Nine Days with St. John Henry Newman – Day 8
Day 8 – Ordinary Duties
John Henry Newman’s goal was to imitate and proclaim Jesus Christ; to serve God and love his neighbor as himself; to know the Lord and make Him known.
–Bishop James D. Conley, in his introduction to Everyday Meditations by John Henry Newman
In his introduction to Everyday Meditations, a compilation of John Henry Newman’s writings, Bishop James Conley highlights Newman’s belief in the need for daily conversions, meaning an “initial acceptance of Truth and the lifelong process of transformation by the Holy Spirit.” It entails a “deepening of faith and love” or what some might call a “second conversion” that “builds upon our initial reception of grace in Baptism.”
“I need you to teach me day by day, according to each day’s opportunities and needs,” Newman prayed. “Teach me… to sit and your feet and to hear your word. Give me that true wisdom which seeks your will by prayer and meditation… Give me the discernment to know your voice from the voice of strangers, and to rest upon it and to seek it in the first place.”
Newman articulated this idea in a short piece of advice called “A Short Road to Perfection” (September 27th,1856), which stands on its own and needs no further explanation.
It is the saying of holy men that, if we wish to be perfect, we have nothing more to do than to perform the ordinary duties of the day well. A short road to perfection—short, not because easy, but because pertinent and intelligible. There are no short ways to perfection, but there are sure ones.
I think this is an instruction which may be of great practical use to persons like ourselves. It is easy to have vague ideas of what perfection is, which serve well enough to talk about, when we do not intend to aim at it; but as soon as a person really desires and sets about seeking it himself, he is dissatisfied with anything but what is tangible and clear, and constitutes some sort of direction towards the practice of it.
We must bear in mind what is meant by perfection. It does not mean any extraordinary service, anything out of the way, or especially heroic—not all have the opportunity of heroic acts, of sufferings—but it means what the word perfection ordinarily means. By perfect we mean that which has no flaw in it, that which is complete, that which is consistent, that which is sound—we mean the opposite to imperfect. As we know well what imperfection in religious service means, we know by the contrast what is meant by perfection.
He, then, is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly, and we need not go beyond this to seek for perfection. You need not go out of the round of the day.
I insist on this because I think it will simplify our views, and fix our exertions on a definite aim. If you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say, first—Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising; give your first thoughts to God; make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament; say the Angelus devoutly; eat and drink to God’s glory; say the Rosary well; be recollected; keep out bad thoughts; make your evening meditation well; examine yourself daily; go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.
(Adapted from John Henry Newman)
O my God, my whole life has been a course of mercies and blessings shown to one who has been most unworthy of them. I require no faith, for I have had a long experience, as to Your providence towards me. Year after year You have carried me on – removed dangers from my path – recovered me, recruited me, refreshed me, borne with me, directed me, sustained me. O forsake me not when my strength failed me. And You never will forsake me. I may securely repose upon You. Sinner as I am, nevertheless, while I am true to You, You will still and to the end, be superabundantly true to me. I believe, my Lord and my God, help me in my unbelief. Amen.
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