Wednesday, October 9, 2013

FEAST DAY: Oct. 9 - John Henry Newman

Blessed John Henry
Cardinal Newman
Today is the Feast Day of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890). Newman's birthday was February 21 and he died in August. October 9 was the date, after two years of instruction, when Newman was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1845 by Dominic Barberi, an Italian Passionist, in Littlemore.

Oxonians brought many gifts to America, including independence, with Pitt the Elder kicking the French out of the colonies and Lord North trying to make the colonials pay for the cost of British troops, thereby precipitating the Revolution. Newman's gift was not just to Catholics in America, but to Christians everywhere, especially those speaking English.

He was born in London and at 16 years of age went up to Trinity College, Oxford. He then served as a tutor at Oriel College, which was a center of Oxford University's religious revival.

For 17 years from 1828, he was vicar of the Anglican St. Mary's (The University Church of St. Mary the Virgin) close to Oriel at the center of the University on High Street. Five years into Newman's vicarage, John Keble gave his famous sermon at St. Mary's that won over Newman to the Oxford Movement to regenerate Catholicism. The Movement went back to the early Church for inspiration.

In 1845,  based on his search for continuity in the history of Christianity and his belief in objective truth, Newman then became a Roman Catholic. He published eight volumes of Parochial and Plain Sermons as well as two novels. He is celebrated as both an Anglican and a Roman Catholic theologian. His poem, "Dream of Gerontius," was set to music by Sir Edward Elgar.

In 1847, Newman was ordained a Catholic priest in Rome and joined the Congregation of the Oratory, founded three centuries earlier by St. Philip Neri. Returning to England, Newman founded Oratory houses in Birmingham and London. In 1854 he went to Dublin to serve as rector of the Catholic University of Ireland, which he helped found. While in Dublin he wrote The Idea of a University, in which he sets out his ideas on the purpose of education. Newman promotes the idea that the lived experience of believers is a key part of formation of theology.

Newman accepted Vatican I's teaching on papal infallibility while noting its limits, which at that time few proponents of infallibility were eager to do.

Newman was named a cardinal in 1879, and he took as his cardinal's motto Cor ad cor loquitur ("Heart speaks to heart"), which he adapted from a 17th century dictum. His crest includes three hearts, which are interpreted as being the Trinity. Pope Benedict XVI used the Cor ad cor loquitur motto to headline Newman's long-awaited beatification.

Newman was buried near Birmingham but his grave was exhumed in 2008 and a new tomb was prepared at the Oratory church in Birmingham. Three years after Newman died, a Newman Club for Catholic students began at the University of Pittsburgh, and similar centers for students were set up in many universities. Newman Centers had been created earlier but until Newman himself was beatified they lacked ecclesiastical blessing.

Pope Benedict beatified Newman in September 2010, at a ceremony outside of Birmingham. The pope noted Newman's balanced emphasis on both his religious beliefs as part of civilized society and on his pastoral energy to attend to the needs of the sick, poor, bereaved or incarcerated.

Newman's views were a key reference point for Vatican II under Pope John XXIII. He was called the "absent Father" of this conference of bishops 70 years after his death, especially on issues of conscience and religious liberty, the vocation of lay people, and relations between Church and State.

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