Saturday, December 12, 2009

Newman: A Meditation for the Third Sunday of Advent: Holiness in this Earth and the Next

From the site for the Cause for John Henry Cardinal Newman comes a meditation for the 3rd Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday), Holiness in this earth and the next.

In the sermon ‘Holiness Necessary for Future Blessedness‘ (1826), Newman reflects on the implications of the vocation to holiness, giving his own answer to the question put to St John the Baptist, by those who seek God’s salvation: ‘What should we do?’ What is Newman’s answer? Only through Christian conversion – the search for ‘truth and purity’, and ultimately the search for God – can we prepare to enter heaven. Moreover, we learn what heaven is like from the Christian liturgy, a foretaste of the joy that we hope for in the company of the angels and saints:

Heaven then is not like this world; I will say what it is much more like,—a church. For in a place of public worship no language of this world is heard; there are no schemes brought forward for temporal objects, great or small; no information how to strengthen our worldly interests, extend our influence, or establish our credit. These things indeed may be right in their way, so that we do not set our hearts upon them; still (I repeat), it is certain that we hear nothing of them in a church. Here we hear solely and entirely of God. We praise Him, worship Him, sing to Him, thank Him, confess to Him, give ourselves up to Him, and ask His blessing. And therefore, a church is like heaven; viz. because both in the one and the other, there is one single sovereign subject—religion—brought before us. [...]

[If] we were told that no irreligious man could worship, or spiritually see Him in church; should we not at once perceive the meaning of the doctrine? viz. that, were a man to come hither, who had suffered his mind to grow up in its own way, as nature or chance determined, without any deliberate habitual effort after truth and purity, he would find no real pleasure here, but would soon get weary of the place; because, in this house of God, he would hear only of that one subject which he cared little or nothing about, and nothing at all of those things which excited his hopes and fears, his sympathies and energies.

If then a man without religion (supposing it possible) were admitted into heaven, doubtless he would sustain a great disappointment. Before, indeed, he fancied that he could be happy there; but when he arrived there, he would find no discourse but that which he had shunned on earth, no pursuits but those he had disliked or despised, nothing which bound him to aught else in the universe, and made him feel at home, nothing which he could enter into and rest upon. He would perceive himself to be an isolated being, cut away by Supreme Power from those objects which were still entwined around his heart. Nay, he would be in the presence of that Supreme Power, whom he never on earth could bring himself steadily to think upon, and whom now he regarded only as the destroyer of all that was precious and dear to him. Ah! he could not bear the face of the Living God; the Holy God would be no object of joy to him. “Let us alone! What have we to do with thee?” [Luke 4:34] is the sole thought and desire of unclean souls, even while they acknowledge His majesty. None but the holy can look upon the Holy One; without holiness no man can endure to see the Lord.