The archbishop noted how the hymn, which is “known by nearly every American Christian,” was written by John Newton, a former slave trader who converted to Christianity during a storm on the Atlantic. Newton, Chaput said, “later became one of the leading Christian evangelizers of his day in England.”
“But he never forgot his role in the slave trade. He spent the rest of his life repenting for it and preaching against it. He understood from direct experience that real personal conversion must have broader consequences.”
“If we claim to love God, then we need to prove it with our actions,” Archbishop Chaput exclaimed, pointing out that Newton saw the way slavery, “violated human dignity in a profound way.”
“Like St Augustine before him, Newton discovered that ‘our hearts are restless until they rest in [God].’”
However, the archbishop continued, “Newton did more than write a memorable hymn, however. His life had a huge impact on others – among them the son of a wealthy merchant named William Wilberforce. Like Newton, Wilberforce underwent his own Christian conversion. He took Newton’s anti-slavery message into Parliament in 1789, where he became the leading voice against slavery for the next 18 years”
The new film, also titled “Amazing Grace” investigates the lives of the two British converts. Chaput called the movie “compelling; a beautifully written acted and directed portrait of a man on fire with his faith and its consequences.”
However, the archbishop added, in addition to being an excellent film in its own right, the movie, “is also an ideal source of personal reflection as we begin our own journey of Lent.”
“As long as we have breath, God offers us the chance for repentance and conversion, and through them, a path to eternal life in Jesus Christ. St. Paul, St. Augustine and St. Ignatius all took that path. So did William Wilberforce and a self-described former slaver and ‘wretch’ like John Newton.”
“In fact, every Christian man or woman who takes the Gospel seriously must walk the same road. Lent is the season every year when the Church encourages us to repentance and conversion in a special way. We urgently need to use this time well,” the Denver prelate said.
The archbishop concluded by inviting those in the Denver area to take advantage of his archdiocese’s annual “Living the Catholic Faith” conference which opens next week in Denver.
More information on the conference can be found on the archdiocesan website.
Addressing a new film focused on the traditional hymn “Amazing Grace,” in his weekly column, Denver’s Archbishop Charles Chaput pointed to the stories of profound conversation found within the movie and emphasized mankind’s need for continued conversion during the Lenten Season.