In the middle of my third year in law school, when I was starting to stress over the bar exam and all the things that still had to get done before I could start my career, I read words from Cardinal John Henry Newman that rattled the panes of my soul.
The words are from his sermon "The Ventures of Faith." In it, Cardinal Newman said:
Let every one who hears me ask himself the question, what stake has he in the truth of Christ's promise? How would he be a whit the worse off, supposing (which is impossible), but, supposing it to fail? We know what it is to have a stake in any venture of this world. We venture our property in plans which promise a return; in plans which we trust, which we have faith in. What have we ventured for Christ? What have we given to Him on a belief of His promise?
Contemplating his words that evening led to a long period of self-scrutiny: Well, I thought to myself, what have you? What have you staked?
I reviewed my life. I attended Mass, I read a lot of theology, I attended a Catholic law school, and I had adopted certain moral and intellectual positions. But none of that seemed to satisfy Newman’s challenge. I could think of no major sacrifice or renunciation undertaken because of my trust in Christ. I could think of nothing I had done or forgone that made me think, "Man, I hope the Gospel is true." Christ’s words, and the teaching of the Church, provided an intellectual framework, but on their truth I had ventured small things. If the whole project failed, I’d be safe.
Since that time, my life has changed. The ruminations Newman's sermon stirred continued for months after, eventually planting seeds of discipleship that would ripen in major ways. I left the practice of law, I moved to a different state, and I can now answer Newman’s questions without evasion. Though still in the preliminary stages, I now understand what it means to stake something on the promises of Christ. I know it could involve decisions that impact finances and careers, but I know it could also involve matters that take place entirely within the heart. It is not only wealth that Christ asks us to give away.
As we settle into Advent, I find Newman's words helpful once more for taking a spiritual x-ray. I find myself asking: What have I done on the promises of Christ? What have I ventured, risked, sacrificed or abandoned on the truth of His word?
I know, already, that come January 1, I will have some spiritual resolutions.