Parochial and Plane Sermons, Vol. 6
In this sermon Blessed John Henry Newman counsels us to take a deeper look at the world and the meaning of life, and to find in Christ the answer to its questions. He bids us to accept suffering in the footsteps of Christ as a condition for true happiness with God.
“A GREAT number of men live and die without reflecting at all upon the state of things in which they find themselves. They take things as they come, and follow their inclinations as far as they have the opportunity. They are guided mainly by pleasure and pain, not by reason, principle, or conscience; and they do not attempt to interpret this world, to determine what it means, or to reduce what they see and feel to system.”
When persons, instead, contemplate life they perceive it is a riddle they cannot solve, and they ask what is our destiny. Newman invites men considering political matters, science, poverty and all human affairs to look to the Cross of Christ as the measure of all things, i.e. the key to understanding these things.
“Thus in the Cross, and Him who hung upon it, all things meet; all things subserve it, all things need it. It is their centre and their interpretation. For He was lifted up upon it, that He might draw all men and all things unto Him.”
People, however, wish a religion that is bright and sunny. “The world, at first sight, appears made for pleasure, and the vision of Christ’s Cross is a solemn and sorrowful sight interfering with this appearance. Be it so; but why may it not be our duty to abstain from enjoyment notwithstanding, if it was a duty even in Eden?”
But this is a superficial view of the world. “The world is sweet to the lips, but bitter to the taste. It pleases at first, but not at last.” As the Scriptures tell us all is vanity of vanities. “Therefore the doctrine of the Cross of Christ does but anticipate for us our experience of the world. It is true, it bids us grieve for our sins in the midst of all that smiles and glitters around us; but if we will not heed it, we shall at length be forced to grieve for them from undergoing their fearful punishment.”
We are called by God to live by faith and to accept suffering with a cheerful countenance. Newman continues explaining that the doctrine of Christ’s atoning death is the heart of religion: “the heart is hidden from view; it is carefully and securely guarded; it is not like the eye set in the forehead, commanding all, and seen of all: and so in like manner the sacred doctrine of the Atoning Sacrifice is not one to be talked of, but to be lived upon; not to be put forth irreverently, but to be adored secretly…”
Newman concludes by correcting the important error of thinking “the Gospel is a sad religion.”
“Let no one go away with the impression that the Gospel makes us take a gloomy view of the world and of life. It hinders us indeed from taking a superficial view, and finding a vain transitory joy in what we see; but it forbids our immediate enjoyment, only to grant enjoyment in truth and fulness afterwards. It only forbids us to begin with enjoyment. It only says, If you begin with pleasure, you will end with pain. It bids us begin with the Cross of Christ, and in that Cross we shall at first find sorrow, but in a while peace and comfort will rise out of that sorrow.”
Suffering brings us exercise the virtues and associates ourselves to Christ’s life. “That Cross will lead us to mourning, repentance, humiliation, prayer, fasting; we shall sorrow for our sins, we shall sorrow with Christ’s sufferings; but all this sorrow will only issue, nay, will be undergone in a happiness far greater than the enjoyment which the world gives,—though careless worldly minds indeed will not believe this, ridicule the notion of it, because they never have tasted it, and consider it a mere matter of words.”
Thus instead of taking what is bright and beautiful on the surface of the world, and often has no substance we see it as a shadow and hope of the substance that is to come. We must fight the temptation to live in materialistic ways finding instead in Jesus Cross and Resurrection, the measure of this world.