Newman 2002 Anniversary Eulogy

On Thursday July 11th 1833 a young french priest, Prosper Guéranger restored monastic life to France after its destruction at the French Revolution, by founding a small Benedictine community in the hitherto deserted Priory of Solesmes. A turning point in the life of the young priest Guéranger and an important moment for the history of the Church in France.

    On the following Sunday the young John Henry Newman, on hearing a Sermon preached by John Keble in Oxford reached a turning point in his life and an important moment for the history of the Church in England. In his Apologia Newman wrote 'Sunday, July 14th, Mr. Keble preached the Assize Sermon in the University Pulpit. I have ever considered and kept the day, as the start of the religious movement of 1833'.

    The seeds of the Oxford movement were sown and Newman began the first steps towards his conversion to Catholicism. And this in not just the same year nor the same month but only three days after Guéranger restored monastic life in the priory of Solesmes.

    Two great men, Newman, who has been called a pioneer and prophet of the Second Vatican Council and Guéranger, whom Pope Paul VI described as the 'Father of the Liturgical Movement' met each other here in the Oratory in September 1860.

    The meeting had been arranged by Dom Laurence Shepherd, Chaplain of the Nuns at Stanbrook and a friend of Guéranger. By way of an introduction to this meeting let me read the tribute which Dom Shepherd’s paid to Guéranger shortly after the Abbot’s death in 1875. It will at once be evident that the description of Guéranger could equally be applied to the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman.

    'The Abbot, Dom Guéranger was perhaps the most learned Prelate of his age, at least in those sciences which are ecclesiastical. God had gifted him with all those talents which are requisite for a Master in Christian Israel. He wrote much, and not a single error can be detected in his writings. His whole life was a life of study and prayer; and what he once read, he never forgot, and could use it, years after, when occasion served. In every line, he reveals his burning love for the Church. This love for the Church might be called his ruling passion. It was his very life. He knew its spirit, its history, its traditions.'

    From the account of the brief meeting that took place between these two men who had a burning love for the Church, the Abbot of Solesmes and Father Newman in September 1860 it could appear that Newman does not emerge too well. Newman refused to speak French or Italian and declined to speak Latin. Father Lawrence Shepherd had to act as interpreter. To the Abbot’s questions Newman replied in monosyllables, 'yes' or 'no'. The atmosphere was described as 'icy'. Only after they went into Newman’s library and began to discuss their common areas of interest did the air 'warm up' a little.

    The account of the meeting written by Dom Shepherd is indeed disappointing, and in marked contrast to the meeting with Father Faber at the London Oratory.

    We know that Newman was by nature somewhat reserved, and this a characteristic which can sometimes be wrongly interpreted as unsociable, which Newman was certainly not. Guéranger on the other hand for all his warm heartedness and evident charm, could be quite fierce in his criticism of those who disagreed with him, indeed, because his name Guéranger is close to the french word for war 'guerre', he was said to be warlike in name and in nature.

    Two great men, both with their defects and weaknesses, both candidates for the honour of Sainthood.

    The world sees weakness and failings in the Church and its members and takes pleasure in pointing them out, but this need not surprise us because it has been so since calvary.

    As the Lord hung upon the Cross his tormentors cried out: 'He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the Cross, and we will believe in him' (Matthew 27:42). The King of Israel did not descend from the Cross, but rose in glory and ascended into heaven.

    When Satan took the Lord to the pinnacle of the Temple he said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down' and again when, 'the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me."'

    Note this condition of falling down, the faithless, the workers of evil want to drag down, they want to see the Church and its members fall down, for them downward is triumph.

    Newman and Guéranger were men of faith, who put nothing before the love of Christ. Their lives were inspired and motivated by the desire for truth. Their writings and teachings were designed to show the splendour of the Church at a moment in history during which many felt that there had been a loss of a sense of direction.

    Faith is a gift but it is given to us as a seed which has to grow and develop. How many people talk about having a crisis in faith when in fact they are having a crisis in understanding. How many children leave Catholic schools with an inadequate knowledge of their faith. How can we expect young men and women to go out into the world and remain strong in the faith when their knowledge of it is inadequate. We find young people who know all about technical matters and scientific matters and have practical skills and crafts and yet their knowledge of the faith is very often little more than that of a child. Is it any wonder that they fall away in an adult world when they are still under developed in the knowledge of their faith. The desire to know, to go on and know the Lord marked the life and spirituality of Newman and Guéranger.

    But what about our knowledge of the faith, do we truly spend time deepening our understanding of the gospel, of tradition. I ask you gathered today, are you seeking to deepen your faith and that of those under your care? We change, we evolve, we have to face different, some times quite unexpected situations. The world changes and evolves, and so we have to be equipped, especially those responsible for the education of our young people. Let us learn from the example of great people such as Newman and Guéranger, that no matter what trials or difficulties we pass through, we remember that our faith is tested like gold in a fire in order to be purified and to become a strong metal.

    Above all they knew that we need to know the Lord and not just about Him, the writings of Newman and Guéranger embody Saint Paul’s words, 'it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me' (Galatians 2:20). But to have the life of Christ we have like Saint Paul to be 'crucified with Christ' for only then can we say 'it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me'.

    You can only know Christ if you know the Cross: 'For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified' (Corinthians 2:2). But 'far be it from me to glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world' (Galatians 6:14). The decline in the love of the Cross is the cause of the sense a of loss of direction among many Christians, and sadly how many 'live as enemies of the Cross of Christ', have their 'minds set on earthly things' (Philippians 3:19).

    The teaching of Christ is the opposite of worldly values: Jesus did not tell you to be empowered; he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. Jesus did not tell you to affirm yourself; but on the contrary to deny yourself and take up the Cross. The spirit of the world is concerned with getting rich and finding security; Jesus said, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' The spirit of the world says be kind to yourself, enjoy yourself; Jesus said, 'Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.' The spirit of the world tells you that your instincts are good, including sexual instinct, and asks what harm are you doing if you do not harm another. You are told that you have a right to happiness, and that you will be frustrated if you repress your natural instincts. Jesus said, 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.' The spirit of the world says, we cannot trust others and so we need a deterrent to ensure the balance of power, but Jesus said, 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.'

    The Beatitudes are inseparable from the Cross. The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, is the royal road of the Cross it is the way for all who are seeking perfection – 'You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect'.

    Mediocrity will die of itself, the world does not preoccupy itself about the mediocre Christians because they do not pose a threat. 'You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot.' When we are truly followers of Christ, when we try to proclaim and live the spirit of holiness, having respect for chastity and the sacredness of life, when obedience, humility, penance are part of our life then the world will rebel and look for things to criticise: 'Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.'

    Newman and Guéranger tried to embody the teaching of the Cross and the teaching of the Beatitudes in their lives, that is why their memory lives on.

    Over the last few years some of those who are sometimes called 'role models', whose way of life ought to have been an example, have fallen short of what was expected of them. In the world of entertainment and sport many feel that they have been let down, and indeed in all spheres of life today there has been a falling away from the expected ideal. Therefore we need to return to a devotion to the Saints, the truly holy men and women who stand before the throne of God. A devotion which means not only honouring their memory but imitating their example. There is a Saint for every time and season, in time of joy as well as in time of trouble.

    They are our companions as we journey along the way of salvation. What the grace of God has worked in each one of them is possible for us. In the world it is we who support our athletes and heroes and cheer them on, in the kingdom of the Lord, it is the Saints who support us, who encourage us. We need to deepen our understanding of the mystery of the Communion of Saints as an active force in our lives.

    May this commemoration today, the 112th anniversary of the death of the Venerable John Henry, Cardinal Newman, help us to look to where Christ is in glory with the Saints and all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. Let us renew our faith, hope and love as we seek to live the Beatitudes and so by sharing in patience in the sufferings of Christ we may come to share the kingdom that he has promised us.

    In the Church all sanctity is the work of the Spirit, its manifestations are like the colours which emerge from light striking a prism. As a member of the family of Saint Benedict I can feel at home with thought and teaching of the Oratorian family, let us listen to how Cardinal Newman expressed this oneness in the diverse manifestation of holiness in the Church: 'from a boy I have been drawn in my affections to the monastic rule .... and how was it possible to drink in the spirit of early Christianity, and to be enamoured of its loveliness, and to sit at the feet of the Saints, Anthony, Basil, Martin, Jerome, Paulinus, Augustine, and others, without a special sensibility and attraction to the grandeur of S. Benedict, who completes the list of ancient monastic Saints, or without a devout attachment to his multitudinous family?

    'And when I became a Catholic, and found myself a son and servant of S. Philip, I rejoiced to think how much there was in the substance and spirit of his Institute like that which I had attributed to the primitive monks. His children, indeed, have no place in the pages of ecclesiastical history. We have not poured ourselves over Christendom century after century; have not withstood a flood of barbarism, and, after its calamities, "renewed the face of the earth;" we take up no great room in libraries, nor live in biographies and in the minds and hearts of spiritual men; but, as children of a Saint, we cannot but have a character of our own and a holy vocation; and, viewing it in itself, we may without blame ascribe to it a likeness to a Benedictine life, and claim a brotherhood with that old Benedictine world; in the spirit of Cardinal Baronius, one of S. Philip's first disciples, who tells us in his "Annals," that by and in S. Philip's rule a beautiful apostolic method of spiritual life was renewed, and primitive times came back again. There are none, whose praise is more welcome to me than that of Benedictines.'

   This passage comes from an address of thanks which Newman made to the formal congratulations which he received from the Benedictines of England on the occasion of his being created a Cardinal. And so it is fitting that it is as a Benedictine that I should join you today in honouring and praising the memory of the Venerable John Henry Newman and I express the hope which you all share that through his intercession the Church in our land will be renewed with the same good zeal that he manifested throughout his life.

   Many Christians seem to have lost that spiritual enthusiasm that spreads the fire of the love of God and the Church. Following Newman’s example we must affirm the primacy of the love of God. We have to return to that 'apostolic method of spiritual life', when the Christian community, as described in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, met together for prayer and the Breaking of the Bread; to enjoy fellowship and listen to the teaching of the Apostles. And so they became of one mind and one heart. Let us open our hearts to the kindly light of truth that lead us. In times of trouble, when even the Church is storm tossed, let us keep our eyes fixed on Christ. Be courageous, do not count the cost, open your hearts to Christ our Saviour. Be proud of your Christian calling and do not be afraid to give witness to Christ and the truth of the gospel. You are to be the salt of the earth and a light in the darkness.

    The love of Christ must be our guide and may He our Lord and Saviour lead us all to His Kingdom where He lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Rt Rev'd Cuthbert Johnson, O.S.B.
Abbot of Quarr