Friday, December 03, 2004

From Sermons Preached on Various Occasions
by Venerable John Henry Newman, C.O.

As we approach the season of our Lord's advent we are warned Sunday after Sunday by our tender Mother, Holy Church, of the duty of looking out for it. Last week we were reminded of that dreadful day, when the Angels shall reap the earth, and gather together the noxious weeds out of the midst of the corn, and bind them in bundles for the burning. Next week we shall read of that "great tribulation," which will immediately precede the failing of the sun and moon, and the appearance of the Sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And today we are told to wait in expectation of that awful Sign, serving the Living and True God the while, as is His due, who has "converted us from idols," and "delivered us from the wrath to come."

What St. Paul calls "waiting," or "expecting," or "looking out," that our Lord Himself enjoins upon us, when He bids us "look up and lift up our heads, when these things begin to come to pass"; as if it were our duty to be on the alert, starting up at the first notice, and straining, as it were, our eyes with eager and devout interest, that we may catch the earliest sight of His presence, when He is manifested in the heavens—just as a whole city or country from time to time is found to sit up all night for the appearance of some meteor or strange star, which Science has told them is to come. Elsewhere, this frame of mind is called watching,—whether by our Lord or by His holy Apostles after Him. "Watch ye, therefore," He says Himself, "for you know not when the Lord of the house cometh; at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning; lest, coming suddenly, He find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all,—Watch." And St. Paul: "It is now the hour for us to rise from sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we believed. The night is past, the day is at hand." And St. John: "Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments."

Passages such as these might be multiplied, and they lead to reflection of various kinds. The substance of religion consists in faith, hope, and charity; and the qualification for eternal life is to be in a state of grace and free from mortal sin; yet, when we come to the question, how we are to preserve ourselves in a state of grace, and gain the gift of perseverance in it, then a number of observances have claims upon us, over and above those duties in which the substance of religion lies, as being its safeguard and protection. And these same observances, as being of a nature to catch the eye of the world, become the badges of the Christian, as contrasted with other men; whereas faith, hope, and charity are lodged deep in the breast, and are not seen. Now, one of these characteristics of a Christian spirit, springing from the three theological virtues, and then in turn defending and strengthening them, is that habit of waiting and watching, to which this season of the year especially invites us; and the same habit is also a mark of the children of the Church, and a note of her divine origin.


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