10 October 2007

Why I Couldn't Sleep Last Night

I just wanted to share with you the reason I couldn't sleep last night. It was so perfectly British...

As you know, I live in the chaplaincy. That means a lot of people come and go from what is basically the ground floor of my house. Last night, the Oxford University Newman Society had a drinks party. (Eighteen year-olds are allowed to drink here, so most freshmen events for organizations involve beer or wine.) The Newman Society's involved champagne cocktails and had a pianist. Very ritzy. The entire event was much more fun than I expected and I shall probably participate in more of their events later in the year. I retired early to do some more work before crawling into bed around eleven.

It wasn't until I turned off my computer that the noise began: loud, tipsy British men. The pianist seemed to be banging on the keys as chorus after chorus of patriotic hymns wafted up the two flights of stairs--'God Save the Queen,' 'I Vow to Thee My Country,' round after round of enthusiastically sung songs. I don't know what time it ended, but I do know it lasted more than half an hour.

Now, tell me, where else would some of the more masculine men boisterously sing patriotic carols at midnight?

09 October 2007

Walk to Littlemore

Last night, I had the honor and privilege to attend a walk in honor of John Henry Newman's conversion. We walked for two hours, in absolute silence, before arriving in Littlemore for Eucharistic adoration and then a walk through the Newman's retreat. The entire experience was very moving.

I don't know how many people are familiar with the story of Cardinal Newman. Newman was a very famous Oxford Anglican clergy-man for many years, but he was constantly struggling with his faith. He gradually retired from public life to a small and austere retreat he had made for himself and for others a little way off from Oxford called Littlemore. Eventually, he sent for a famous Italian priest who journeyed to Oxford and then from Oxford to Littlemore in the pouring rain. While warming himself by the fire in the library, he was surprised to turn around and find perhaps England's most famous contemporary religious figure, kneeling before him, begging to have his confession heard so that he could be received into the Catholic Church. He wrote a very famous book about his religious life called the Apologia Pro Vita Sua. He is now remembered as the namesake of most Catholic student centers, at least in the English-speaking world.

The four-mile walk, entirely in silence except for twelve stations related to Newman's spiritual biography, gave me an opportunity to think about the experience of conversion and the quest for truth. Newman spent his entire life seeking something from God. It made him isolated and unpopular on many fronts, even after his conversion. He made a name for himself as a icon of faith and intellectualism in the Anglican church, but was always insistent on ministering to the poor and ill. And yet, despite all he knew he represented, he was willing to endure isolation and to be ostracized for the rest of his life in order to join Christ's Church. That is a courage I'm not sure I possess. It's not a sacrifice many in the West have been in a position to make.

It is one beautiful and amazing thing to be martyred, to make a decision to obey Christ even in the face of death. But, in some ways, it is a more courageous thing to commit to a life of separation, even from one's family. That's what dying to self really means. To choose daily to put the truth before all other things. To live the truth by choosing to deny ones self for the sake of others and for God.

As students, we are reminded of John Henry Newman's example every time we step foot into a Newman Center. The name reminds us that, although faith and reason aren't the same thing, they both search for truth. We must always, in all our actions, search for truth. God is that truth.

John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote a beautiful poem, not when he converted, but several years before his conversion while on a trip to the continent. Newman begs for just enough light, just enough truth, to see the next step before him. It isn't a song about God's greatness or an ode to man's reason; it's merely a man searching for the truth. Lead Kindly Light seems a fitting hymn for students and for anyone seeking the truth:

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till the night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile, which I
Have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Meantime, along the narrow rugged path, Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Savior, lead me home in childlike faith, home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.