Cardinal Newman to be canonised – The Pope emeritus reflects

Newman

Blessed John Henry Newman is to be declared a saint. That joyful news was announced today as Pope Francis authorised the promulgation of a decree recognising, among other things, a second miracle attributed to the intercession of the English cardinal. That second miracle is required before a person can be canonised (unless he or she is recognised as a martyr).

In 2010, Cardinal Newman was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI during his papal visit to the United Kingdom. That visit was centred to a large extent around the person of the soon-to-be-saint, and Pope Benedict spoke about him on several occasions. Below I wish to share a few of the Pope emeritus’ thoughts, as a way to mark the great news. All the quotations were taken from the official texts available on the website of the Vatican, linked to above:

“As you know, Newman has long been an important influence in my own life and thought, as he has been for so many people beyond these isles. The drama of Newman’s life invites us to examine our lives, to see them against the vast horizon of God’s plan, and to grow in communion with the Church of every time and place: the Church of the apostles, the Church of the martyrs, the Church of the saints, the Church which Newman loved and to whose mission he devoted his entire life.”

“On the one hand Cardinal Newman was above all a modern man, who lived the whole problem of modernity; he faced the problem of agnosticism, the impossibility of knowing God, of believing. He was a man whose whole life was a journey, a journey in which he allowed himself to be transformed by truth in a search marked by great sincerity and great openness, so as to know better and to find and accept the path that leads to true life. This interior modernity, in his being and in his life, demonstrates the modernity of his faith. It is not a faith of formulas of past ages; it is a very personal faith, a faith lived, suffered and found in a long path of renewal and conversion. He was a man of great culture, who on the other hand shared in our sceptical culture of today, in the question whether we can know something for certain regarding the truth of man and his being, and how we can come to convergent probabilities. He was a man with a great culture and knowledge of the Fathers of the Church. He studied and renewed the interior genesis of faith and recognized its inner form and construction. He was a man of great spirituality, of humanity, of prayer, with a profound relationship with God, a personal relationship, and hence a deep relationship with the people of his time and ours. So I would point to these three elements: modernity in his life with the same doubts and problems of our lives today; his great culture, his knowledge of the treasures of human culture, openness to permanent search, to permanent renewal and, spirituality, spiritual life, life with God; these elements give to this man an exceptional stature for our time. That is why he is like a Doctor of the Church for us and for all, and also a bridge between Anglicans and Catholics.”

“At the end of his life, Newman would describe his life’s work as a struggle against the growing tendency to view religion as a purely private and subjective matter, a question of personal opinion. Here is the first lesson we can learn from his life: in our day, when an intellectual and moral relativism threatens to sap the very foundations of our society, Newman reminds us that, as men and women made in the image and likeness of God, we were created to know the truth, to find in that truth our ultimate freedom and the fulfilment of our deepest human aspirations. In a word, we are meant to know Christ, who is himself “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6).”

“Newman’s life also teaches us that passion for the truth, intellectual honesty and genuine conversion are costly. The truth that sets us free cannot be kept to ourselves; it calls for testimony, it begs to be heard, and in the end its convincing power comes from itself and not from the human eloquence or arguments in which it may be couched.”

“Finally, Newman teaches us that if we have accepted the truth of Christ and committed our lives to him, there can be no separation between what we believe and the way we live our lives. Our every thought, word and action must be directed to the glory of God and the spread of his Kingdom. Newman understood this, and was the great champion of the prophetic office of the Christian laity. He saw clearly that we do not so much accept the truth in a purely intellectual act as embrace it in a spiritual dynamic that penetrates to the core of our being. Truth is passed on not merely by formal teaching, important as that is, but also by the witness of lives lived in integrity, fidelity and holiness; those who live in and by the truth instinctively recognize what is false and, precisely as false, inimical to the beauty and goodness which accompany the splendour of truth, veritatis splendor.”

“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). Today’s Gospel tells us that no one can be the servant of two masters (cf. Lk 16:13), and Blessed John Henry’s teaching on prayer explains how the faithful Christian is definitively taken into the service of the one true Master, who alone has a claim to our unconditional devotion (cf. Mt 23:10). Newman helps us to understand what this means for our daily lives: he tells us that our divine Master has assigned a specific task to each one of us, a “definite service”, committed uniquely to every single person: “I have my mission”, he wrote, “I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion 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 … if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling” (Meditations and Devotions, 301-2).”

“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.”

John Henry Newman’s feast day is 9 October, the date in 1845 on which he converted to the Catholic faith. That will most probably not change upon his canonisation. The most significant change is that Saint John Henry Newman may now be venerated world wide. The veneration of Blesseds is limited to the dioceses or countries where they lived and worked. No date has as of yet been announced for the canonisation, although it will most likely take place in Rome.

 

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Against the stream, Pope Benedict calls youth to evangelisation

In his letter for the 2013 World Youth Day, which was published yesterday, Pope Benedict urged all young people to be missionaries, wherever they find themselves. This as an answer to Jesus’ call to “Go, and make disciples of all nations!” (Matt. 28:19) which is the theme for this 28th World Youth Day.

These nations are not only to be understood geographically:

“Some people are far away geographically, but others are far away because their way of life has no place for God. Some people have not yet personally received the Gospel, while others have been given it, but live as if God did not exist. Let us open our hearts to everyone. Let us enter into conversation in simplicity and respect. If this conversation is held in true friendship, it will bear fruit. The “nations” that we are invited to reach out to are not only other countries in the world. They are also the different areas of our lives, such as our families, communities, places of study and work, groups of friends and places where we spend our free time. The joyful proclamation of the Gospel is meant for all the areas of our lives, without exception.”

The letter is a clear call against the silence of so many faithful, especially young people who no longer have the words to speak about the faith. It is most definitely a counter-cultural move, and perhaps for many in the west even a step too far just yet.

Pope Benedict identifies several steps in the way to becoming missionaries. The first and most important is to become a disciple of Christ:

“A disciple is a person attentive to Jesus’ word (cf. Lk 10:39), someone who acknowledges that Jesus is the Teacher who has loved us so much that he gave his life for us. Each one of you, therefore, should let yourself be shaped by God’s word every day. This will make you friends of the Lord Jesus and enable you to lead other young people to friendship with him.”

A missionary then has to go out, into the world, but also out of himself, out of his own little world, habits and comforts. The sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are essential in this. Missionaries then have to take what they have received, Christ’s love and mercy, out into the world, to the “nations”. Here, the Holy Father emphasises two specific areas: travel and migration and social communications, especially the internet.

“As I mentioned to you on another occasion: “I ask you to introduce into the culture of this new environment of communications and information technology the values on which you have built your lives. […] It falls, in particular, to young people, who have an almost spontaneous affinity for the new means of communication, to take on the responsibility for the evangelization of this ‘digital continent’” (Message for the 43rd World Communications Day, 24 May 2009). Learn how to use these media wisely. Be aware of the hidden dangers they contain, especially the risk of addiction, of confusing the real world with the virtual, and of replacing direct and personal encounters and dialogue with internet contacts.”

One of the direct and challenging questions follow then. A young missionary has to make disciples, and that means an active engagement with their contemporaries.This can happen through words, but in the first place through our sharing of Christ’s love, which is our own love.

“The main way that we have to “make disciples” is through Baptism and catechesis. This means leading the people we are evangelizing to encounter the living Christ above all in his word and in the sacraments. In this way they can believe in him, they can come to know God and to live in his grace. I would like each of you to ask yourself: Have I ever had the courage to propose Baptism to young people who have not received it? Have I ever invited anyone to embark on a journey of discovery of the Christian faith? Dear friends, do not be afraid to suggest an encounter with Christ to people of your own age. Ask the Holy Spirit for help. The Spirit will show you the way to know and love Christ even more fully, and to be creative in spreading the Gospel.”

The questions that I have highlighted in bold are, in our modern secularised and relativist culture, the most difficult to ask. It is so counter-cultural and can be so easily and automatically perceived and an attempt at indoctrination or condemnation of a person’s current lifestyle. It is anything but that, of course, but there is an innate hostility towards any expression of faith in our culture, if that expression can’t be easily relegated to a mere opinion or a private matter. But if we take our faith seriously we can’t do nothing but share it. As the pope writes in an earlier paragraph:

“When we forget God, we lose hope and become unable to love others. That is why it is so necessary to testify to God’s presence so that others can experience it. The salvation of humanity depends on this, as well as the salvation of each of us. Anyone who understands this can only exclaim with Saint Paul: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16).”

To be able to do this, we must stand firm in the faith, and we need prayer and the sacraments for that. “We must first speak with God in order to be able to speak about God,” the Holy Father writes. The sacraments of Confirmation and Confession and Eucharistic Adoration (pictured) are also valuable means to be able to become firm enough in the faith to be able to proclaim the Gospel, to evangelise.

And we can’t do so alone, by our own standards or morals. We need the Church.

“Dear young people, if you are to remain firm in professing the Christian faith wherever you are sent, you need the Church. No one can bear witness to the Gospel alone. Jesus sent forth his disciples on mission together. He spoke to them in the plural when he said: “Make disciples”. Our witness is always given as members of the Christian community, and our mission is made fruitful by the communion lived in the Church. It is by our unity and love for one another that others will recognize us as Christ’s disciples (cf. Jn 13:35).”

Lastly, for those interested, read my Dutch translation of this letter here.

Art credit: [1] Harold Copping, “Jesus at the House of Martha and Mary” (1927).

To be prepared

I am usually a bit wary when it comes to cries of religious persecution of Christians in the west. Surely we are being not murdered for our faith, or imprisoned and tortured? But in recent days it became clearer to me that, as in such countries where these things do happen, there is a seemingly deep-rooted distrust to people of faith in our society. Of course, having to explain our convictions and occasionally defending them is nothing to be surprised or concerned about, but all too often there is no place for those explanations or defences.

Complutense University chapel, scene of relentless hatred

Theologian George Weigel discusses a serious incident in Spain in his column, speaking of ‘student gangsters’ desecrating a Catholic chapel at the Complutense University in Madrid, apparently for no other reason than that it is a Catholic chapel used by Catholic students and university staff. Madrid is the same city where millions of young Catholics will celebrate their faith this summer at the World Youth Days.

From Belgium. Jeroen van Hecke writes about a ‘terrorist attack’ against Archbishop Léonard, committed by some students displaying  “especially low intellectual and moral levels”. Strong words, but the fact that pies were smashed in the archbishop’s face for no other reason that that he stands for Catholic faith and teachings is telling. “He deserves it,” said one of the perpetrators, “for all gays who do not dare tell it at home and for all girls who want to undergo an abortion.” Make of that what you will.

Both these incidents are just that, incidents, but they do point out the extent to which a true Christian understanding of life is at odds with modern society’s ideas of the same (what Weigel calls, after Pope Benedict XVI, “the dictatorship of relativism”). And this is something that we Catholics should be aware of and prepared for. We should not only be ready to face the differences these incidents are examples of. No longer can we assume that we live in a free and open society where every faith, philosophy and opinion is equally respected. We don’t, and I don’t think we ever have. Reasoned and intelligent debate is something to strive and hope for, but it rarely is reality. Not if the answers to differences are thought to be found in desecration and attacks.

We must stand prepared: internally to understand, learn from and love Jesus Christ, His Church and our faith; and externally to protect and defend ourselves and that which we call our own from those who wish to see anything that does not conform to the dictatorship of relativism removed.