Sunday, June 6, 2010


I thoroughly enjoyed our recent priests’ retreat thanks to 2 retreat masters: Fr. James Kubicki, SJ from Milwaukee (also National Director of the “Apostleship of Prayer”), and my hero, John Henry Newman.

I referred in a talk recently to the farewell sermon Newman preached as he retired from his Anglican priesthood (titled “The Parting of Friends”). I wanted to read the whole thing, and happily I found a second-hand copy of the volume containing it—his Sermons on Subjects of the Day. It included a number of sermons else that I wanted to read, for a special reason.

Newman was supremely confident in his Anglican status and that of the Church of England as a whole, until 1839, when he read an article (written by a Catholic) that shook him theologically. Turning more and more toward Rome, yet fighting this tendency for himself and for others, in 1841 he wrote his famous Tract 90 as a way of justifying being of “catholic” sentiments and yet a faithful Anglican. It was roundly condemned by church leaders in Oxford, and (along with a series of other sad events) brought him to his resignation in 1843. Two years later, he entered the Catholic Church, convinced he had to, for the sake of his salvation.

He struggled mightily in those years of self-imposed exile, and I wanted to read those sermons written and preached during that time-frame to see where his mind and heart were. It was an enlightening experience during the retreat to read perhaps 20 of his sermons from this time. Ironically, I haven’t make it to “The Parting of Friends” just yet!

Where was he during this period of sustained desolation and introspection? Quoted over and over in these sermons was the Book of Ecclesiastes, chapters 9-12. I encourage you to pore over these chapters for yourself…

But this essay is also about “serendipity.” Since childhood I have been attracted to Newman; to the Sacred Heart and sufferings of Christ; to the possibility of a priestly vocation; and to the Divine Office—all because I won a prize in 4th grade that was a book (My Daily Bread, I believe was the title), with three prayer-cards as bookmarks: one on the Good Shepherd and His call to us; one on the wounds of Jesus crucified; and one containing this prayer from Newman:

May [God] support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done! Then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last!

What a surprise and pleasure it was for me to discover that this was the ending of “Wisdom and Innocence,” one of the sermons I was reading on retreat!

The quote from Newman was called, on my 4th grade prayer-card, a “Morning Prayer.” And one can see in it a longing, asking God to be faithful to us throughout the day (rather like an inverse form of the “Morning Offering”). What a longing this was in Newman—begging that his spiritual struggle would be supported by God, and that it would end with safe lodging, holy rest, and peace. Only in 1879, when Pope Leo XIII made him a Cardinal, might this prayer fully have been answered. As he himself said then, “The cloud is lifted from me forever!”

By longing to read “The Parting of Friends,” I found myself discovering the renewal of a connection with an old friend. God is good all the time; God is a God of surprises; the better word for “serendipity” is “grace.”

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