Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman
Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman
Shrinking from Christ's Coming
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If a famous person visited your home tomorrow, you might feel a mixture of surprise, excitement, fear and anxiety. Even with warning, you would be both overjoyed at his or her coming and worried that you and your home wouldn’t be worthy to receive such a guest. How much more will Christ overwhelm us when He comes again? His arrival will elicit joy and relief, but we will also fear his judgment, the judgment of our Creator who knows what is in man, every thought of every person. 

That mixture of emotion, St. John Henry Newman says in his sermon “Shrinking from Christ’s Coming,” is natural. In fact, he wonders how we can even desire that Christ come quickly, given that we would be hastening this terrible judgment? But It’s no inconsistency that draws us to pray for the return of our Lord, even knowing what we will face, Newman says, as long as we know Whom we are addressing when we pray.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we are enjoined to pray to our Father for Christ’s coming (“Thy Kingdom Come”). That command does not come from man, but from Jesus Himself: “though we could not at all reconcile our feelings about ourselves with the command given us, still it is our duty to obey the latter on faith.” And that faith is directed toward God, Who alone we can trust with abandonment. But we so often forget what God has done for us, our faith faltering, as happened to the ancient Israelites. That’s why their leaders insisted that each generation pass on the stories of God’s miraculous interventions, so that no generation would forget God and his unfailing mercy. Today, we inherit the entire story of salvation history and its culmination in the Cross. What Christ demonstrated in His total sacrifice on the Cross must shatter every doubt.  No more should we doubt whether we can trust God to take care of us. We can repeat confidently with Job, “though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”

The story of salvation that we know so well should uphold our faith in the one attribute of God we most rely on during His judgment: mercy. Again and again our forefathers in faith forgot or failed to follow God’s plan for their salvation, and again and again God forgave, filled and fortified them with his grace. Are we any different? Do we not fail our Lord daily, often straying from his commands, seeking him half-heartedly while He seeks us with a burning intensity emanating from His Sacred Heart? 

King David, a man after God’s own heart, well understood the mercy of God. He committed some of the gravest sins man can commit, yet he turned toward his Lord Whom he sinned against, not away. In II Samuel we read of David’s disobedience toward God and David’s coming punishment. In this case, God gave David a choice among three punishments. Of the options, David chose a plague from God, rather than the penalty of having enemies pursue him. Why? David says, “I am in great distress; let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.” 

We face the same choice. We have sinned against God, yet God is the only One who can spare us, who understands us and has mercy on us. Newman puts it this way: “I place myself under His pure and piercing eyes, which look me through and through, and discern every trace and every motion of evil within me. Why do I do so? First of all, for this reason. To whom should I go? What can I do better? Who is there in the whole world that can help me? Who that will care for me, or pity me, or have any kind thought of me, if I cannot obtain it of Him? I know He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity; but I know again that He is All-merciful, and that He so sincerely desires my salvation that He has died for me. Therefore, though I am in a great strait, I will rather fall into His hands, than into those of any creature.”

Do we shrink back at the thought of Christ’s coming? If we take a good look at ourselves, we should do so. Yet we beg Him to approach us quickly, for He is our salvation. Remember that no saint has anything to boast of before God. Rather, his or her sanctity consists in having nothing, being nothing, relying so fundamentally on Christ as to be known as “little Christs.” We too can do that, each and every one of us. Nothing can hold us back from being that small except ourselves. Each day, let’s pray “Maranatha” with the confidence of little children—what Christ Himself said we must be to enter His kingdom—and ready ourselves to receive our Merciful Guest.

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