Art Trapp. Gary Braun. Nick Schneider. They are three of my heroes in the priesthood. Each, in their own way, has played a role in my journey to the priesthood and my living within that priesthood. Art was the rector of the seminary and a model of humility. Gary was my spiritual director and continues to be my mentor. Nick was the pastor at my home parish and taught me so much about how to be a good pastor and priest. Today, I add a fourth priest to that list. In Birmingham, England, a man and a convert to Catholicism and later a priest, whose name was John Newman was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI.
There are two aspects of his life that converge on today’s gospel.
For Newman, the life of the mind was seamlessly interwoven with his own heart, and it is both together that create a full, and rewarding existence. Newman was a brilliant scholar within the Anglican tradition. He wrote numerous tracks and scholarly articles. But then something happened that he didn’t expect to happen. His study of the early father of the church led him to conclude that the Catholic tradition best lived and fulfilled the teaching and mandate of Jesus. Withdrawing from his beloved Oxford, and the intellectual life he flourished in, he studied and prayed and wrestled for 2 ½ years. At the end of that time, he converted to Catholicism. He discovered that his heart had to follow the truth his mind revealed to him. His heart had to follow the truth. And though he was hated by many of his former comrades in the Anglican tradition, and never fully embraced by most of his Catholic brothers in his lifetime, that witness of intellectual honesty remains something so attractive and compelling all these years later.
In this Gospel parable, Jesus is not praising deceit. Rather He praises the use of the mind to help the Kingdom come here, now. Use that awesome brain, Jesus is saying, to be clever as a fox in accomplishing His purposes. In other words, God needs your mind, your brain, your brilliance! Make sure you use it and use it well. Concretely, I encourage you to take a moment this week and in your own way, to dedicate your mind to serve God. Put your mind into God’s hands, realizing that one of the best ways to do that is put God in the center. As Jesus tells us when he wraps up his puzzling parable: “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” Put your mind at the service of God.
The second thing Newman would tell us comes from his motto: “Cor ad Cor loquitor”. “Heart speaks to heart.” There is a great dialogue that God the Father always wants to have with us. The divine heart is always reaching out to us to engage us and call us and invite us into that relationship of life and love we call salvation. And though reason is to be trusted and respected, and followed, it is never to be followed alone, never divorced from the Heart, never divorced from that ongoing conversation with God that seeks our salvation and life.
Nourish that intellectual life with a life of prayer, with a life of connection to God, would be Newman’s other gift to us. And you’ll find no better prayer, I believe, in the ones that Newman passed down to us than this one to wrap your heart and mind and life around:
God has created me to do Him some definite service.
He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. (can stop right there – a great prayer)
I have a mission;
I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.
I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons; He has not created me for naught (nothing).
I shall do good–I shall do His work.
I shall be an angel of peace while not intending it
if I do but keep His commandments.
Therefore, I will trust Him.
We gather tonight as links in that chain that traces itself back to BLESSED John Henry Cardinal Newman. May we live well the life of the mind he modeled, and enter into that dialogue of prayer where God’s heart will speak to our heart, setting our feet on that mission that is ours and ours alone to do. Amen. Amen…