Blessed Cardinal Newman continues to inspire

Father John A. Kiley
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Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman will be canonized on October 13 now that the mandatory two miracles have been substantiated by Roman authorities. Both miracles attributed to Cardinal Newman’s intercession were divinely bestowed on Americans. The prayers of Melissa Villalobos of Chicago saved her life and the life of her unborn child. The miracle accepted for Blessed Newman’s beatification in 2010 involved Deacon Jack Sullivan of Marshfield, Massachusetts, who was healed of a severe spinal condition in 2001.

Cardinal Newman was born in London on February 21, 1801. He was drawn closer to God and to his Anglican religion by a conversion experience when he was 15 years old. Newman studied at Trinity College and was elected a fellow at Oriel College, both at Oxford University. He was ordained an Anglican clergyman in 1825 and was assigned as vicar at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin near Birmingham in central England. The Reverend Newman providentially enjoyed a trip to the significantly Catholic Mediterrean world in 1832. This journey might have prepared him for his espousal of the Oxford movement which swept the English Church in the 1830s, encouraging a so-called “high church” approach to worship and liturgy somewhat countering the Evangelical influence of the Wesley brothers who had introduced a “low-church” Methodism focusing on the Bible and hymn singing.

Somewhat reminiscent of Martin Luther’s success at pamphleteering, Newman and other Oxford divines began in 1841 publishing tracts or articles on contemporary religious issues, some of which gave Anglican authorities pause about Newman’s Romish leanings. In 1842, Father Newman moved from the university setting at Oxford to a rural community at Littlemore near Birmingham which he shared with likeminded friends and clergy who were more and more inclined toward Roman Catholicism. Newman was happily received into the Catholic Church in 1845. Pope Pius IX sent the new convert a silver crucifix, pleased with the increased attention the Church was receiving in Protestant England. In 1847 Newman was ordained a Catholic priest at Rome and then returned to Littlemore where he founded the English Oratory of St. Philip Neri. Newman greatly admired the small group style of spirituality favored by St. Philip and made Neri his special patron.

In 1850, Pope Pius IX re-established the English hierarchy which had been in exile since Reformation times. The future Cardinal preached his famous “A Second Spring” sermon at the first synod of the newly formed hierarchy. Newman’s intellectual and literary talents led to the foundation of the Catholic University of Ireland where he was rector from 1854-58. The Irish clergy did not receive their English visitor very well and Newman returned to England in 1859 to open the Oratory School at Birmingham. Cardinal Newman’s celebrated autobiography, “Apologia Pro Vita Sua,” was published in 1864 and remains a spiritual classic to this day. Another publication, “The Present Position of Catholics in England,” greatly defended the Church of Rome just recovering from three hundred years of English obscurity. Newman was invited by Pope Pius IX to attend the First Vatican Council, 1869-70. Indeed he found much greater favor with Pope Leo XIII who elevated him to the College of Cardinals in 1878 – the first cardinal to be elevated by that Pope, perhaps a consolation prize for the long missing mitre. The Cardinal celebrated his last Mass on Christmas day, 1889, dying on August 11, 1890, at his beloved Birmingham Oratory where, since 2010, his remains now rest.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman chose as his motto as cardinal the Latin phrase “cor ad cor loquitur,” that is, “heart speaks unto heart.” The expression had been coined two centuries earlier by St. Frances de Sales to describe the intimacy of Jesus’ loving obedience toward his Father. The closeness and affection of the Son with the Father in heaven was reflected on earth by Christ wholesale dedication to the Father’s Will on Calvary. The Father’s eternal heart truly spoke to the Son’s eternal heart and to the Son’s earthly heart as well. Jesus was a willing listener. Cardinal Newman greatly treasured not only his intimacy with God through his Christian faith but also the intimacy that he shared with the several members of the Oxford Movement, the Littlemore community, and the Birmingham Oratory. He treasured the warmth of these personal friendships, seeing in them a foretaste of the ultimate intimacy of heaven. Heart does indeed speak to heart for those Christians who are open, frank and candid about the common faith they share in Christ and in his Church. “From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” (Matthew 12:34). Cardinal Newman wisely and talentedly expressed his faith in preaching and writing, drawing many into his circle of friends, cherishing their affection. With his canonization, his sphere of influence will be even wider.