The importance of John Henry Newman’s canonization

Jared Staudt

Bl. John Henry Newman (1801-90) will be canonized on Oct. 13 and surely will be named a Doctor of the Church at some point in the future. Newman, known and studied even in secular universities for his masterful prose, epitomizes the drama of conversion. Having experienced the draw of evangelical Christianity in high school, he briefly flirted with liberal secularism at Oxford before taking a lead in the attempt to restore Catholic practices to the Church of England, known as the Oxford Movement. As an Anglican priest and famous preacher, however, he began to doubt the truth of the Anglican Church’s 39 articles of faith, recognizing their inconsistency and lack of continuity with the history of the Church.

Newman’s conversion touches crucial questions at stake for every Christian. Does the Church transmit truth in clear and authoritative fashion? Does faith depend upon our own individual judgment or is it a grace filled movement of assent to God’s revelation? For Newman, there could be no certainty in religion unless God gave authority to the Church to teach definitively in His name. His conversion to the Catholic Church in 1845 marked the definitive moment of his life, when he left the comfort of his life at Oxford and his many friends, for the peace of entering into the Church established by Jesus and which maintained direct continuity to the apostles. This turned his life upside down, but, through it, he experienced the relief of resting in the true faith.

His first work written as a Catholic, in 1848, the year after his ordination to the Catholic priesthood, consisted of a semi-autobiographical novel, Loss and Gain. Ignatius Press released a critical version of the text with commentary, which I read in preparation for his canonization (edited by Trevor Lipscombe, 2012). The main character, Charles Reding, finds himself at Oxford in the midst of religious controversy, having to sort through skepticism, evangelicalism, high Church Anglicanism, and a comfortable conformism. Although Charles bears some resemblance to Newman, his character serves as a more general way of entering into the mind and heart of a young man grappling for religious certainty.

After reading and teaching Newman for many years, Loss and Gain drew me into Oxford in a much more real way, making Newman’s time there come alive as he describes it in minute detail: “The first day of Michaelmas term is, to an undergraduate’s furniture, the brightest day of the year. Much as Charles regretted home, he rejoiced to see Oxford again. The porter had acknowledged him at the gate, and the scout had smiled and bowed, as he ran up the worn staircase and found a blazing fire to welcome him. The coals crackled and split, and threw up a white flame in strong contrast with the newly blackened bars and hobs of the grate. A shining copper kettle hissed and groaned under the internal torment of water at boiling point … A tea-tray and tea-commons were placed on the table … and a note from a friend whose term had already commenced” (102).

More to the point, we can enter into Newman’s train of thought prior to his conversion, which he plays out through the slow development of Charles’ faith. Unsatisfied with the inconsistencies of Anglicanism, Charles began to admire the clear authority of the Church: “This too has struck me,” he noted to his tutor, “that either there is no prophet of the truth on earth, or the Church of Rome is that prophet. That there is a prophet still, or apostle, or messenger, or teacher, or whatever he is to be called, seems evident by our believing in a visible Church. Now common sense tells us what a messenger from God must be; first, he must not contradict himself … Again, a prophet of God can allow no rival but denounces all who make a separate claim, as the prophets do in Scripture” (190). In his later autobiographical account of his conversion, Apologia pro vita sua, Newman argued that if God were to bestow revelation in the world, there would need to be an authority to interpret this revelation so that it did not become subject to the whims of individual judgment. Newman found this necessary authority in the Catholic Church.

In addition to Newman’s imaginative witness to the faith in his two novels and extensive poetry, he also wrote many great works of theology. In particular, he can guide us on pressing questions such as the relationship of conscience and authority and the genuine development of doctrine, which withstands the corruption of novelty. He also wrote one of the richest works on Catholic education, The Idea of a University, and his life bears witness to the central importance of friendship in the Christian life. His canonization marks a momentous occasion for the Church; hopefully it will turn more Catholics toward his prophetic voice.

COMING UP: New Lourdes church ‘in harmony with the beauty of the Liturgy’

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

New Lourdes church ‘in harmony with the beauty of the Liturgy’

Our Lady of Lourdes in Denver completes renovation of continually growing church

Avatar

When the first parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes began their community in 1947, they never imagined the growth that the parish was going to have decades later.

Today, more than 70 years later, the parish, which began as folding chairs and the hardwood floors of the first Masses celebrated in the gymnasium of a children’s shelter, has become not only one of the fastest growing parishes in Denver, but also one of the most recognized Catholic schools nationwide.

Father Brian Larkin, pastor of the parish for the last 5 years, has witnessed huge growth in the last few years.

“I believe Lourdes has flourished in so many ways simply because the glory of God’s redemption has been allowed its proper place,” Father Larkin told the Denver Catholic. “Once the love of Christ is given its primacy, allowed to radiate in all its splendor, then our faith moves from simply being an obligation and becomes what it really is: the good news of our redemption.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila dedicated the altar in the newly renovated Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver Sept. 10. (Photo by Brandon Young)

Lourdes is a very vibrant and young parish. They have large RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) and marriage preparation programs to support and teach parishioners the “why” of the Catholic Church and its faith.

“The Catholic intellectual tradition is greater than any that exists, but most people aren’t aware of it,” Father Larkin explained. “I teach our RCIA class every year and I invite anyone and everyone to come regardless of whether they are already Catholic or not even interested in becoming Catholic.  Our program had about eight people in it my first year, this year we’re averaging around 90 people each week.”

In 2016, Father Brian announced the beginning of the “Capital Campaign” which intended to repair, restore and embellish the church, as well as to add a narthex gathering space for the growing community. Although at times it seemed impossible, with the contributions of parishioners and the hard work of their general contractor, Fransen Pittman, the project was successfully completed this past summer.

The current church at Lourdes was built in 1966 and had remained unchanged since then. The renovation updated and fixed major issues with mechanical and electric systems, but the main objective of the project was to improve the aesthetics of the church.

For the last couple of years during construction, half of the school gym turned into the church, but in September, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila finally consecrated the altar and re-dedicated the church.

Lourdes pastor Father Brain Larkin said he hopes the parish can be a refuge from the world.. (Photo by Brandon Young)

“A friend of mine used to say that his church ‘lied to his congregation,’ meaning that churches are meant to teach us the faith by the way they are built, and that his didn’t measure up to that standard,” Father Larkin said. “Prior to the renovation, our church wasn’t one which lied, but it didn’t inspire a deeper faith. The new church, in my opinion, is in harmony with the beauty of the liturgy — the music and the gospel resonate with the beauty of the church itself.

“Our numbers have grown, but more importantly, people are drawn into prayer with the aesthetics of the church.”

With a new and renovated parish, Our Lady of Lourdes is now serving the growing community of the south side of Denver. The parish also has one of the most recognized Catholic schools for its unique classical model of education that has been expanding over the last couple of years. In addition to the classical method of education, the school is firmly Catholic, offering daily Mass and monthly confessions, and making devotion to the Blessed Mother one of its pillars.

“Our Catholic faith is the most important part of our mission here at Lourdes Classical and everything we do begins and ends in prayer. We participate in the sacraments frequently and help our students fall in love with Jesus in the Eucharist every day,” said school principal Rosemary Vander Weele.

Evangelization means that what is eternal enters into time, so the timelessness of God breaks into 2019 America. We try to embody that paradigm in our events, in our liturgy, in our community.”

Father Larkin said he is afraid of the future of our culture and the anti-Christian feeling that seems expand daily in our country and our society. Therefore, one of his main goals at Lourdes is to deepen the faith of his parishioners.

“Christians of the coming century in the United States need to know their faith and be on fire for it, or they will likely leave as the culture battles against the Church,” he said. “My hope for Lourdes is not that we do everything, but that we go deep, that people have strong relationships with God, with each other and that the parish can be a refuge from the world.”

Furthermore, one of the greatest challenges for the pastor is to reflect the incarnation of Jesus in our society and remind us that God sent his only begotten Son into the world to provide us salvation. At Lourdes, Father Larkin said this is at the core of the parish’s ministry.

“Christ is fully God and fully man, but it has always been easier to strip him of his divinity or of his humanity.  I see evangelization that way: it’s easier to either remove Jesus from humanity and make him someone wholly alien to the 21st century, or conversely to make him just another human who looks like us, but not like God,” Father Larkin said. “Evangelization means that what is eternal enters into time, so the timelessness of God breaks into 2019 America. We try to embody that paradigm in our events, in our liturgy, in our community.”