Fr. Christopher’s Letter

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Roman Catholics and Anglicans alike rejoiced at the canonisation of Cardinal John Henry Newman on 13th October. Much has been written about his life and his contribution to the theology of both churches. Of particular interest is an editorial in the Vatican state newspaper l’Osservatore Romano written by   Prince Charles. In this editorial Prince Charles  praised Cardinal Newman’s engagement with Anglican and Catholic theology for “ its fearless honesty, its unsparing rigour and its originality of thought”  in theologising about “one of the most pressing questions of our era: what should be the relationship of faith to a sceptical, secular age” adding later “those who seek the divine in what can seem like an increasingly hostile intellectual environment find in him a powerful ally who championed the individual conscience against an overwhelming relativism.”  Prince Charles further praised the saint “for the manner in which, at his best, he could advocate without accusation, could disagree without disrespect and, perhaps most of all, could see differences as places of encounter rather than exclusion.”

There are no doubt some who would question Prince Charles expertise in matters of theology and be dismissive of his comments. But on the contrary, we should welcome this intellectual interest of the next Supreme Governor of the Church of England in the Saint’s life  As  Supreme Governor Prince Charles is likely to face a nation of increasingly different social, cultural and religious identities and his admiration for St John Henry suggests that, as King, Charles will both celebrate and seek to unite these differences, seeing them as places of encounter rather than exclusion.

The editorial is worth reading in full and may be found at https://www.vaticannews.va/en/vatican-city/news/2019-10/newman-canonization-prince-charles-editorial-britain.html

While rejoicing at the canonisation of Cardinal Newman we should not overlook the four women who were canonised by Pope Francis at the same time. Unlike Cardinal Newman these women were not great intellectuals but served God and mankind in their own ways. Three of them were members of religious communities. Mother Mariam Thresia was an Indian mystic who cared for the poor, sick, and dying in Kerala and founded the Congregation of the Holy Family. Giuseppina Vannini, Founder of the Daughters of Saint Camillus, engaged in the physical and spiritual care of the sick both in Europe and in mission countries overseas. Dulce Lopes Pontes was a Brazilian who, as a member of the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God, spent her time serving the local poor and destitute and opened a clinic, a library, a school and cinema for the poor. The fourth new saint is Marguerite Bays a Swiss dressmaker who dedicated her life to prayer and service to her parish where she taught catechism to the children, visited the sick, took care of the poor. After her prayers to Our Lady for a cure of her cancer were answered, she developed the stigmata and on Fridays and during Holy Week she would fall ill or experience moments of ecstasy. While these women may not have been given a royal eulogy, and some of them may remain relatively unknown outside their own countries, their work and witness are of no lesser value than that of St John Henry. As St Paul wrote to the Romans “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”

You do not have to have lived a totally blameless life to be deemed worthy of canonisation by the church. One of Cardinal Newman’s best-known hymns is ‘Lead kindly light’ (strictly a poem called ‘The Pillar of the Cloud’) in part of which he acknowledges his own past wilfulness and pride. Many of us may see ourselves reflected in the second stanza of that poem:

I was not ever thus, nor pray’d that Thou

Should’st lead me on.

I loved to choose and see my path; but now

Lead Thou me on!

I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,

Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

St John Henry Newman, St Mariam Thresia, St Giuseppina Vannini, S Dulce Lopes Pontes, St Marguerite Bays, pray for us.

Blessings

Fr Christopher

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