A bit of a confession: there may have been some dancing in the offices of the National Institute for Newman Studies (NINS) this morning. This is not a common occurrence at the Institute, but today was a special day, as news reached us from Rome that Pope Francis has approved the canonization of John Henry Newman. For a few months now, the staff at NINS has been urgently praying that the Church would raise Newman to the dignity of the altar. The Pittsburgh Oratory, which is across the street from us, has been offering the same request for several years now, so for the community of Catholics at NINS and the Oratory, this was understandably a morning of festive celebration.
Of course, as Fr. Ignatius Harrison (Provost of the Birmingham Oratory) noted, in this instance—as with all canonizations—all the glory goes to God. Newman's life of extraordinary sanctity is not a testimony to his own natural gifts, but a powerful reminder of how God's grace can lift human nature to achieve miraculous ends. Newman was blessed to cooperate in the work of the kingdom because he opened his life to the grace that God had first extended to him. In Fr. Harrison's words, "Newman's long spiritual pilgrimage 'out of shadows and images into the truth' encourages all Christians to persevere in their quest for God above all else. His conversion to Catholicism is a clear example of how God uses all the varied circumstances of our lives to draw us to Himself, in His own good time, and in so many different ways." In a culture characterized by nihilism and anxiety, Newman being declared a saint reminds us that God has a purpose for our lives. As those who through baptism have been raised to the status of sons and daughters of God, every facet of our existence takes on eternal significance. Each and every moment you and I have the opportunity to offer our whole self as an offering to God for the building up of His kingdom. What a high and humbling calling!
Even though Newman's cause went through the standard stages of the path to canonization (e.g., investigation of his life, recognition of his heroic virtues, confirmation of two miracles through his intercession, etc.,), the entire process felt to me like the older way of recognizing that a member of the faithful is now a saint in heaven. What I mean by this is that, Pope Francis's decision to canonize Newman seemed more like the confirmation of a devoted cultus that has already existed for some time now. I attribute my own journey into the Catholic Church, in part, to Newman's intercession, and have talked to several other Catholics who have experienced truly miraculous answers to their prayers as a result of his heavenly ministry. With this heavenly ministry in view, on this day of celebration may we not forget that God has a work for each one of us to accomplish as well. One of the great and reassuring truths of our faith is that, if we will humbly abandon ourselves to divine providence, then the work that God has for us is not encompassed by this life alone but will extend beyond our deaths. As her physical health worsened, St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873–1897) became convinced that she would accomplish more for the kingdom after she had died, and this in fact has been the case. Before her passing, she wrote: "Upon my death I will let fall a shower of roses; I wish to spend my heaven in doing good upon the earth." As many of us can attest, Blessed Newman, like the Little Flower, has spent heaven doing good upon the earth. May we, too, be blessed to have this said about us after we have died.
Blessed (soon-to-be-Saint) John Henry Newman, pray for us!
Ryan ("Bud") Marr Associate Provost at Mercy College of Health Sciences. He has served as the Director of NINS and Associate Editor of the Newman Studies Journal from 2017-2020. He is the author of To Be Perfect Is to Have Changed Often: The Development of John Henry Newman's Ecclesiological Outlook, 1845–1877 (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), and has also contributed essays to Newman and Life in the Spirit (Fortress Press, 2014), Learning from All the Faithful (Pickwick, 2016), and The Oxford Handbook of John Henry Newman (Oxford University Press, 2018). His research interests include the life and writings of John Henry Newman, ecclesiology, and the reception of Vatican II.