On the Memorial of Bl. John Henry Newman.
This blog has been on an unplanned hiatus since mid-September, in large part because I've been so busy with schoolwork and other responsibilities that I simply couldn't find the time to post here. Partly in an effort to return to more regular posting, here is something for today's Memorial of Blessed John Henry Newman. The stained glass depiction of Newman seen here comes from Dahlgren Chapel at Georgetown University, which happens to be the place where I really 'met' Newman for the first time. Though I had at least heard of John Henry Newman before I arrived at Georgetown, I had to answer "no" when Father Stephen Fields, S.J. offhandedly asked me whether I had ever read Newman's Apologia pro Vita Sua. Father Fields insisted that I remedy this, and to make that task easier he spontaneously gifted me with a copy of Newman's Apologia; that old Image Books paperback, printed in 1956 with a cover price of ninety-five cents, would weather several readings in my hands and remains in my library today. Father Fields later led me through a more systematic engagement with Newman's major works in a course on the subject. It is perhaps a tribute to Newman (and to Fields) that I still return to the notes of that course from time to time to quickly reacquaint myself with what Newman said on topics like certainty, conscience, and the relationship between faith and reason.
To mark today's memorial, I decided to reread the homily preached by Pope Benedict XVI in Birmingham, England for Newman's beatification on September 19, 2010. Benedict's words on Newman's scholarly and pastoral work seem particularly worthy of note:
Cardinal Newman’s motto, Cor ad cor loquitur, or "Heart speaks unto heart," gives us an insight into his understanding of the Christian life as a call to holiness, experienced as the profound desire of the human heart to enter into intimate communion with the Heart of God. He reminds us that faithfulness to prayer gradually transforms us into the divine likeness. As he wrote in one of his many fine sermons, "a habit of prayer, the practice of turning to God and the unseen world in every season, in every place, in every emergency – prayer, I say, has what may be called a natural effect in spiritualizing and elevating the soul. A man is no longer what he was before; gradually … he has imbibed a new set of ideas, and become imbued with fresh principles" (Parochial and Plain Sermons, iv, 230-231). . . .I'd also like to take note of the Salve Fundator, a new Latin hymn commissioned by the Birmingham Oratory to honor their founder on his feast day. Composed by Father John Hunwicke, the Salve Fundator begins with this salutation: Salve Fundator, Pater et Magister! Salve Iohannes! magnum qui beati Cor et Philippi Anglis ostendisti Primus, et mentem ("Hail, Founder, Father and Master! Hail John, who were the first to show the great Heart of blessed Philip [Neri] the English, and St. Philip’s mind"). The rest of the text is available, in the original Latin and in English translation, on the Birmingham Oratory website. I could not find a recording of the hymn online - it is a new work, after all - but perhaps one will appear in the coming days.
The definite service to which Blessed John Henry was called involved applying his keen intellect and his prolific pen to many of the most pressing "subjects of the day." His insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilized society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education were not only of profound importance for Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world. I would like to pay particular tribute to his vision for education, which has done so much to shape the ethos that is the driving force behind Catholic schools and colleges today. Firmly opposed to any reductive or utilitarian approach, he sought to achieve an educational environment in which intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together. . . .
While it is John Henry Newman’s intellectual legacy that has understandably received most attention in the vast literature devoted to his life and work, I prefer on this occasion to conclude with a brief reflection on his life as a priest, a pastor of souls. The warmth and humanity underlying his appreciation of the pastoral ministry is beautifully expressed in another of his famous sermons: "Had Angels been your priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathized with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you" ("Men, not Angels: the Priests of the Gospel," Discourses to Mixed Congregations, 3). He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison. No wonder that on his death so many thousands of people lined the local streets as his body was taken to its place of burial not half a mile from here. . . .
On this, the day of his memorial, I pray that Blessed John Henry Newman will intercede for us before God. As one who was greatly cheered by Newman's beatification, I also express the prayerful hope that we will someday know him as Saint John Henry Newman. AMDG.