Statue of Cardinal John Henry Newman.

The Wisdom of Newman

God has a mission for us even though we may not always know it


Father David BonnarBeginnings can be awkward. Even the beginning of one’s priesthood can be unsettling inasmuch as there are so many adjustments to be made and expectations to face. Do you remember your first few weeks of being a priest? Everything is so new and different. For me, one of the biggest challenges to the newness of being a priest was being assigned 60 miles from home. While that may not seem too far of a distance to our brothers serving in rural communities, I found it far because I had been living and studying in Rome the previous four years.

One of the saving graces for me during that time was the priests living in the region. Many of them reached out to me with a fraternal sense. One such priest was a man by the name of Joe, who was serving in campus ministry at the university 20 miles north as well as the pastor of the campus parish. This priest was 20 years older than I was, so he took on a fatherly nature with much wisdom in his pocket.

Just a few weeks into my first assignment, Father Joe invited me to dinner. I met him at a restaurant in the college town in which he served. Since he previously had served as a seminary rector, he did not hesitate to lay all the formational cards on the table. It just goes to show that one can take the rector out of the seminary, but one cannot take the seminary out of the rector. I say that as a former rector myself.

In any event, we enjoyed a delicious dinner with very good conversation. Following the meal we took a walk and talked even more. Finally, as I went to my car, he handed me the following meditation on a prayer card written by Cardinal John Henry Newman.

“God has created me to do him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission — I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.

“I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do his work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it — if I do but keep his commandments.”

“Therefore, I will trust him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what he is about. He may take away my friends, he may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me — still he knows what he is about.”

Thirty-one years later, I not only have this same prayer card nestled inside my breviary, but I pray it every morning to begin my day. Every time I read these words I am reminded that God has a mission for me even though I may not always know it. There is a reason why God created me — to do his work, share his peace, speak his truth and keep his commandments.

What I need to do more than anything else each day is trust in God regardless of where I am or what I am incurring. I am his humble servant. I cannot begin to tell you how many times in my prayer this meditation from Blessed John Henry Newman has given me hope and peace amid the mysterious storms of life. What a special gift I received from a brother priest who extended himself to me in my young priesthood. Although that priest died during this past year, his gift lives on. Thanks, Father Joe!

And then there is the gift of the man behind those timeless words — Cardinal Newman, who this month will be canonized by Pope Francis. Thank you, Cardinal Newman! St. John Henry Newman, pray for us priests!

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 15 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. To share your thoughts on this column or others, follow The Priest on Twitter @PriestMagazine and like us on Facebook.

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