Fr. Hermann Geissler FSO
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today we celebrate the Memorial of Blessed John Henry Newman. As we know, after having read an anthology of this great English convert, Mother Julia said to the sisters around her: “My soul has found a brother”. Newman is very close to us, he is our brother, who intercedes for us and sustains us on our journey of faith. Let us recall one thought of Newman on faith. In his major work, “Grammar of Assent”, Newman describes how we come to give an assent to the truth, to the natural and to the supernatural truth. In this book he elaborates the distinction between notional assent and real assent.
This distinction was very important in Newman’s own life. As a young man, he had a notion of God, as he had been introduced into the Religion of the Bible; but this was non a personal conviction, it had very little impact on his life. At the age of 15, he experienced a profound conversion, his “first conversion”, as he used to say later. This conversion may be described as a conversion from a purely notional to a real assent of God. He came to understand in the depth of his heart, in his conscience, that there are two self-evident beings: “Myself and my Creator”. From that moment on God was no more a simple idea, a concept, a theory – God became a reality, the great reality of his life. And thus Newman began a new life as a true “believer”.
Of course, we must have a notion of God and of the faith. This is the reason why it is important to have a knowledge of the faith, to study and to deepen the sound doctrine, to try to understand and to defend it with our mind. But much more important is the second step: that we come to a real assent to the faith. Only then God becomes a reality in our daily lives and works and undertakings. In the words of Newman: “When men realize a truth, it becomes an influential principle within them, and leads to a number of consequences both in opinion and in contact”.
This was true for St Paul: When he realized who Jesus was, when God “revealed him his Son”, he changed his thought and life completely. And this was also true for Newman: the “kindly light” of faith became the great guide in his life, it helped him understand his vocation as a minister of the Church, it brought him to study the Church Fathers, it urged him to initiate and to animate the Oxford Movement which aimed to renew the Church of England in the spirit of the early Church, it helped him to find peace and enduring happiness in the port of the Catholic Church after a rough sea, it gave him the strength to persevere in times of trial and suffering, it made him a saintly man.
When we come to realize the wonderful truths of our faith, step by step, we are transformed as well. Two fruits of such a transformation are the following: our faith becomes more personal, more trustful, more powerful, as the Lord is more a reality in our daily work. We could say with words of Mother Julia: If we realize the merciful and just love of the Lord, we come to live in his Sacred Heart – He in us, and we in Him. Our faith then becomes a personal relationship, a friendship with Christ, as the Holy Father often states. And a second fruit of a real faith is that we are changed into witnesses and evangelizers. If a person has been touched by the Lord and lives in his presence, he has an impact on other people. He influences them through his testimony, his life, and his word. He is a witness and transmits the faith, “cor ad cor”, as Newman said, from person to person.
Let us pray that with the grace of God many people deepen their faith and come to know better the treasure of our faith, and above all to come to a more real assent of Christ, who is for us the Way, the Truth and the Life. Blessed John Henry Newman. Pray for us. Amen.