Sermon on the Mount
Copenhagen Church Alter Painting

Last week we were reminded that we should always wonder at the glorious surprise, so to speak, of God’s miraculous work in and with human history. After giving a sermon on the “Kingdom of Saints” on Monday of Pentecost Week, some time between 1835 and 1836, the very next day St. John Henry Newman gave a sermon on the same topic and the same verse, Daniel 2.25: “The stone that smote the Image became a great Mountain, and filled the whole earth.” Just as Christ was a stone, rejected by the builders, who became the cornerstone, so the Church, the small pebble beside the mightiest of the earth’s kingdoms–Babylon, Assyria, Persia, Greece, and Rome–has grown into a mighty mountain, a civilization spanning space and time, earth and heaven. Newman says the Kingdom of God in his Church is still unfolding, and suggests we should not quail at strife and hardship in the life of the Church: they are the growing pains unto eternal life.

The “singular phenomenon” of the Church began on the foundation of “Peter and the other Apostles,” whom he left as his “Viceregents … after his departure.” Further, he announced the “indefinite extension” and “unlimited duration” of the Church. Newman comments on how the Church, under the “government” of Christ, is the “very dynasty which his Apostles began,” an Empire of Love wherein Christ promises he is with us “to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). A century later, St. Paul VI’s would speak of the building of a civilization of love.

Newman’s brilliant historical imagination is quick to see the implications for the whole of the human drama, from ancient history to modern times. He comments that the idea of a “new Empire of the world … destined to issue [forth]” was a common ancient notion growing in pagan and Jewish minds in the four centuries prior to Christ. This “rumor” of a new Kingdom to come is found by Newman, and many early Church Fathers, even in the first century B.C. Roman poetry of Virgil. Virgil predicts a new age of “Justice” ushered in by a divine and human “baby,” a “boy’s birth in whom / The iron shall cease, the golden race arise,” who will do away with “wickedness,” freeing the “earth from never-ceasing fear.” This era of a “world at peace” would come from this new baby boy receiving “the life of gods.” This was written sometime between 42 and 38 B.C., just before the birth of Christ; it is difficult to not agree with Newman, that even the pagans caught wind of the “rumor” of the coming of the Kingdom of God, however they may have misunderstood it. Newman sees evidence for this in the “Eastern Sages,” the non-Jewish wise men coming from the East to visit the baby Jesus, and in the writings of Moses, “another Eastern sage, fourteen hundred years before,” who wrote in Genesis 49:10 about a “Star” from Jacob, a “Sceptre” rising out of Israel, of one who would have “Dominion.” 

But Newman wants to make sure we see that, just as Christ says he brought “not peace but a sword,” (Matt, 10:34), that the coming of this Kingdom would involve strife, sorrow, division, and pain until its fulfillment in Christ’s second coming, the end of history. Christ’s promises are not as glittering and glamorous as Virgil’s; noting prophecies in the Psalms and Isaiah, Newman says the “prediction of bloody revolution and of peace are as strangely combined, as in our Lord’s account of His Kingdom, as being at once a refuge and consolation, and a sword.” He says this is an utterly unique kind of prophecy compared to pagan histories, with no “resemblance … in the annals of other kingdoms.” The Kingdom of God is unique in this sense, too: it is realistic about human suffering and the drama of sin, not idealistic about political perfection.

While he was not yet a Catholic when he delivered this sermon, Newman goes on to cite the Middle Ages as, like the period of Kings in the Jewish nation, a time when the work of God and his Kingdom did not cease, but was obscured by human sin and blunder. Newman makes it clear that his point is not necessarily to praise or censure the “Papacy”; his point is to “show that it is possible for certain events to be in some sort a fulfillment of prophecy, without considering every part of them, the manner of their accomplishments, the circumstances the instruments, and the like to be approved by God.” God’s promises remain true even if humans within the Church do not. The Church as a fulfillment of prophecy, in this life, is a mixed history; it is a dramatic story of God’s fidelity and man’s choice for or against that fidelity. 

Thus, confronted with sin within the Church’s bounds, we can still see “in the present feebleness and blindness of the Church, the tokens of His righteous judgments upon us.…” He will at length, even yet, though doubtless in a way which we cannot understand, “establish and make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” These words should comfort us as our faith is assailed from within and without the Church; we should never let it diminish our resolve and action to love God and neighbor, to remain faithful to God’s promises, since he is ever faithful, from the dawn of history to the coming of Christ to the present age. 

We don’t need to be serious historians like Newman to see this or know this. We need to be faithful. Let us put into action the faith that we profess. Our fervent prayers at frequent Masses, our truly contrite confessions, our smallest acts of kindness and charity to a person in need, are more real, and of more eternal weight, than any of the distractions or temptations that assail us. Making the firm resolve to not sin, to accept crosses and trials humbly, to live a life of forgiveness, and to make greater strides of love, are all in Christ spiritual acts that place us within the grand history Newman delineates. They make us real subjects in the real Kingdom that is still spreading and growing; they make our bodies and souls the very fulfillment of the ancient prophecies and promises of God’s loving union with mankind. They make us, as Newman echoes in so many of his writings, above all obedient to the voice of our Shepherd. In this way we continue to build the Kingdom of God with Christ, even in the midst of social and political unrest, ideologies that seek to erase Christianity, war, or pandemic. St. John Henry Newman assures as that these trials are prophetic proofs of, not proofs against, the growth of God’s Kingdom.

Like this article?

What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

The true light of Christ’s divinity was made visible to the Apostles at the Transfiguration.

Leave a comment

What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

Our Books

About Cardinal John Henry Newman

Purchase Book

A Guide to John Henry Newman will interest educated readers and professors alike, and serve as a text for college seminars for the purpose of studying Newman.

Review by Catherine Maybanks
(Catholic Herald, April 1, 2023)

Review by Serenheed James
(Antiphon, April 2023)

Purchase Book

Fr Peter Conley takes us on an exciting journey into the spirituality and inner life of Saint John Henry Newman.

Purchase Book

Endorsement by Neyra Blanco (Amazon)
I bought this book for my son and he loved it, he wrote this review and urged my to submitted: “I think this book has a very beautiful message, because it shows how the young Newman was so determined to achieve his dream of becoming a priest, but even after his dream he continued to work in the church with passion until the day he died, it’s so admirable that even Newman so old and so weak still had that urge to continued his work of being a priest. And the book is well written with words not too complicated with very enjoyable texts and well illustrated pictures. I highly recommend this book for a 5th grader.  

Purchase Book

What is a Classical Liberal Arts Education? Why is it so important for the development of a person?

Fr. Juan R. Vélez answers these and more questions you might have about University Education in the 21st century. This book is aimed for parents, prospective University students, and educators. It will help you discern why adding Liberal Arts electives to your education will help it form it better, and help the student learn to reason, and not just learn.

He also explains how many Universities have changed the true meaning of Liberal Arts, and the subjects, and gives advise on how to choose College Campus, Subjects, and Teachers.

A wonderful book that every parent should also read way before your children are College bound. A Liberal Arts education can start earlier in life, even from home.

Purchase Book

Endorsement by Christopher Moellering (Goodreads, September 14, 2019)
In Passion for Truth Fr. Vélez gave us an outstanding biography of Cardinal Newman. In this work, he provides a concise overview of his thought and his devotion. This is a great work for someone who, perhaps hearing of Newman for the first time because of his beatification 13 October, 2019, wants to know more about this English saint.Vélez is a wonderful writer in his own right, and the frequent quotations from Newman round out the work nicely. I especially appreciated the frequent citing of Newman’s Meditations and Devotions, which show a different side of his spirituality than his more well-known works, Development of Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Assent.

Purchase Book

Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman, endorsement by Illow M. Roque (Amazon, September 3, 2010)
“There is a time to put direct inquiry on hold and give ourselves to prayer and practical duties.” Sound advice from one of the earlier, thought-provoking reminders in this sparkling gem of a book: Take Five | Meditations with John Henry Newman, written by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Juan R. Vélez and published by Our Sunday Visitor. This particular paragraph, referenced above, which begins with a direct quote from soon-to-be canonized priest, cardinal and poet, John Henry Newman: “Study is good, but it gets us only so far . . .” is actually the 15th in a series of 76 concise, logically organized meditations moving from the elementary to the sublime. Each meditation–one per page–is built upon the great man’s writings and remarkably rich spirituality. Whether taken whole in one reading or in part page-by-page over a course of weeks and months, these wonderfully insightful meditations will open up, even to the busiest reader in the midst of the world, a unique pathway into prayer and contemplation. My advice to spiritual inquirers at all levels, from the novice to the spiritually adept, is to follow the authors’ recommendation to use this book as a guide for daily prayer and meditation. The structure of the book itself is ideal: first, the authors introduce us to Cardinal Newman, the man, where we are given the opportunity to get to know him through a brief sketch of his life and spirituality at the beginning of the book. This is something readers will likely find themselves referring to again and again, prompting many, I suspect, to even wider explorations of this most gifted Christian leader. Then comes the meditations, consisting of a short summary of Newman’s thoughts on subjects taken, as the authors explain, from various salient points for which Newman is justly remembered: The pursuit of objective religious truth; Teaching on the Virtues; Defense of the Catholic Church; A devout spiritual and moral life; and Generosity and loyalty in his friendships, which sets the topic and tone for each meditation to follow. Each meditation consists of an excerpt taken from Newman’s thirty-plus volumes of writings and diaries. Next comes three brief and extremely useful sections entitled: “Think About It,” which establishes a prayerfully resonant tone throughout the book; “Just Imagine,” which provides a vivid, prayerful experience of the Scriptures that tie in, and finally, “Remember,” a pithy summation which the authors suggest may be used as a daily aspiration. Each meditation is given its own page, which makes it ideal for daily reflection for readers on the go. This book is a must have for every serious Catholic who wants to take their faith to the next level, which is to respond appropriately to the universal call to holiness and seek interior union with God.
Sermon Blog
David Warren

The Mystery of the Holy Trinity

What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: “We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son’s is another, the Holy Spirit’s another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.”

Read More »
About Newman
Fr. Juan Velez

The Eucharistic Presence

We call His presence in this Holy Sacrament a spiritual presence, not as if ‘spiritual’ were but a name or mode of speech.

Read More »
About Newman
Prof. Barb H. Wyman

The Priestly Office

The sacrifice of the altar as a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary is a “bloodless rite,” but nevertheless, like that sacrifice, it too is a “fire of Love,” and a “Fount of Light.”

Read More »
About Newman
Fr. Juan Velez

The Indwelling Spirit

With this indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we have the indwelling of Christ in our souls. Christ is born in us. The Holy Spirit makes us children of God, crying out Abba Father, and restores in us the likeness of Christ.

Read More »