Sunday, October 13, 2019

(234) Newly Canonized Saint John Henry Cardinal Newman, the Convert


Much is Taken from the DVD Series by Bishop Robert Barron, 
“Catholicism: The Pivotal Players”.

       Today Sunday October 13 five holy men and women were canonized.  The most prominent is Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman.  Bishop Robert Barron believes that Newman is perhaps the greatest theologian since St. Thomas Aquinas; perhaps the single greatest influence upon the Vatican II Council (1962-65) that began 72 years after his death in 1890.   He loved truth about God with a passion.  The inscription he arranged over his grave read:  “Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem (From the shadows and images into the truth)”.  He was a noted writer of prose and even poetry, one of the best stylists ever of the English language.  A great apologist and educator, Newman was one of the first to put Catholic thought in dialogue with the very secular Enlightenment.
       The Oxford Man as a Student, Tutor, Fellow, & Professor.  Born an Anglican in 1801, his father, a banker, sent him to Oxford at the age of 16 after a deep conversion a year before.  Oxford gave Newman his intellectual and spiritual formation and livelihood until forced out because of his conversion to Catholicism in 1845.  However, before his death, he was allowed to come back and today there is a statue if him on the campus.  Oxford always was a part of him.  

       Newman was very much influenced by John Kebler, who wrote the “Christian Year”, a version of Anglicanism based on Catholic tradition.  Newman looked for a sacramental basis in Anglicanism and a middle way between Protestantism and Catholicism.   He was impressed by the early expressions of ancient Christianity, not by contemporary Catholicism which he then considered superstitious and not patristic (the Theology of the early fathers of 100 – 451 AD).

       In 1833, Newman became a leader in the Oxford Movement, which promoted the reinstatement of early Christian traditions in Liturgy and Theology.  The members wrote tracts on church life and Theology.  They were especially interested in St. Augustine and the teachings of the early Church Fathers as the basis for Christian belief.  The movement had three basic principles: 1) Dogma – for intellectual substance and against Liberalism that claimed that dogma was an expression of feeling; 2) a Visible Church with sacraments and rites which are channels of grace; 3) Anti-Roman (later rejected by Newman) – the belief that the Catholicism wondered away from the Church of the Apostles and the Early Church Fathers by substituting the authority of the Church for that of the Church Fathers.  It objected to devotion to Mary and the saints.

       Tract #90, Newman’s last, was the most controversial since he went against some of the 39 Articles of Anglicanism, the basic tenets of belief of the Church of England.  At the time to advance professionally, to be a professor, or hold public office, one had to take an oath of belief.  As a result Newman was vilified as a traitor all over England.  He then resigned from the movement’s leadership.  Although he would read his many lectures in a droning monotone, they were masterpieces of English literature with its rich prose, Biblical depth, and theological splendor.  Thus his lectures and sermons were in great demand.
A Slow Meditative Struggle to Conversion to the Church.  Newman retired to Littlemore near Oxford, to pray, study, and write.  His desire to catholicize Anglicanism was considered a betrayal.  After  closely reading his beloved Church Fathers of the 4th & 5th Centuries on the identity of Christ, Newman  concluded that the Catholic Church was orthodox.  Inscribed on his home altar was his motto: “Cor ad Cor Loquitur” (Heart speaks to heart).  He began to believe that the Church across space and time best judges the truth of Christian doctrine.  

In 1845 John Henry Newman asked an evangelist of the Passionist Order, Fr. Dominic Barberi to receive him into the Church at his home in Littlemore.  The news of the conversion of the nationally known figure was shocking to Anglicans who had broken away from the Church in the 16th Century.  Disowned by his colleagues and the establishment and forced to leave Oxford, all left him heartbroken.  Losing everything, Newman had the integrity and courage to follow God and His truth regardless of the consequences.
Ordination and the Oratory. To become a priest one of the all-time great theological minds had to study with young seminarians at Propaganda College in Rome…….a difficult act of humility before being ordained in 1847.  He found the seminary education to be defensive and cramped… need of reform.  While in Rome, Fr. Newman joined the Roman Oratory of St. Philip Neri, composed of secular priests, living together under a rule, but not vows.  He was drawn by the intellectual discipline and example of St. Philip Neri.

Feelings of Rejection, Apparent Failure, and Renewal.  Now the future saint was rejected by Anglicans and looked upon with suspicion by Catholics as a former Oxford Professor and Protestant cleric.  In 1849 Fr. Newman founded an oratory in Birmingham, England and later in Dublin, Ireland.  He wrote the “Position of Catholics in England”.  In 1851, Archbishop Paul Cullen, the Primate of Ireland, asked him to found and direct the Catholic University of Dublin.  Again he faced rejection by the Irish bishops for his novel ideas and resigned from the university in 1859.  Rambler Magazine asked him to be its editor, but had to resign a year later after writing another controversial article: “On Consulting the Faithful on Matters of Doctrine”.  Nor was the conservative Pius IX pleased.
        In 1864 in answer to an attack by Charles Kingsley, Fr. Newman wrote “Apologia Pro Vita Sua”, an autobiography of his conversion, eloquently showing why he converted.  Its positive impact turned things around; again he was a respected major figure in demand as a speaker and writer.  Pope Leo XIII made him a Cardinal in 1879 at the age of 78 without ever being a bishop. John Henry Cardinal Newman died at the Birmingham Oratory in 1890.  

        Pope Benedict XVI, an eminent theologian himself who was influenced by Newman, beatified him in 2010 in London.  The future saint was so modest that he did not consider himself a theologian.  Today Cardinal Newman is considered to be one of the most influential theologians of all time.

Friday, October 4, 2019

(233) St. Francis of Assisi: a 13th Reformer For a Church in Crisis

Much is Taken from the DVD by Bishop Robert Barron, 
“Catholicism: The Pivotal Players”

Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) was handsome, wealthy, carefree, superficial, and self-absorbed; he loved the partying and the good life.  He was a good businessman in helping his father run a cloth store.  The young man wanted to be famous and the most direct road was through military exploits.  In the war with Perugia, another city-state, Francis fought bravely, but was taken prisoner for several months.  

After being released, it was back to business and pleasure, but this time Francis felt an emptiness in that lifestyle and became interested in the spiritual, in the invisible presence of God.  Gradually he felt detached from the world and attached to God.  One day Francis encountered a poor leper, whom he embraced and gave some coins.  This gave him a feeling of great joy and he gave all his possessions to the poor. 

“Rebuild my Church”.  While praying in San Damiano, a small church in disrepair, the cross over the altar came to life and seemed to say: “Francis, repair my house which is falling into ruins”.  However, God usually communicates with us by inspiration.  The Church owned land; the Pope was a temporal ruler; bishops sold offices; and uneducated priests were morally corrupt while the people were indifferent to the faith.  Francis took the command literally and used the profits of his father’s cloth business to repair San Damiano Church.  

Pietro Bernardone demanded retribution at a public trial and his son returned all he had, including the clothes on his back saying: “I stand naked before the Lord” with complete dependence upon the Providence of God for his livelihood.  Thus he renounced wealth, power, and pleasure in exchange for poverty, purity, simplicity, joy, and a complete trust in God.  He was now dressed in the tunic of a hermit with a rope for a belt.    
Francis begged for money to repair San Damiano, singing as a troubadour in French at each donation and was filled with the Holy Spirit.  In repairing Porziuncola, another small church in the woods, he realized that God wanted him not to rebuild buildings, but to rebuild the life of the Church.  Thus often barefoot he began to preach repentance and penance.  

Soon followers joined Francis even though they were mocked, ridiculed, and persecuted as unnerving and crazy heretics.  Just as the mustard seed, the Franciscans started small with one man and now the Franciscans number in the thousands all over the world.
In 1209 Francis traveled to Rome to obtain the permission of Pope Innocent III to start a religious order, which was not his original intention.  The Holy Father was fighting corruption and was trying to hold the Church together.  Recent popes 800 years later in the 21st Century have similar problems.  Pope Innocent dreamt that the Church was collapsing and a poor beggar was holding it up.  The Pope saw the resemblance and gave the band of newly approved Franciscans the task of preaching and promoting penance to Christian countries, a new evangelization for its time, which is also needed today in every country of the world.  The new Franciscans lived in huts in Rivotorto.
St. Francis and St. Clare
St. Clare gave up her wealth in becoming a follower and a female counterpart of Francis in founding her order.  She is considered the mother of the Franciscan nuns.  Often a saint would have a spiritual bond with a woman in sharing thoughts.  In 1958 Pius XII designated her as the patron saint of television.  Her feast day is August 11.
Mission. Although persecuted as heretics, mocked, stripped, beaten, and dragged through fields, Francis and his men awakened a spiritual hunger in the people.  They saw rejection as an opportunity to exercise patience.  He trained his men to practice poverty, simplicity, obedience, and purity while doing charitable works as caring for lepers. 

Then he sent the Friars Minor or little brothers out on mission as far as Spain to preach, beg, and offer peace without defending themselves when attacked.  In Morocco five of his men were beheaded.  Francis himself went to the Holy Land, which was engulfed in the Crusades.  He evangelized the Christian soldiers, some of whom joined him, and fearlessly met with the Sultan…..making his statements clear and simple.  The Sultan was impressed by the courage of Francis, a pioneer in ecumenical dialogue.
The Stigmata. In 1224 Francis retreated to a cave for prayer.  Although he encountered spiritual warfare, Francis had an intense communication with God, even levitating.  The friar asked to feel our Lord’s passion and the intense love He had for us on the cross.  As other saints who gave themselves to God, Francis wanted to participate in the passion of Christ through which He saved the world.  His prayer was answered with the stigmata.  

We can do the same during recovery from accident or illness when we unite our cross with the Lord’s cross and offer the suffering up to God as a dynamic prayer for whatever intention.  In suffering one loses control and must trust in the Lord……complete abandonment to the divine will.  Turning your life to God puts your life out of your control.  Then “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).          
When death approached in 1226, Francis, almost blind, welcomed death with joy.  He died near the Porziuncola, singing the Canticle of the Sun.  He repeated Psalm 142: “Bring my soul out of this prison that I may praise thy name.”                                                                                       
Teaching of St. Francis. Being detached from the goods of the world, the little poor man pledged loyalty to “Lady Poverty” because it freed him from the rat race for power, wealth, pleasure, privilege, position, and prestige for a life of mission.  Begging for the bare necessities of life forced Francis’ men to completely trust in God, something in common with all of the saints. 
Radically following Christ closely and His Gospel literally, especially the beatitudes, St. Francis sums up what is best in Christianity…….he was simple, humble, close to nature, and deeply in love with God in speaking across the ages to our cynical time.  He was a fierce ascetic who disciplined his body with radical self-denial and looked for the lowest place.  

He wakes us up to the reality of God and brings us back to the basics of life.  St. Francis is a wake-up call for our hyper-secularized world to the reality of God, who is real and we find our joy in Him.  Christianity, i.e., the Gospel can be lived in this radical way and still has power today.  It can be realized and releases power……“turn the other cheek”; completely trust in God that He will take care of us; “love your enemy”; bless those who curse you”.   

St. Francis advocated giving to the Lord what you have and He’ll multiply it.  The friars rejected honor and privilege.  A mark of the community was joy, a necessity for the soul.  They saw perfect joy as suffering with joy for the Lord.  Obedience was essential because one had to let go of his own will.  Francis had a tie to God, his creatures, and nature……..”Brother Sun; Sister Moon”, incidentally a great movie of the 1970s.  He is the patron saint of animals and the environment and his feast day is October 4.  Christianity has never been really tried by the world.  May we follow the Gospel without compromise. 
       Franciscan nuns once served in our parish (St. Louis Church Gallipolis, Ohio) and we once had a Third Order lay group.