Our new Saint

by Dr. James Campbell, Editor of the “Catholic People”

Archbishop George gave this address on the BBC Daily service before the canonisation of the Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman in St Peter’s Square on October 13.. The broadcast gave Newman’s wonderful and inspirational hymn”

Praise to the Holiest in the Height,

And in the depths be praise.

In all His words most wonderful,

Most sure in all His ways.

It was written by Cardinal John Henry Newman in 1865. It is part of the Newman’s epic poem “The Dream of Gerontius” which describes the prayer of a dying man and the journey of his soul into the presence of God,the journey from this life to the next.from this life to the next. In 1900, Edward Elgar set this poem to music in a magnificent Oratorio. On the cover of the manuscript, Elgar quoted the poet John Ruskin and wrote “This is the best of me”. Both the hymn and the many writings of Newman will have a special resonance this coming weekend, when he will be proclaimed a saint by Pope Francis at a ceremony of canonisation in Rome on Sunday morning.

I was lucky enough to be in Birmingham when Pope Benedict XVI named Cardinal John Henry Newman “Blessed.”

Our delegation from the Archdiocese of Cardiff were soaked due to the driving rain. But when the Pope’s helicopter appeared the rain miraculously stopped and the sun broke through the clouds.

It was, to me, an omen that Newman would one day be canonised! And it was a special privilege to meet in Rome Oratorians from Cardiff, there to honour the Saint who founded their Congregation in England.

It was apt that in the vigil at the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, in Rome, the day before the canonisation, that the celebrant was His Grace, Most. Rev. Bernard Longley,  the Archbishop of Birmingham. Our own archbishop was also present.

Nearly two centuries ago, John Henry Newman was England’s most well-known Anglican priest, until he risked everything. Now he is a saint.

As Pope Francis named Cardinal John Henry Newman a saint on October 13 2019, he told Catholics that the goal of life is a transforming encounter with Jesus.

“The ultimate goal is not health or wellness, but the encounter with Jesus … He alone frees us from evil and heals our hearts. Only an encounter with him can save, can make life full and beautiful,” Pope Francis said at the canonization Mass in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 13.

Pope Francis officially recognized John Henry Newman, Mariam Thresia, Marguerite Bays, Giuseppina Vannini, and Dulce Lopes as saints and created them saints on the same day.

The canonisation was attended by Prince Charles,, along with delegates from the Church of England … a brotherly expression of love and faith.

“Today we give thanks to the Lord for our new saints. They walked by faith and now we invoke their intercession,” the Holy Father said.

From the alter at the front of St Peter’s Pope Francis read a quote from one of Newman’s sermons describing the holiness of daily life: “The Christian has a deep, silent, hidden peace, which the world sees not … The Christian is cheerful, easy, kind, gentle, courteous, candid, unassuming; has no pretence … with so little that is unusual or striking in his bearing, that he may easily be taken at first sight for an ordinary man.”

Newman was a 19th-century theologian, poet, Catholic priest and cardinal. Born in 1801, he was before his conversion a well-known and well-respected Oxford academic, Anglican preacher, and public intellectual.

Newman’s 1845 conversion to the Catholic faith was controversial in England, and resulted in the loss of many friends, including his own sister who never spoke to him again.

He became a priest in 1847 and founded the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in England. He was particularly dedicated to education, founding two schools for boys and the Catholic University of Ireland. His “Idea is a University” became a foundational text on Catholic higher education. He was a prolific author and letter writer. Newman died in Birmingham in 1890 at 89.

St. John Henry Newman is Britain’s first new saint since the canonization of St. John Ogilvie in 1976.

“Let us ask to be … ‘kindly lights’ amid the encircling gloom. Jesus, ‘stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as Thou shinest: so to shine as to be a light to others,’” Pope Francis said in his Oct. 13 homily, quoting parts of Newman’s “Meditations on Christian Doctrine.”

Along with Newman, Pope Francis canonized four women.

Mother Mariam Thresia (1876-1926) was an Indian mystic and founder of the Congregation of the Holy Family. The Syro-Malabar Catholic foundress received the stigmata and would sometimes levitate during prayer.

Giuseppina Vannini (1859-1911) religious sister from Rome known for founding the congregation of the Daughters of St. Camillus dedicated to serving the sick and suffering. Sister Dulce Lopes Pontes (1914-1992) founded the largest charitable organization in Brazil providing healthcare, welfare, and education service. Nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize, she is the first Brazilian-born female saint.

Pope Francis said that these three religious women saints show us that the consecrated life is “a journey of love at the existential peripheries of the world.”

“Saint Marguerite Bays, on the other hand, was a seamstress; she speaks to us of the power of simple prayer, enduring patience and silent self-giving,” the pope said. “That is how the Lord made the splendour of Easter radiate in her life.”

When Bays (1815-1879) was diagnosed with advanced cancer in 1853, she prayed to the Virgin Mary to be able to suffer with Jesus rather than to be healed. However, on the day that Bl. Pius IX proclaimed the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Sept. 8, 1854, she was miraculously healed.

“On the journey of life, purification takes place along the way, a way that is often uphill since it leads to the heights,” Pope Francis said.

“Faith calls for journey, a ‘going out’ from ourselves, and it can work wonders if we abandon our comforting certainties, if we leave our safe harbours and our cosy nests. Faith increases by giving, and grows by taking risks,” he said.

The canonizations took place as the Church celebrates an “Extraordinary Missionary Month” dedicated to prayer and reflection on the missionary work of the Church, as well as the Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazonian Region, taking place at the Vatican Oct. 6-27.

The Prince of Wales, who attended the canonisations, reflected: “In the age when he lived, Newman stood for the life of the spirit against the forces that would debase human dignity and human destiny. In the age in which he attains sainthood, his example is needed more than ever – for the manner in which, at his best, he could advocate without accusation, could disagree without disrespect and, perhaps most of all could see differences as places of encounter rather than exclusion.

“At a time when faith was being questioned as never before, Newman, one of the greatest theologians of the nineteenth century, applied his intellect to one of the most pressing questions of our era: what should be the relationship of faith to a sceptical, secular age? His engagement first with Anglican theology, and then, after his conversion, Catholic theology, impressed even his opponents with its fearless honesty, its unsparing rigor and its originality of thought.

“Whatever our own beliefs, and no matter what our own tradition may be, we can only be grateful to Newman for the gifts, rooted in his Catholic faith, which he shared with wider society: his intense and moving spiritual autobiography and his deeply-felt poetry in ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ which, set to music by Sir Edward Elgar – another Catholic of whom all Britons can be proud – gave the musical world one of its most enduring choral masterpieces.

“At the climax of ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ the soul, approaching heaven, perceives something of the divine vision.

“Newman engaged not merely with the church, but with the world. While wholeheartedly committed to the Church to which he came through so many intellectual and spiritual trials, he nonetheless initiated open debate between Catholics and other Christians, paving the way for later ecumenical dialogues. On his elevation to the Cardinalate in 1879, he took as his motto Cor ad cor loquitor (‘heart speaks to heart’), and his conversations across confessional, cultural, social and economic divides, were rooted in that intimate friendship with God.

“His faith was truly catholic in that it embraced all aspects of life. It is in that same spirit that we, whether we are Catholics or not, can, in the tradition of the Christian Church throughout the ages, embrace the unique perspective, the particular wisdom, and insight, brought to our universal experience by this one individual soul. We can draw inspiration from his writings and his life even as we recognize that, like all human lives, it was inevitably flawed. Newman himself was aware of his failings, such as pride and defensiveness which fell short of his own ideals, but which, ultimately, left him only more grateful for the mercy of God.

“His influence was immense. As a theologian, his work on the development of doctrine showed that our understanding of God can grow over time, and had a profound impact on later thinkers. Individual Christians have found their personal devotion challenged and strengthened by the importance he attached to the voice of conscience. Those of all traditions who seek to define and defend Christianity have found themselves grateful for the way he reconciled faith and reason. Those who seek the divine in what can seem like an increasingly hostile intellectual environment find in him a powerful ally who championed the individual conscience against an overwhelming relativism.

“And perhaps most relevantly of all at this time, when we have witnessed too many grievous assaults by the forces of intolerance on communities and individuals, including many Catholics, because of their beliefs, he is a figure who stood for his convictions despite the disadvantages of belonging to a religion whose adherents were denied full participation in public life. Through the whole process of Catholic emancipation and the restoration of the Catholic Church hierarchy, he was the leader his people, his church and his times needed.

“His capacity for personal warmth and generous friendship is shown in his correspondence. There exist over 30 collected volumes of his letters, many of which, tellingly, are not addressed to the fellow intellectuals and prominent leaders but to family, friends, and parishioners who sought out his wisdom.

In bringing the Oratorian Congregation from Italy to England, Newman sought to share its charism of education and service.

“He loved Oxford, gracing it not only with passionate and erudite sermons, but also with the beautiful Anglican church at Littlemore, created after a formative visit to Rome where, seeking guidance on his future spiritual path and pondering his relationship with the Church of England and with Catholicism, he wrote his beloved hymn, ‘Lead Kindly Light’. When he finally decided to leave the Church of England, his last sermon as he said farewell to Littlemore left the congregation in tears. It was entitled ‘The Parting of Friends.’

“As we mark the life of this great Briton, this great churchman and, as we can now say, this great saint, who bridges the divisions between traditions, it is surely right that we give thanks for the friendship which, despite the parting, has not merely endured, but has strengthened.

“In the image of divine harmony which Newman expressed so eloquently, we can see how, ultimately, as we follow with sincerity and courage the different paths to which conscience calls us, all our divisions can lead to a greater understanding and all our ways can find a common home.”