Self-Denial, the Test of Religious Earnestness, Part 1
by Fr. Juan Vélez
John Henry Newman explains that the test of the true practice of religion is self-denial. Without the latter a person makes a mere profession of religion.
Many people call themselves Christians, but are they living as such? John Henry Newman looks at this in a sermon titled “Self-Denial the Test of Religious Earnestness.” He begins by noting that although God communicates himself to men in many different ways, many are asleep or live as in a dream. And he recalls St. Paul words: “Now it is high time to awake out of sleep.” (Rom. xiii. 11)
Since we must look at ourselves, Newman suggests that we ask: “How do I know I am in the right way?” He remarks that this is a question more difficult to ask now than when the Church was actively persecuted.
Newman explains his reasons. In his age many persons of rank, intelligence and influence professed Christianity, and many of the institutions of England were based on the acknowledgment of Christianity as the true religion. Even though much has changed since he wrote these words – and there is overt persecution of Christians in many parts of the world – it is true that much of Western civilization today lives off the heritage of Christian beliefs and practices. Whether in his time or in ours, he was correct in asserting that often:
“Our most bitter are not our most dangerous enemies; on the other hand, greatest blessings are the most serious temptations to the unwary. And our danger, at present, is this, that a man’s having a general character for religion, reverencing the Gospel and professing it, and to a certain point obeying it, so fully promotes his temporal interests, that it is difficult for him to make out for himself whether he really acts on faith, or from a desire of this world’s advantages.”
It is difficult, he notes, to find a test for the true practice of religion. People recite prayers, attend religious services and wish God’s blessings on others – but frequently this is a veneer of religion.
“Oftentimes these same persons are very inconsistent;—often, for instance, talk irreverently and profanely, ridicule or slight things sacred, speak against the Holy Church, or against the blessed Saints of early times, or even against the favoured servants of God, set before us in Scripture; or act with the world and the worse sort of men, even when they do not speak like them; attend to them more than to the Ministers of God, or are very lukewarm, lax, and unscrupulous in matters of conduct.”
As Newman explains “self-denial” is the real test to distinguish true religion from a mere profession of religion. Thus with the example of the recently canonized saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta we must ask ourselves, am I, too, asleep?