Blessed John Cardinal Newman
(1801 – 1890)
On Sunday, September 19th, Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Cardinal Newman, who was a great priest, writer and thinker during the 19th century. Originally an evangelical Oxford academic and priest in the Church of England (1820’s), Newman was a leader in the Oxford Movement. This influential grouping of Anglicans wished to return the Church of England to many Catholic beliefs and forms of worship. He eventually converted to Roman Catholicism (1845) and rose to become a cardinal. During the time of his confusion and personal struggle to reconcile his status as a renowned Anglican preacher at the Oxford parish church, he wrote the poem Lead Kindly Light which has since become a beautiful hymn:
Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to seeThe distant scene; one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou shouldst lead me on;I loved to choose and see my path; but now lead Thou me on!I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!
So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on.O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till the night is gone,And with the morn those angel faces smile, which IHave loved long since, and lost awhile!
Here is an excerpt from Pope Benedict’s homily at the beatification ceremony:
‘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).’
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