Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Anyone who knows me knows I have a number of “heroes”—some spiritual and some more formally ecclesiastical. Among them are St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Ignatius Loyola and Bl. Charles de Foucauld; they include St. Thomas More, Mother Julian of Norwich, St. Robert Bellermine, Cardinal Bernardin, and C. S. Lewis. But my #1 “main man” is John Henry Cardinal Newman.

His life and writings are especially relevant today in the wake of the publication of the new Apostolic Constitution enabling Anglicans more easily to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church (an option which was absolutely rejected in the 19th century of Newman). Are there Anglicans today who are ‘disaffected’ by their communion? Yes, for various reasons. Newman was, as well: his reasons were all distinctly theological & historical, and for him they raised the issue of whether or not the Church of England was part of the ‘Church catholic’ or in schism. His move on 8 October 1845 to be received by Fr. Dominic Barberi came as a result of what finally came to be clear to him as an utter necessity for himself. What Newman said in letters to his sister Jemina (written within a year of his being received) is especially important to us now:

At my time of life men love ease—I love ease myself. I am giving up a maintenance, involving no duties, and adequate to all my wants; what in the world am I doing this for…except that I think I am called to do so? I am making a large income by my Sermons…the chance is [they] will have no further sale at all. I have a good name with many; I am deliberately sacrificing it….I am distressing all I love…I am going to those whom I do not know and of whom I expect very little—I am making myself an outcast…Oh, what can it be but a stern necessity which causes this?

I have no existing sympathies with Roman Catholics. I hardly ever, even abroad, was at one of their services—I know none of them.
And then how much am I giving up in so many ways—and to me sacrifices irreparable…from my especial love of old associations and pleasures of memory.

These comments remind us that there is literally only one reason for being a Catholic (or any other denomination of Christianity): we must be internally convinced that this is the best way (perhaps, the only authentic way) for me to follow Jesus Christ. Anything else, whether for matters of artistic taste or homiletic expertise or what is commonly understood by various people either as “proper solemnity” or “gregarious welcoming,” is simply insufficient. These things will no doubt color our view—ours is an obligation to make sure that we can get the proper lenses to correct any subjective ‘astigmatism’ that might be distoring our view, and see things clearly.

It took Newman six years from when he first “felt the hit from Rome” in 1839 to his conversion. During that time, as one scholar puts it, “he prayed, fasted and suffered with almost superhuman intensity.” No ‘conversion’ or move can really be based in anything other than prayer and fasting (as Jesus told His disciples—Mark 9:28-29, footnoted reading). The prayer anyone considering ‘conversion’ needs to make and live can be found in the words of Newman’s final sermon as an Anglican, “The Parting of Friends”:

And O, my brethren, O kind and affectionate hearts, O loving friends, should you know anyone whose lot it has been, by writing or by word of mouth, in some degree to help you… remember such a one in time to come, though you hear him not, and pray for him that in all things he may know God’s will and at all times he may be ready to fulfil it.

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