In 1848, St. John Henry Newman composed a short and well-known meditation on personal vocation or mission. It is a powerful, ennobling consideration, which, in just a few words, teaches us the importance of our lives on earth. This meditation tells us about our nobility as children of the living God, and as such, is an appropriate introduction to Newman’s 1831 Pentecost sermon entitled, “Christian Nobleness.” Newman’s vocation meditation begins, “God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments . . . .”. And we are able to fulfill this mission on earth, because of the descent of the Holy Spirit into the world.
In Greek, the greatest good, agathon, is defined by a life that involves the exercise of the highest faculties, fulfilling a person’s telos or end. For Aristotle, whom Newman held in high regard, this goal of fulfilling a person’s end would bring eudaimonia, that is, happiness or contentment, a life of flourishing. For a Christian, our end is heaven, and the highest good is to live the life of nobility, that is, a life that befits children of God.
In the sermon, “Christian Nobleness,” St. John Henry observes that the apostles, who knew Jesus so well on earth, had to come to terms with a very different type of fellowship with Him through the spirit, after He left them. The disciples, who were used to a natural, convivial relationship with our Lord, after receiving His gift of the Holy Spirit sent to them (and to us) was meant to comfort them, but this comfort was, “a serious, sober, lasting comfort, full of reverence, deep in contemplation.” It is a nobleness, one which engenders a “greatness of mind” and should bring the “deepest humility.” This nobleness is, according to Newman, one of the great “Christian privileges.” This characteristic of the Christian mind is the expression of the supernatural life, the divine life which God shares with his children.
Newman reminds us that the apostles, too, had to learn how to live their lives with this great gift, and in his Pentecost homily, he challenges us to a new mode of life:
“Christians are called upon to think little of the ordinary objects which men pursue – wealth, luxury, distinction, popularity, and power . . . If the goods of this world came in their way, they were not bound to decline them; nor would they forbid others in the religious use of them; but they thought them vanities, the toys of children, which serious men let drop.”
We have grown used to our easy comfort and benefits of an advanced society. When the world was fearful of the Covid19 virus, a modicum of concern over what life is about seemed to enter into the hearts of many. Now that the pandemic is not so worrisome, many have returned to their former life of living only for the day, not considering what their last end might be, wrapped up in a selfish and materialistic view of the world. In contrast, St. John Henry explains that a Christian should behave with devotion and reverence towards the Divine Master, keeping in mind that God’s eye is over him, and God’s hand upon him, and God’s voice within him.
The conclusion of the pentecost sermon is invigorating … we have a mission to do while we are on earth, to live our lives as God intended. He invites us to put into practice our spiritual resolutions, to grow in devotion, taking pleasure in religious worship and aiming towards holiness. He reminds Chrsitians to meditate and to practice mortification, living as heirs and citizens of the kingdom of heaven. We must remember St. Paul’s entreaty to redeem the times in which we live (Eph 5:14-17).
The Christian is aware of the difficulty of the task before him and of his own weakness and sinfulness. Newman ends his short meditation on vocation with the following thoughts:
“Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”
At times we may momentarily doubt God’s calling or question the difficulties we encounter along the way. If this were to happen we should consider the greatness or nobility of God’s calling, and make some of the acts of faith and trust in God suggested by that noble English soul, St. John Henry Newman.