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Celebrating the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman

Cardinal John Henry Newman
Cardinal John Henry Newman.
By Daniel Ang

On 19 September 2010, Pope Benedict XVI will preside at the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890) in Birmingham, England, during a four-day tour of the UK.

It will be an event celebrated by many throughout the world who have encountered in Newman a profound spiritual voice, a remarkable theological vision and a pastoral intent that has drawn generations of Christians, Catholic and otherwise, to his life and works.

Much has been written of Newman’s life, which saw him progress from a moderate Anglican upbringing, through a phase of unbelief, the fervour of evangelical conviction, to the High Church tradition of the Oxford Movement, before his entry into the Roman Catholic Church in 1845.

The Oxford Movement, or ‘Tractarianism’, of which Newman had been an impassioned leader, had sought to emphasise the ‘catholicity’ of the Church of England, that is, its continuity with the faith of the primitive church.

Through the writing of treatises or ‘tracts’, Newman, with others, sought to revive the spiritual and intellectual atmosphere of the Church of England amidst what they perceived as a growing liberalism within the Anglican fold.

It was his close reading of the Church Fathers, St Athanasius in particular, that led to Newman’s disillusionment with the church of his birth and his ultimate conversion to Roman Catholicism.

In his famous Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, published soon after his reception into the Roman Church, Newman concluded, “Did St Athanasius or St Ambrose come suddenly to life, it cannot be doubted what communion he would take to be his own.”

Newman was ordained to the priesthood in Rome in 1847, went on to establish an oratory in Birmingham (an institute of secular priests), author novels and devotional works, as well as classic theses in theology and philosophy, before being elevated to the College of Cardinals by Pope Leo XIII in 1879. Newman died in August 1890, at Birmingham.

His written works cover a multitude of themes. There are reflections on the lay faithful and their role in the transmission of the faith, the development of Christian doctrine and the growth of the Church, the dignity of conscience, and on the university and the need to teach knowledge truly universal in scope, including theology.

Newman’s sermons, both as Anglican pastor and Catholic priest, offer a robust spiritual itinerary that evokes the full demand and promise of the Gospel (“We live here to struggle and to endure. The time of eternal rest will come hereafter”.)

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Christian soul, the power of the Word of God, and the call of all Christians to the heights of holiness (by our seeking and obedience to the truth) are other central themes of Newman’s output, which continue to speak with power to our experience of discipleship today.

Newman’s authority as a classic spiritual voice, and indeed the foundations of his own sanctity, sprang from his intimate embrace of the deepest principles or spirit of the Christian tradition, equalled only by his familiarity with, and concern for, the spiritual welfare of his contemporaries.

As we celebrate the beatification of John Henry Newman, just weeks prior to the canonisation of Mary MacKillop, we are invited into the depths of discipleship and to reflect upon the circumstances of our time, which call for courageous witness and the proclamation of our faith.

In their life and works, these saints embodied and expressed a call to holiness in which we, too, share. It is this promise of God’s possibility that Newman calls us to receive in each moment of our days and years, for “to obtain the gift of holiness is the work of a life”.

Daniel Ang is the Coordinator of Pastoral Services for the Institute for Mission in the Diocese of Parramatta.

For All the Saints

To mark the canonisation of Blessed Mother Mary MacKillop and the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, the Institute for Mission has planned a series, “FOR ALL THE SAINTS” over three Wednesday evenings. These will be presented at the Diocesan Assembly Centre, 1-5 Marion St, Blacktown, 7-9pm. The first will be presented by Bishop Anthony Fisher OP.

1. Wednesday 4 August (Feast of St John Vianney, patron saint of priests, and eve of the Feast of St Dominic)

A general introduction to the saints and sainthood. What does it mean to be a saint? Who is called to be a saint and what is ‘the communion of saints’?

Presenter: Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP.

2. Wednesday 8 September (Birth of the Virgin Mary): An introduction to the life and spirituality of Cardinal John Henry Newman

What do you know about this Cardinal and why is he to be beatified?

Presenter: Daniel Ang.

3. Wednesday 13 October: Celebrating the canonisation of Blessed Mother Mary MacKillop

Australia’s first saint will be canonised in Rome on 17 October. What do you know about Mary MacKillop, her spirituality and her legacy in 2010? Hear one of her Sisters respond to these questions.

Presenter: Sr Bridie O’Connell RSJ.

Bookings are essential, but there is no charge for these talks.

Phone Institute for Mission 02 9831 4911.

Visit the IFM site

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