The John Paul II Forum as a “Venture of Faith”


In my last post I quoted from Newman’s sermon on the Ascension — “It is enough that our Redeemer liveth; that he has been on earth and will come again. On Him we venture our all!”

At the left I stand in the pulpit at St. Mary the Virgin Church where Blessed John Cardinal Newman spoke these words and delivered his many powerful Plain and Parochial Sermons. The sexton of the Church was a former RAF pilot who allowed a professor from the US Air Force Academy to scramble up in the pulpit for a photo. It was part of a Newman pilgrimage in Oxford I took one spring with Peter Hodgson of Corpus Christi College during my sabbatical at St. Andrews in 2001.

That spring of 2001 I spent much time reading Newman’s sermons, and I continue to read them whenever I get an opportunity. Each one is like a finely crafted stained glass window through which the light of faith shines out so colorfully, so intricately, so mysteriously. To read the Plain and Parochial Sermons is to wander through a magnificent Cathedral of the Christian heart and mind beholding a manifold of stain glass and icons of the faith. Newman’s “Ventures of Faith” is one of his very best and continues to stir the faithful to this day. Read it here.

Faith is often invoked as a by line for a Catholic university. Faith is a constant theme in recent documents on Catholic education such as Ex corde and finds its best expression in Fides et ratio. But I say after reading Newman that the invocation of faith must go beyond the glossy brochures and ceremonial speeches. Faith — the very term should rouse up in all the faculty and students of a great Catholic university the joy of the Ascension and the sublime mandate of the mission.

Newman helps us to see the deeper reason why faith should be a watch word for the Catholic university. It is primarily about an interior disposition — faith is a virtue as much or perhaps more than it is a matter of doctrine and propositions. It is a response to the mystery of God’s revelation. Without getting into technical detail about the virtue of faith, I shall rely upon Newman’s great insight that “in this consists the excellence and nobleness of faith; this is the very reason why faith is singled out from other graces, and honoured as the especial means of our justification, because its presence implies that we have the heart to make a venture.”

And it is a supernatural virtue, yes, for Newman has in mind the fundamental “venture” for heaven. Now I see why he mentions “ventures” at the end of the sermon on the Ascension. The very term “venture” has many analogies in the secular and natural sphere, of which Newman does well to remind us. Venture, by the very meaning of the word, has no guarantee of success. Newman says “that is a strange venture which has nothing in it of fear, risk, danger, anxiety, uncertainty.” Newman lived at the time of the great Victorian expansion of England across the entire globe. England was a huge venture for the empire, an empire by treaty perhaps, but a massive and daring enterprise. These ventures were for power and profit, so where are the ventures for faith, Newman queries.

Newman invokes as a model, the father of faith, Abraham, who “’went out, not knowing whither he went.’ He and the rest died ‘not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.’”

We can see the venture of faith in the apostles, the great saints, the missionaries. We can see the venture of faith in the Basilian Fathers who founded our university, after a sojourn from France, to Canada, Detroit and Texas. The Pope John Paul II Forum is a venture for faith. Think of Pope John Paul II’s great ventures for faith. I hope by this Forum to join his venture and invite you readers to be a part of it. I am grateful to Mr. Strake for assisting in the venture.

I hope that Newman’s challenge rings in your heart. We do not want to be part of what Newman calls “this sad infirmity of men, called Christians,” who venture nothing. So he challenges us — “who does not at once admit that faith consists in venturing on Christ’s word without seeing? Yet in spite of this, may it not be seriously questioned, whether men in general, even those of the better sort, venture any thing upon His truth at all?”

What have we ventured for the kingdom? Somewhat like the Victorian England of Newman’s day, we see so much energy, money, commitment go into worldly ventures, many good and right activities, buildings, programs for the city of man. But all the more does that highlight our need as Christians to venture for faith, for heaven.

We cannot doubt, says Newman, that the ventures of the Lord’s servants “must be returned to them at the Last Day with abundant increase.”.

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