appearing weak to others. (Men do not begin by intending to dishonour God; but they are afraid of the ridicule of others: they are ashamed of appearing religious; and thus are led to pretend that they are worse than they really are. They say things which they do not mean; and, by a miserable weakness, allow actions and habits to be imputed to them which they dare not really indulge in. Hence, they affect a liberty of speech which only befits the companions of evil spirits.)

He warns that such careless language will affect our hearts and our thoughts eventually, so we must not start down that path to becoming "cold, indifferent, [and] profane".

And what do we do if we encounter those, who may be baptized Christian, who did start down that path and now  "are in heart infidels" and "may attempt to disguise their own unbelief under pretence of objecting to one or other of the doctrines or ordinances of religion" and finally "should a time of temptation come, when it would be safe to show themselves as they really are, they will (almost unawares) throw off their profession of Christianity, and join themselves to the scoffing world"?

Newman warns us to tread lightly, since we are sinners too:

We must not take advantage (so to say) of His goodness; or misuse the powers committed to us. Never must we solicitously press the truth upon those who do not profit by what they already possess. It dishonours Christ, while it does the scorner harm, not good. It is casting pearls before swine. We must wait for all opportunities of being useful to men, but beware of attempting too much at once. We must impart the Scripture doctrines, in measure and season, as they can bear them; not being eager to recount them all, rather, hiding them from the world. Seldom must we engage in controversy or dispute; for it lowers the sacred truths to make them a subject for ordinary debate. Common propriety suggests rules like these at once. Who would speak freely about some revered friend in the presence of those who did not value him? or who would think he could with a few words overcome their indifference towards him? or who would hastily dispute about him when his hearers had no desire to be made love him?

Rather, shunning all intemperate words, let us show our light before men by our works. Here we must be safe. In doing justice, showing mercy, speaking the truth, resisting sin, obeying the Church,—in thus glorifying God, there can be no irreverence. And, above all, let us look at home, check all bad thoughts, presumptuous imaginings, vain desires, discontented murmurings, self-complacent reflections, and so in our hearts ever honour Him in secret, whom we reverence by open profession.

May God guide us in a dangerous world; and deliver us from evil. And may He rouse to serious thought, by the power of His Spirit, all who are living in profaneness or unconcern!

Saint John Henry Newman, pray for us!

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