I was reading through selections of the Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman the other day and came across these two descriptions of Cardinal Newman in 1873 and 1886 respectively:
". . . very kindly, with a sort of grave sweet simplicity which coming from so old a man, has in it something inexpressibly touching . . . an air of melancholy, as of one who has passed through terrible struggles, yet of serenity, as of one who had found peace." (1)
"[his voice had] much of its old strange sweetness . . . the look of almost anxious searching had passed into the look of perfect peace. His mind was not only bright as ever, but with the cheerfulness and humour of youth." (2)
Both of these descriptions speak of a distinct impression of Cardinal Newman's peace and serenity, but they also speak of past struggles and anxieties. But how does one who has experienced a life full of trials and hardships reach a place of serenity and peace? Cardinal Newman wrote: "a habit of prayer, the practice of turning to God and the unseen world in every season, in every place, in every emergency – prayer, I say, has what may be called a natural effect in spiritualizing and elevating the soul. A man is no longer what he was before; gradually … he has imbibed a new set of ideas, and become imbued with fresh principles"
Prayer, the ever constant ability to speak to our Lord, cannot be underestimated in its ability to bring us peace and serenity. Bl. Pope John Paul II said that "inner peace, fortitude of the soul and peace are gifts that are obtained while finding refuge in the temple, while resorting to personal and community prayer ... Communion with God is a source of serenity, joy, peace; it is like entering into an oasis of light and love.”
Prayer is an "oasis of light and love," yet I find that I far to often forgo the opportunity to commune with my Lord in prayer. It is then, no wonder that my life seems so stressful, why decisions are so difficult to reach, why I am unable to trust God with my life. Why should I expect to hear God's voice, when I fail to even spend substantial time talking to him in prayer? Cardinal Newman spent a lifetime cultivating a habit of prayer and the evidence of that time well spent in prayer not only brought him peace and serenity, but was clearly evident to others. I wonder if failing to spend time cultivating a habit of prayer not only harms our own spiritual lives, but also harms others. Both men who visited Cardinal Newman were struck by his peace and serenity in spite of his well known trials. Cardinal Newman's peace was a witness to our Lord's ability to spiritualize and elevate the soul. When we hold ourselves out as Christians, yet allow our lives to be chaotic and lacking in peace, what example does that offer to the world? Christ died that we might find peace in our Lord, it is to our great benefit then to cultivate that habit of prayer, that we might grow closer to God.
Cardinal Newman left numerous prayers and poems when he passed from this world. They are beautiful and poetic examples of one man's heartfelt love and desire for God and the peace he found in his prayer. Below are two of my favorite prayers from Newman.
Dear Jesus, help me to spread your fragrance wherever I go. Flood my soul with your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that my life may only be a radiance of yours. Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus! Stay with me and then I will begin to shine as you shine, so to shine as to be a light to others.
The light, O Jesus, will be all from you; none of it will be mine. It will be you, shining on others through me. Let me thus praise you in the way which you love best, by shining on those around me. Let me preach you without preaching, not by words but by example, by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what I do, the evident fullness of the love my heart bears for you. Amen.
The Pillar of Cloud
LEAD, kindly Light, amid the 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.
1) The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, ed. Charles Stephen Dessain et al., vol. 29; Oxford: 1973-1977, 238, n. 1.
2) The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, ed. Charles Stephen Dessain et al., vol. 31; Oxford: 1973-1977, 184, n. 5.