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Newman bust

‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ Those standing by thought, we are told, that Jesus was crying for Elijah. As so often they misunderstood. Jesus was quoting Psalm 22, fulfilling the prophecy of the ‘suffering servant’ in Isaiah. They had all looked for a King; they found one whose mercy and goodness they could not fathom, one who became sin to redeem their sin. Their response was to betray him in different ways. Of the betrayal by Judas, Jessica has written movingly here and here, bringing out the way in which he is the dark side which lurks in us all, that part of us which, if it is indulged, will grow through the work of satan until we are consumed by it; those cannot relate to that have my envy.

But there are other betrayals that night in Gethsemane. Not one of those who said they would stand with him was able to remain with him in prayer for even an hour; even when they were given more chances, they failed him. He knew it would be so, even as he knew that Peter’s flesh would be much weaker than his spirit. At the last he stood alone before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate. It was not until he was in his final agony on the Cross that there were any familiar and friendly faces, and it is notable that most of those are women; of the Apostles, only St John was there. Big and brave were the words of the men, small and cowardly were their actions. But before we sit in judgment, are we much better? Do we confess Him with our lips and yet not in our lives? How do we confess Him there?

Here, the Blessed John Henry Newman is, as so often, a good guide:

It is the saying of holy men that, if we wish to be perfect, we have nothing more to do than to perform the ordinary duties of the day well. A short road to perfection—short, not because easy, but because pertinent and intelligible. There are no short ways to perfection, but there are sure ones.

On ‘perfection’ he speaks with a common sense born of experience:

We must bear in mind what is meant by perfection. It does not mean any extraordinary service, anything out of the way, or especially heroic—not all have the opportunity of heroic acts, of sufferings—but it means what the word perfection ordinarily means. By perfect we mean that which has no flaw in it, that which is complete, that which is consistent, that which is sound—we mean the opposite to imperfect. As we know well what imperfection in religious service means, we know by the contrast what is meant by perfection.

He, then, is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly, and we need not go beyond this to seek for perfection. You need not go out of the round of the day

Like his great friend Keble, Newman saw in the ‘common round’ and the ‘daily task’ a way of walking with God:

f you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say, first—Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising; give your first thoughts to God; make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament; say the Angelus devoutly; eat and drink to God’s glory; say the Rosary well; be recollected; keep out bad thoughts; make your evening meditation well; examine yourself daily; go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.

As we task ourselves with devotional tasks which may be beyond us, and which may lead us to betray Christ, let us take refuge in these thoughts of Newman’s. If we follow that advice, we shall make a better fist of it than if we aim too high.