Benedict Beatifies Newman
September 19, 2010 I was a concelebrant at the beatification Mass for Cardinal John Henry Newman. Pope Benedict XVI was the celebrant. The event took place in Coftin Park, Birmingham, England not far from the Oratory Newman had founded. 55,000 people attended the ceremony with enthusiasm, reverence and joy. The music for the ceremony began with Newman's hymn, "Praise to the holiest in the heights and in the depth be praise. In all his words most wonderful, Most sure in all his ways."
The pope's humble, understated style helped him to get in touch with English culture. Benedict spoke from his heart very much like Newman whom he admired from his first days as a priest. He adopted Newman's motto, "Cor ad cor loquitur," (Heart Speaks to Heart) for the beatification. Normally, he does not celebrate beatifications, but he insisted on doing this one. In his homily he stressed that Newman was more than an academic theologian. He was above all a pastor, a priest who nourished the faith of his people. He was a holy priest who wanted to invite his people to a life of holiness in Christ. As a final tribute, the people of Birmingham crowded the streets for his funeral procession. He was their loving pastor.
In a time when the priesthood has been rattled by scandal, one of our brother priests has been beatified. The renewal of our priesthood is always a result of the individual and collective holiness of our brotherhood. Though he died a hundred years ago, it is his spiritual power that is made available for us today. With the beatification the spiritual impact of Newman on priesthood and on the general faith of the church will begin.
When the pope declared, "With the authority invested in me by my office, I declare that Cardinal John Henry Newman is among the blessed of heaven", 55, 000 people sang Newman's hymn again, "Praise to the holiest in the heights". On the giant screen behind the altar a portrait of Newman appeared. After Mass, I was touched to see 5 priests already kneeling before his portrait in prayer.
In emphasizing Newman's pastoral heart, Benedict said, "While Newman's intellectual legacy has received the most attention, I prefer to reflect on his life as a pastor of souls… In his sermon ‘Men, not Angels,' he wrote, ‘Had angels been your priests… they could not have had compassion for you, felt tenderly for you, made allowances for you, as we priests can have." (From Discourses to Mixed Congregations, 3)." Newman lived out a human vision of priestly ministry to the people of Birmingham, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison."
Newman's approach still means a lot for our renewal as priests. We know our calling is to serve God's people. Newman is our advocate especially in our efforts to foster the role of the laity in our Church. He said, "I want an intelligent and well instructed laity. I want a laity who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand… who know the creed so well they can give an account of it, who know so much of history they can defend it." (Present Position of Catholics in England).
All of us know that our priestly ministry embraces both faith and reason. Just as Jesus was always fully human and fully divine, we should be thoroughly in touch with our faith and with our humanity with its capacity to reason. May I invoke Newman's words to encourage us in this goal. Remember he is speaking as a pastor. "I wish the intellect to range with the utmost freedom and religion to enjoy the same freedom." He wanted faith and reason to be integrated into the same person. "I want the intellectual person to be religious and the devout person to be intellectual."
I was impressed with some other aspects of Benedict's historic visit to England. It was a state visit. The crown, as they say, welcomed him into the most sacred precincts of their history. They invited him to speak at Westminster Hall, the oldest building in the country, England's "living room." I was among the 2,000 guests that heard his talk. Four former Prime Ministers were present along with the members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. David Cameron was absent because he was burying his father that day. While we waited, the Coldstream Guards band played music.
Having seen the film "A Man for All Seasons," a number of times, my mind was on the memory of Thomas More being brought to this hall, five centuries ago. Under the direction of King Henry VIII, the court was in session here. They condemned More to death for defending the pope as the true head of the Church and for refusing to support the king's divorce. He had been chancellor of England.
His successors (four Prime Ministers) sat in the front row of the audience for Benedict. And the pope whose predecessors had been rejected is now sitting as a guest on the very ground where More once stood. His opening remarks set the tone: His words as I recall them—"Dear friends, you are celebrating an anniversary of the Battle of Britain. I admire the courage of your people in defending yourselves from the evil forces that took over my country. May I remind you they did everything they could to banish God from my land and to crush any expression of religious faith. I urge you to resist any attempt to do the same here. I know from experience what the result will be."
The gracious attitude of the government and Benedict's equally warm presentation seemed to me to be a new beginning. I thought it was ironic that Benedict was in Westminster Abbey Church of St. Peter, the first of the popes of whom he is a successor. He prayed Evening Prayer with the Anglicans and he stood with Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams by the tomb of King St. Edward the Confessor who built the Abbey Church and Monastery and they prayed for unity.
His Anglican listeners realized how much their Christian witness is valued by the successor of St. Peter. Benedict raised questions that were down to earth and are at the heart of political debate in that country. He called, as Newman would, for a new and constructive way for faith and society to work together and to have a conversation. He threatened no one. He spoke from heart to heart.
One other scene I need to share with you. The British Government in the name of the Crown ushered Benedict into the icons of royal sacred ground (Westminster Abbey, Westminster Hall and the following): There is a sort of royal mile in London – the Mall that stretches from Parliament to Buckingham Palace. On a warm Saturday evening 200,000 people lined the Mall to see the pope. He went from there to Hyde Park where 80,000 people joined him for a Vigil, actually a Holy Hour. Benedict took the focus off himself and pointed everyone to the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. With Evening Prayer, Adoration and Benediction he projected the devotional heart of the British Catholics. I loved the fact that the BBC televised a Catholic Holy Hour to all of Europe and through other channels to America, Canada and the rest of the Commonwealth nations around the world.
In addition Benedict ‘s words let the world know what Catholicism does for the disabled and elderly, its concern for immigrants, strangers and refugees, to protecting the environment and worldwide development. The chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks said, "This Catholicism refuses political power to stand as the prophets of old stood alongside the powerless."
Before moving on, let me note that England's 6 million Catholics in a nation of 60 million people were represented in the media with respect and on TV through all of Europe and around the world. It was a brilliant way to say, "This is what we do." I believe it is a sign of renewal of the Church and our priesthood which serves the Church. As Prime Minister David Cameron said, "Pope Benedict made us sit up and think. Me too."