Walking on water
Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman
Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman

Reading and understanding the Scriptures can be difficult. The reader needs knowledge of history, culture and the type of text (historical narrative, wisdom literature, poetry). He also needs to consider the level of meaning (literal, moral, allegorical) and so on. So when we are given clear, literal instruction from the Bible, we should take it quickly and seriously. Such are the type of words St. Paul sets before us in his first letter to the Philippians when he says in the context of the Lord’s second coming, “Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again I say rejoice.” Now the instructions are quite clear, but the reasons for them are not. How can we rejoice when we know the last days are days of tribulation and that our final judgment awaits us? According to St. John Henry Newman in his homily, “Equanimity,” our peace rests on our ability to maintain a supernatural vision of our lives.

The supernatural vision Newman refers to illuminates our earthly life. Just as a dark room is no longer scary in the daylight, so also do our problems flee in light of eternity. The light of revelation teaches us that we belong to God our Father, that ours is the Kingdom of God, and moreover that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it because Christ conquered sin, death and hell on the Cross. Following Him, we are destined for a new heaven, new earth and newly glorified body. We should therefore take refuge in the fact that this life is not our home and that its passing sorrows cannot compare to the glory that will be revealed: “The Lord is at hand; this is not your rest; this is not your abiding-place. Act then as persons who are in a dwelling not their own; who are not in their own home; who have not their own goods and furniture about them; who, accordingly, make shift and put up with anything that comes to hand, and do not make a point of things being the best of their kind.”

To have this peace, this equanimity, our eyes must be fixed on Christ, rather than the cares of each day, just as St. Peter was fixed on Christ when He bid him come walk on the water. Who cares what happens today if Christ is coming tomorrow, Newman asks. He is coming, whether for all of us on the Day of Judgment, or only for us on the day of our death, but either way, the time is brief. As a result, the things of earth should have no power over us. “It is very plain that matters which agitate us most extremely now, will then interest us not at all; that objects about which we have intense hope and fear now … will have no life in them,” Newman says.

Here we learn something of the difficult approach to this life that God calls us to. At once we should live as if nothing could touch us, and yet we should let everything touch us. Confident of the outcome, but unceasing in battle. Christ Himself is our model for this way of living in the world but not of it. Have we forgotten how Jesus acted when his friend Lazarus died? In Jesus’ supernatural vision, He knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead, but it didn’t prevent him from weeping at Lazarus’ tomb. As a young man, Newman experienced sorrow at the death of his father and later his sister Mary. The vision of faith sustained him in this suffering and throughout his life.

This is no Buddhist-like detachment from the world that Jesus shows us. It is a passionate embrace of the Cross. Today we face evils at home and abroad. Good is called evil and evil is called good. The lives of the unborn continue to be discarded, God’s design for sexuality has been twisted, the poor and infirm are left behind. Who can sit by idly with indifference or apathy? We have to act, to put ourselves out there in defense of the good, but our hope can’t rest in our efforts, in whether we win this or that skirmish; because Christ has won the war. How difficult a state to live in! It’s much easier, for example, to disavow politics altogether or conversely to put all of our hope into a certain political outcome. It’s much harder to care, and yet not be worried.

Elsewhere in the Scriptures, Jesus tells us clearly, “You can do nothing apart from Me.” Our Lord wants us to act. In fact, the victory He has achieved, He will secure with our help. Salvation history is not something that we read from afar; we are making it day by day. The Kingdom of God will come, but it will come through our “fiat,” our “yes, Lord, use me as You will,” our “serviam.” For our actions to be anything, they must be united to Him. Let’s ask Him now for this supernatural vision so we can have the peace that only trust in God can provide.

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