We can’t avoid communicating. Even silence is a form of speech, and in a world that communicates as frequently as ours, and across so many mediums, silence is a particularly loud language. As
Christians, we have a duty to profess Christ in words and actions, just as did the Apostles, and yet we also have a duty to act humbly, not to make a show of our deeds and prayers. Our Lord is the One who commissions us with these duties – how then do we obey them when they seem to contradict? This question is the subject of Blessed John Henry Newman’s sermon, “Profession Without Ostentation.”
Blessed Newman offers his listeners three answers to this question, and orders them from general to specific, and from simple to sophisticated. The first way to profess our faith with humility is for us to do what the Church commands us to do. If we obey the Church, we will not be able to hide the light of Christ within us, keeping it from the world. This does not mean, Newman adds, that the world will praise us or will cease to call us boastful or hypocritical. Before God’s judgment, though, we will be free of these charges.
In fact, God has ordained the Church to protect us from falling into pride. She gives us the means to become holy, and bids us rely on her than on ourselves: “Therefore it is, that the Church does so many things for us, appoints Fasts and Feasts, times of public prayer, the order of the sacraments, the services of devotion at marriages and deaths, and all accompanied by a fixed form of sound words; in order (I say) to remove from us individually the burden of a high profession, of implying great things of ourselves by inventing for ourselves solemn prayers and praises…”.
Newman’s second way is for Christians to do their ordinary duties while living a strict Christian life. Our lives will speak for us while we are at work, at home, in traffic, and so forth. This way is not loud,
but it may draw the same calumny our Lord received. Newman writes, “We sometimes find men who aim at doing their duty in the common course of life, surprised to hear that they are ridiculed, and called hard names by careless or worldly persons. This is as it should be; it is as it should be, that they are surprised at it. If a private Christian sets out with expecting to make a disturbance in the world, the fear is, lest he be not so humble-minded as he should be.” This is the way of St. Josemaría, founder of Opus Dei, which is dedicated to helping men and women become holy through the course of their ordinary lives, whatever their occupations may be.
Finally, Newman shows us the third and most demanding of ways we can profess Christ and remain humble: to speak our opinion on world events as Christians, to pass judgment when called for, and to rebu
ke others when necessary. These delicate acts require discernment.
Next week we will examine each of these actions and learn from Newman how and when to employ them. For now we can ask ourselves if we are obeying the Church in all she asks of us, and if we are fulfilling our ordinary duties heroically. We can’t overlook these simple answers, for they are the ordinary means of our witness to Christ.