A Spirit of Grief and Lamentation

From “On the Crucifixion,” Parochial & Plain Sermons (1842)

Let me make one or two reflections by way of stirring up your hearts and making you mourn over Christ’s sufferings, as you are called to do at this season. First, as to these sufferings you will observe that our Lord is called a lamb in the text; that is, he was as defenseless and as innocent as a lamb. Since then scripture compares him to this inoffensive and unprotected animal, we may without presumption or irreverence take the image as a means of conveying to our minds those feelings which our Lord’s sufferings should excite in us.

I mean, consider how very horrible it is to read the accounts which sometimes meet us of cruelties exercised on brute animals. Does it not sometimes make us shudder to hear tell of them, or to read them in some chance publication which we take up? At one time it is the wanton deed of barbarous and angry owners who ill-treat their cattle, or beasts of burden; and at another, it is the cold-blooded and calculating act of men of science, who make experiments on brute animals… But what is all this to the suffering of the holy Jesus which we bear to read of as a matter of course!

Only think of him when in his wounded state and without garment on… view him dying, hour after hour, bleeding to death.  And how? in peace? No, with his arms stretched out and his face exposed to view and anyone who pleased coming and staring at him, mocking him, and watching the gradual ebbing of his strength and the approach of death. These are some of the appalling details which the gospels contain and surely they were not recorded for nothing, but that we might dwell on them…

What is the use of our keeping the memory of his cross and passion, unless we lament and are in sorrow with Mary? I can understand people who do not keep Good Friday at all. They are indeed very ungrateful, but I know what they mean. I understand them. But I do not understand at all, I do not at all see what men mean who do profess to keep Good Friday, yet do not sorrow, or at least try to sorrow. Such a spirit of grief and lamentation is expressly mentioned in scripture as a characteristic of those who turn to Christ. If then we do not sorrow, have we turned to him?…

It is said in the Book of Revelation, “Behold he comes with clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.” [Rev. 1:7] We, my, brethren, every one of us, shall one day rise from our graves, and see Jesus Christ. We shall see him who hung on the cross, we shall see his wounds, we shall see the marks in his hands, and in his feet, and in his side. Do we wish to be of those, then, who wail and lament, or of those who rejoice? If we would not lament at the sight of him then, we must lament at the thought of him now.

Let us prepare to meet our God; let us come into his Presence whenever we can; let us try to imagine as if we saw the cross and him upon it; let us draw near to it; let us beg him to look on us as he did on the penitent thief, and let us say to him, “Lord remember me when you come into you kingdom.” [Luke 23:42]

St. John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was among the most widely influential English theologians of the nineteenth century. One of the principal leaders of Anglicanism’s Catholic revival at Oxford in the 1830’s, he became a Roman Catholic in 1845, and was an Oratorian for the remainder of his life. He was made a cardinal shortly before his death and was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 2019. His Parochial and Plain Sermons, first published in 1863, were written in his years as an Anglican priest, while serving as vicar of Oxford’s Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. His feast day on the Roman Calendar is October 9 and he is commemorated on other days on on the liturgical calendars of several Anglican Churches

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