By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, September 20, 2010

An Affair of the Heart

“Acceding to the request of our Brother Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, of many other Brothers in the episcopate, and many of the faithful, after consultation with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, by our apostolic authority we declare that the venerable Servant of God John Henry, Cardinal, Newman, priest of the Congregation of the Oratory, shall henceforth be invoked as Blessed and that his feast shall be celebrated every year on the ninth of October, in the places and according to the norms established by Church law. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

With these words Pope Benedict XVI beatified Cardinal Newman during a Mass at Cofton Park just outside of Birmingham, England. I had the great blessing and privilege of being present for this historical event, having been asked to represent the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Needless to say this was a day of great joy for the people of Great Britain as they witnessed one of their great fellow countrymen raised to the altars. In Edmonton, of course, we rejoice in our own way, given that Newman has been since its inception the chosen patron of our Archdiocesan theological college. At the same time this is an event of great significance for the whole Church. As the Holy Father himself pointed out on numerous occasions during his state visit here, the teachings and example of Newman speak powerfully to the issues we face today.

Newman's private chapel in Birmingham
Prior to the beatification Mass I attended an all-day conference on Newman in Birmingham, comprised of lectures offered by his principal biographers. Each one touched on a particular aspect of Newman’s legacy. While all were very interesting, I was particularly struck by the last, given by the author of the official biography commissioned for the occasion of the beatification. Fr. Keith Beaumont of the French Oratory spoke of the Cardinal as a spiritual guide for our times. He highlighted Newman’s insistence upon the inseparability and interpenetration of three fundamental dimensions of the true Christian life: prayer, thought and action. Christianity is more than right belief and right action. It is these, of course, but it is more. Each, to be authentic and life-giving, both for oneself and for others, must be grounded in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, a relationship that is nurtured in prayer. In essence, the Christian life is an affair of the heart, where divine love is welcomed with its transformative power and human love is offered in return. This love gives light to our intellect and impels us to right conduct and generous service. Hence the words he chose for his motto when near the end of his life he was named a Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII: cor ad cor loquitur (heart speaks to heart). Out of love for Christ we give all to him and for him.
The library at Birmingham Oratory

On the left is the article that was severely critical of Newman
and prompted him to write his Apologia Pro Vita Sua.
On the right is Newman's hand-written manuscript.

Following the Mass of beatification I joined many of the English Bishops for Solemn Vespers at the Oratory parish church, and returned the next morning to join a group of pilgrims for Mass in the Oratory chapel where Newman himself prayed. These two visits afforded me the opportunity to visit Cardinal Newman’s rooms as well as the Oratory library, which he designed and where about 95 per cent of the books are from his own personal collection. What a blessing to see not only where he lived and worked but also the original hand-written manuscripts of his great classics Apologia Pro Vita Sua and An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine! I hope and pray that the doctrine and witness of the Church’s new beatus will touch and help the lives of many. Indeed, Pope Benedict himself spoke openly of the impact that Cardinal Newman has had on his own life and thought. May it be so for many others.

Speaking of the Holy Father, I cannot avoid saying a few words about his state visit to Great Britain. Many have commented that it has been a huge success. While many had feared it might not live up to expectations it actually surpassed them. Crowds wonderful in number and marked by joyous faith greeted him at every turn. Yes, there were also protests. Even though these constituted a small minority, the Holy Father characteristically took the issues seriously and addressed them head on with forthrightness and grace, especially that of the sexual abuse of children by clergy. Overall he was received with respect and grace and the whole breadth of his message was clearly communicated. One particularly striking moment was the Holy Father’s historic address in Westminster Hall to the assembled members of both houses of Parliament, in the presence of four former Prime Ministers. In the very place where St. Thomas More was condemned for his obedience to conscience, the Pope called on the government officials to welcome religious faith and its insights as a necessary element of national public discourse and to be attentive to situations in which the freedom of conscience of citizens today is being threatened in the name of “tolerance.” Powerful stuff.

I’ve noticed that many are attributing the success of the visit to well-coordinated public relations work on the part of the planners. No doubt this is true to a degree. Yet we cannot forget that the Pope is the Successor to St. Peter, and we would do well to recall the following episode recorded in the Acts of the Apostles: “Yet more than ever, believers in the Lord, great numbers of men and women, were added to them. Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them. A large number of people from the towns in the vicinity of Jerusalem also gathered, bringing the sick and those disturbed by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.” (Acts 5:14-16). During a papal visit the “shadow of Peter” falls upon those fortunate enough to be present or near. It brings a healing and transformation that can occur only by grace. We have just witnessed that here in Great Britain and I have seen it on other occasions, such as World Youth Day in Sydney. In addition, Pope Benedict’s own personal sanctity, serenity, humility and kindness touch many people, who in consequence are open in perhaps unexpected ways to listen to the message he comes to bring. Let us pray that the Pope’s words and example, reinforced by those of the man he came to beatify, will bear much good fruit in a new and vibrant evangelization in this land and elsewhere.