Tuesday, 23 February 2010

John Henry Newman and the Call of Truth

Some years ago on a visit to Oxford I took a walk across Christchurch meadow and thought about John Henry Newman. I think it was being in that place and thinking about Newman the student and then Newman the Anglican priest that I began to appreciate more clearly the greatness of the man. I began to understand, more clearly than before, that Newman had glimpsed, and had then pursued, the Truth. Newman's "Holy Grail" was the Truth. His personality, his character, his spiritual awareness meant that he could do no other than follow the call of Truth. I am not a Newman scholar, but I would guess that this is a central part of his identity. The discovery of the "pearl" means the purchase of the field; it means being prepared to lay down everything to possess that great prize. For Newman, the pursuit of Truth was the same as following the call of Christ. This is of a different order than being worried about polyester vestments and bad church music. We are talking here about the invitation to decisive action - an act of faith. This is not just about where a person feels "comfortable" or "welcomed". As we know, Newman suffered greatly on deciding to leave the Church of England and then suffered again on taking his place in the Roman Catholic community. But the suffering is not the whole story.
It seems to me that a Christian cannot know that he or she is truly on the right path unless there is a commitment to the Truth. Catholicism especially recognises both the call and the challenge of Truth. The greatest teachers of the faith (such as Fulton Sheen) are not just defenders of the faith or of the Truth - they are on the attack! Today we need courageous champions of Truth. The struggles against secularism, militant atheism and relativism are not going to be won by those who are more interested in finding shelter. The fight between good and evil is more serious than that. Those who wish to continue being Truth-bearers and Truth-seekers need to prepare for battle. That "kindly light" which we may see in the gloomy distance is actually the fire of a roaring furnace - the fire in the Heart of Christ.

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