In Praise of Blessed John Henry Newman
Blessed John Henry Newman is my hero. Blessed John Henry Newman is my friend. Blessed John Henry Newman is he whom the Lord used to bring me into, as Newman phrased it upon his conversion to the Roman Catholic Church, 'the One true Fold of the Redeemer.'
In the person of Blessed John Henry Newman, we find a man who lived his life dedicated to the true and to the good, to truth and holiness. Without knowing it, he also exuded the other transcendentals. While pursuing the true and the good, Newman's soul not only achieved truth and good, Newman's soul also became one in integrity and resplendent in beauty.
Before we proceed more deeply, I must confess my bias for the man. John Henry Newman is not merely a beatus who has been raised to the altars of the Catholic Church. Blessed John Henry Newman is my hero. Blessed John Henry Newman is my friend. Blessed John Henry Newman is he whom the Lord used to bring me into, as Newman phrased it upon his conversion to the Roman Catholic Church, "the One true Fold of the Redeemer."
Newman has influenced me in a variety of ways. First, one has to mention his remarkable genius for, as Pope Benedict XVI put it in the homily during the ceremony of John Henry Cardinal Newman's elevation to the altar, "preaching, teaching, and writing." Newman's preaching, teaching, and writing were sure guides which inspired me, instructed me, and guided me into the one, catholic, and apostolic Church. And they still inspire me, instruct me, and guide me.
For example, Newman's Idea for a University, where he articulated a philosophy of Catholic education, made me appreciate the importance of human knowledge tutored by the faith in Christ. The image given me by a most reasonable Newman in this work about reason's weakness without faith shall never leave me: "Quarry the granite rock with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk; then may you hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and the pride of man."
Anyone who has struggled with passion and with pride knows that something more than reason is required to overcome these recalcitrant twins of our human nature.
Newman, however, was more than just a wordsmith for me. He not only wrote about holiness, he lived holiness. He contended with, and overcame, "those giants, the passion and the pride of man."
What a sensitivity Newman had to sin, the illegitimate spawn of passion and pride, and yet without a sign of unhealthy scruple. "The Catholic Church," Newman famously wrote to the chagrin of liberals and social reformers, "holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one willful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse." With this vivid image, Newman shows the huge difference between moral evils and physical evils.
Who can forget the humility of Newman who was asked by Msgr. George Talbot to leave the blue-collared town of Birmingham, England, where some believed Newman's prodigious intellectual talents were wasted among the uneducated laborers of that town. Come to Rome, Msgr. Talbot said, "to preach at my Church in the Piazza del Popolo, where you would have a more educated audience of Protestants than would ever be the case in England." Msgr. Talbot also intimated that Newman could increase his connections with the Roman curia and even the Pope; one supposes Msgr. Talbot did this to tickle any hidden ecclesiastical ambition Newman might have had in his breast.
But Msgr. Talbot underestimated Newman. And the short riposte that Newman wrote to Msgr. Talbot ranks at the top of examples of bons mots justes in the history of the world: "Dear Monsignore Talbot, I have received your letter, inviting me to preach next Lent in your Church at Rome to 'an audience of Protestants more educated than could ever be the case in England.' However, Birmingham people have souls; and I have neither taste nor talent for the sort of work which you cut out for me. And I beg to decline your offer."
Birmingham people have souls! It is no wonder that Benedict XVI recognized that Newman had the heart of a priest, a pastor whose "long life devoted to the priestly ministry." Here was a man who had conquered worldly ambition, who had conquered intellectual pride, who saw that a soul of any man was precious regardless of his station. Jesus came to save all men, not just gentlemen. Newman gave himself in his priestly ministry to his flock. Indeed, when ...
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