During his upcoming visit to England, Pope Benedict will beatify John Henry Cardinal Newman – convert to Catholicism and influential theologian.  The ceremony will take place on September 19th.  Newman’s writings are abundantly rich and full of wisdom and knowledge.  For the purpose of the blog here I found a quote by Newman from his homily “Self-Denial, the Test of Religious Earnestness”.  If we are truly to be men and women of faith, disciples of the Lord, then we must learn to exercise the discipline of self-denial in our lives in one form or another.  True growth to a maturity in faith can only be achieved via this route.  In other words:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If you want to follow me, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.  For whoever chooses to save his life will lose it, but the one who loses his life for my sake will find it.  What will one gain by winning the whole world if he destroys himself?  There is nothing you can give to recover your own self.”  (Mt. 16:24-26)

I believe that Newman’s words in this regard are a needed witness to all Christians in our day and time.  We are too comfortable with the status quo.  We are only too happy to remain half asleep.  We like our Jesus in measured doses … but when we “measure” Jesus out to our liking we stunt ourselves.  This is the problem.  We never reach the true maturity we are meant for.  We are happy to remain on the comfortable plateau of our “Jesus moments” while ignoring the path of self-denial that leads beyond the plateau … but ultimately up the mountain to a greater maturity.

“Wake up!” says Newman or (my words), “Get some backbone in your faith!”  It is only when we pick up the cross and learn the discipline of self-denial that we gain ourselves, that we grow to a true maturity in faith and discipleship, “…the one who loses his life for my sake will find it.”. 

Below are Newman’s words:

Now I do not for an instant suspect, my brethren, that you are in the sound slumber of Sin.  This is a miserable state, which I should hope was, on the whole, the condition of a few men, at least in a place like this.  But, allowing this, yet there is great reason for fearing that very many of you are not wide awake: that though your dreams are disturbed, yet dreams they are; and that the view of religion which you think to be a true one, is not that vision of the Truth which you would see were your eyes open, but such a vague, defective extravagant picture of it as a man sees when he is asleep.  At all events, however this may be, it will be useful (please God) if you ask yourselves, one by one, the question, “How do I know that I am in the right way?  How do I know that I have real faith, and am not in a dream?”

The circumstances of these times render it very difficult to answer this question.  When the world was against Christianity it was comparitively easy.  But (in one sense) the world is now for it … Thus, whether in private families, or in the world, in all ranks of middle life, men lie under a considerable danger at this day, a more than ordinary danger, of self-deception, of being asleep while they think themselves awake.

How then shall we try ourselves?  Can any tests be named which will bring certainty to our minds on the subject?  No indisputable tests can be given.  We cannot know for certain.  We must beware of an impatience about knowing what our real state is.  St. Paul himself did not know till the last days of his life (as far as we know), that he was one of God’s elect who shall never perish.  He said, “I know nothing by myself yet am I not hereby justified;” i.e. though I am not conscious to myself of neglect of duty, yet am I not therefore confident of my acceptance?  Judge nothing before the time…  And yet though this absolute certaintly of our election unto glory be unattainable, and the desire to obtain it an impatience which ill befits sinners, nevertheless a comfortable hope, a sober and subdued belief that God has pardoned and justified us for Christ’s sake (blessed be His name!), is attainable, according to St. John’s words, “If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.”  And the question is, how are we to attain to this, under the circumstances in which we are placed?  In what does it consist?

…since the nature of Christian obedience is the same in every age, it still brings with it, as it did then, an evidence of God’s favour.  We cannot indeed make ourselves as sure as our being in the number of God’s true servants as the early Christians were, yet we may possess our degree of certainty, and by the same kind of evidence, the evidence of self-denial.  This was the great evidence which the first disciples gave, and which we can give still … yet at least we learn thus much from them (early Christians), that a rigorous self-denial is a chief duty, nay, that it may be considered the test whether we are Christ’s disciples, whether we are living in a mere dream, which we mistake for Christian faith and obedience, or are really and truly awake, alive, living in the day, on our road heavenwards.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If you want to follow me, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. For whoever chooses to save his life will lose it, but the one who loses his life for my sake will find it.”