Nine Days with St. John Henry Newman – Day 1

Day 1 – Making the Journey

 Here then Christ finds us, weary of that world in which we are obliged to live and act, whether as willing or unwilling slaves to it. He finds us needing and seeking a home, and making one, as we best may, by means of the creature, since it is all we can do. The world, in which our duties lie, is as waste as the wilderness, as restless and turbulent as the ocean, as inconstant as the wind and weather. It has no substance in it, but is like a shade or phantom; when you pursue it, when you try to grasp it, it escapes from you, or it is malicious, and does you a mischief. We need something which the world cannot give: this is what we need, and this it is which the Gospel has supplied.

(From the sermon “The Church: A Home for the Lonely” by John Henry Newman)

There are good reasons why so many writers, poets and preachers have used the analogy of the spiritual life as a journey. The most famous is Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, though many others before and after that 17th-century Protestant writer made use of the idea. Holy Scripture describes those close to God as “walking” with him. Before the age of rapid transit, traveling was a relatively slow process, a journey with potential stops, hazards and unexpected pleasures. So it is with our spiritual lives.

The analogy also encompasses the many kinds of journeys we may experience: welcome journeys to yearned-for destinations, necessary journeys to dreaded ends, journeys to those we love, journeys to better fortunes, journeys begun by being pushed, journeys with obstacles, pitfalls and setbacks, journeys with stopping points that seem like home, journeys that hardly seem like journeys at all.  

John Henry Newman often referred to the journey of his life. In many ways, it was a well-publicized journey, falling under the scrutiny, criticism and praise of his contemporaries. He chronicled almost 60 years of it in the now classic Apologia Pro Vita Sua. There he explains how he went from being a staunch Anglican, spending 20 years as a clergyman in the Church of England, to being received into the Roman Catholic Church. It was a long and often painful journey, with missed steps and lost friendships, struggles and, at times, joy. He was, at best, a reluctant traveler. Even when he reached his initial destination as a Catholic, he knew it was only the beginning of another journey. 

For those reasons, I felt a kinship with Newman. 

Those who know me will remember how, as a Baptist, I was very much at home with being a Baptist. To my way of thinking, I had reached the right destination: a relationship with Jesus based on the Bible. But a series of events took me from that home, literally and figuratively, and after a short time of wandering, I found a very different kind of home as an Anglican (“Episcopal,” in its U.S. version). But circumstances beyond my control pushed me to do what I had never thought I’d do: I journeyed on to find a home in the Catholic Church. 

I can relate well to something Newman wrote to a friend in 1846: “This day I have been a year in the Catholic Church – and every day I bless Him who led me into it more and more. I have come from clouds and darkness into light, and cannot look back on my former state without the dreary feeling which one has on looking back upon a wearisome and miserable journey.”

Though I’d hesitate to call my journey wearisome or miserable, I would agree that every day I bless Him who led me into the Church more and more. “This is the Church of God, which is our true home of God’s providing,” Newman said in a sermon. “His own heavenly court, where He dwells with Saints and Angels, into which He introduces us by a new birth, and in which we forget the outward world and its many troubles.” Here, if we seek it, he said, we may enjoy “dwelling in a heavenly home in the midst of this turbulent world.” 

Any journey, whether it seems effortless or arduous, becomes defined by where it leads. An extremely pleasant journey that ends up in hell is no longer so pleasant. A difficult journey that ends up in heaven is no longer as difficult as it seemed to be. 

Newman came to a conclusion that rings true for many of us. “We may be full of sorrows; there may be fightings without and fears within; we may be exposed to the frowns, censure, or contempt of men; we may be shunned by them; or, to take the lightest case, we may be (as we certainly shall be) wearied out by the unprofitableness of this world, by its coldness, unfriendliness, distance, and dreariness; we shall need something nearer to us. What is our resource? It is not in the arm of man, in flesh and blood, in the voice of friends, or in pleasant countenance; it is that holy home which God has given us in His Church; it is that everlasting City in which He has fixed His abode.”

To that, I give a hearty Baptist “amen.”

PRAYER (Adapted from John Henry Newman)

O MY God, You and You alone are all-wise and all-knowing! You know, You have determined everything which will happen to us from first to last. You have ordered things in the wisest way, and You know what will be my lot year by year ‘til I die. You know how long I have to live. You know how I shall die. You have precisely ordained everything…You bring me on year by year, by Your wonderful Providence, from youth to age, with the most perfect wisdom, and with the most perfect love. 

My Lord, who came into this world to do Your Father’s will, not Your own, give me a most absolute and simple submission to the will of Father and Son. I believe, O my Saviour, that You know just what is best for me. I believe that You love me better than I love myself, that You are all-wise in Your Providence, and all-powerful in Your protection… I can ask nothing better than this, to be Your care, not my own. I protest, O my Lord, that, through Your grace, I will follow You wherever You go, and will not lead the way. I will wait on You for Your guidance, and, on obtaining it, I will act upon it in simplicity and without fear. And I promise that I will not be impatient if at any time I am kept by You in darkness and perplexity; nor will I ever complain or fret if I come into any misfortune or anxiety.

I know, O Lord, You will do Your part towards me, as I, through Your grace, desire to do my part towards You. I know well that You never can forsake those who seek You, or can disappoint those who trust You. Yet I know too, the more I pray for Thy protection, the more surely and fully I shall have it… 

Visit me not, O my loving Lord—if it be not wrong so to pray—visit me not with those trying visitations which saints alone can bear! Pity my weakness, and lead me heavenwards in a safe and tranquil course. Still, I leave all in Thy hands, my dear Saviour—I bargain for nothing—only, if You bring heavier trials on me, give me more grace—flood me with the fullness of Your strength and consolation, that they may work in me not death, but life and salvation. Amen.

Written by Paul McCusker

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