St John Henry Newman is the universal patron saint of Catholic Campus Ministry. He believed fervently in the University as the setting in which students seeking truth, when done honestly, would lead to those same students discovering the one who named himself “The Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He also believed fervently in the Church’s universal call to holiness, and frequently addressed such a call to all person’s in his homilies, sermons, and meditations.
One such meditation, from a collection entitled Meditations and Devotions offers what he calls “A Short Road to Perfection” which gives the reader a practical consideration of such a holy life and some practical means to accomplish it. He opens the meditation saying, “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.”
He calls this way short, not because it is easy, but because it doesn’t take long to see that this is true. The ordinary duties are those which we are called to perform universally as Christians and depending on our station in life. That it is a way of perfection does not mean, he says, going beyond your current station in life. Perfection, he notes, has a very ordinary meaning: that a thing is as it is meant to be without flaw or unnecessary addition. God calls us to holiness where we are, doing the duties we have been given as they are meant to be done.
The universal Christian duties are well known—strive for virtue, pray, meditate, participate in the sacraments, love God and love your neighbor—and Newman gives us a concrete list of ways to do this:
- 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
I love this list, practical and achievable. Specific enough to do immediately, but flexible to find what works for you. For example, to “make your evening meditation” I prefer lectio divina, and the link above reflects that, but one could use any form of Catholic Meditation that works for you. As a student, the duties specific to your station are known to you. As part of your nightly examination, start asking yourself Did I study well? Did I give full attention to my readings and lectures? Am I working toward my deadlines and examination times? How can I stay for focused on my studies? And coming up with the resolution and practical methods to being a student, as it is meant to be done.
It seems for many students, the first and the last of Newman’s list are the hardest to commit to. Which is a shame; not only in matters spiritual, but practically in terms of doing what’s best to get the best education, rising early and going to bed at a reasonable time are time-tested practices of the wise. Making a good visit to the Sacrament in the time of Novel Corona virus might seem unattainable, but through Acts of Spiritual Communion and the Morning Offering, we can still unite ourselves with the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Newman does make one warning about any road to Holiness: it is not enough to talk about it or desire it, or reflect on how to achieve it, one must commit oneself to it, make clear one’s aim, and then DO it. Why not start today with St John Henry Newman’s suggestions and taking the duties of your life seriously, and God will accompany you on your way.