Sunday, December 23, 2012

Preparing for Christ with Newman.

Sorting through the Advent reading I meant to do, I found this sermon of Newman's and actually read it. Holy smokes (no pun intended)! Not for the faint of heart, it is the perfect piece for Advent during this Year of Faith. I always feel so disconnected by the time that little baby is in the manger--the pardonable but still lamentable signs of original sin--and wonder, "Why is it so rare to feel awe, wonder, total submissiveness when I believe with all I am that one night in 1st-century Palestine, the Creator of the Stars was born in blood and water?" 

Really. That's pretty awesome.  Newman's commentary is fabulous, so here are some of the highlights. Bear in mind, of course, that fear here is not terror. Newman was no Jansenist. Fear, rather, is that perfect piety (holy, servile fear) that inspires submission to the only One who holds all good in himself.

A masterful attempt to articulate how feeling ought to follow faith. Read the whole thing here.

"I say this, then, which I think no one can reasonably dispute. They are the class of feelings we should {22} have,—yes, have in an intense degree—if we literally had the sight of Almighty God; therefore they are the class of feelings which we shall have, if we realize His presence. In proportion as we believe that He is present, we shall have them; and not to have them, is not to realize, not to believe that He is present...

"Who then is there to deny, that if we saw God, we should fear? Take the most cold and secular of all those who explain away the Gospel; or take the most heated and fanatic of those who consider it peculiarly their own; take those who think that Christ has brought us nothing great, or those who think He has brought it all to themselves,—I say, would either party keep from fearing greatly if they saw God? Surely it is quite a truism to say that any creature would fear. But why would he fear? Would it be merely because he saw God, or because he knew that God was present? If he shut his eyes, he would still fear, for his eyes had conveyed to him this solemn truth; to have seen would be enough. But if so, does it not follow at once, that, if men do not fear, it is because they do not act as they would act if they saw Him, that is,—they do not feel that He is present? ...

This will be seen more clearly, by considering how differently we feel towards and speak of our friends as present or absent. Their presence is a check upon us; it acts as an external law, compelling us to do or not do what we should not do or do otherwise, or should do but for it. This is just what most men lack in their religion at present,—such an external restraint arising from the consciousness of God's presence... When a person is absent, we are tempted perhaps confidently to say what his opinion is on certain points;—but should he be present, we qualify our words; we hardly like to speak at all, from the vivid consciousness that we may be wrong, and that he is present to tell us so. We are very cautious of pronouncing what his feelings are on the matter in hand, or how he is disposed towards ourselves; and in all things we observe a deference and delicacy in our conduct towards him. Now, if we feel this towards our fellows, what shall we feel in the presence of an Angel? and if so, what in the presence of the All-knowing, All-searching Judge of men? What is respect and consideration in the case of our fellows, becomes godly fear as regards Almighty God; and they who do not fear Him, in one word, do not believe that He sees and hears them. If they did, they would cease to boast so confidently of His favourable thoughts of them, to foretell His dealings, to pronounce upon His revelations, to make free with His Name, and to address Him familiarly."

And of course, because this was a homily, he offers some practical and doable ideas:

"Is it wonderful that we have no fear in our words and mutual intercourse, when we exercise no acts of faith? What, you will ask, are acts of faith? Such as these,—to come often to prayer, is an act of faith; to kneel down instead of sitting, is an act of faith; to strive to attend to your prayers, is an act of faith; to behave in God's House otherwise than you would in a common room, is an act of faith; to come to it on weekdays as well as Sundays, is an act of faith; to come often to the most Holy Sacrament, is an act of faith; and to be still and reverent during that sacred service, is an act of faith. These are all acts of faith, because they all are acts such as we should perform, if we saw and heard Him who is present, though with our bodily eyes we see and hear Him not. But, "blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed;" for, be sure, if we thus act, we shall, through God's grace, be gradually endued with the spirit of His holy fear. We shall in time, in our mode of talking and acting, in our religious services and our daily conduct, manifest, not with constraint and effort, but spontaneously and naturally, that we fear Him while we love him." 

1 comment:

Melanie Bettinelli said...

Thank you, Erika. That's beautiful. And yes very helpful.