If you have not yet been able to read this brilliant sermon, posted on 23rd September on the Rorate Caeli blog, I urge you to make the time to do so. It is absolutely wonderful.
Unfortunately Rorate Caeli doesn’t seem to have a facility to link to the specific posting. Please follow the link to the blog, and scroll down to 23rd September.
As you would expect, the sermon covers the broad range of Newman’s life and thought, including the true understanding of his writings on conscience, and his implacable opposition to liberalism in religion. It also reflects on his work as a pastor of souls, and his gift for friendship. But in my present post I would like to tell you what happened when I read the following passage from the sermon, which deals with his faithfulness, as a priest and as a friend, in praying for others:
“I have in mind that prayer for which Newman is best remembered: his prayer of intercession. As a man of prayer he had no pretensions. He was no St Teresa or St John of the Cross. When he prayed, it generally involved poring over long lists which he made out, and kept scrupulously up to date, of the people he wished to pray for. In this he is a model to us. Firstly, a model of caring for others so much as to keep them in our thoughts, and in our hearts; but also a model of bringing our loving thoughts of others before God, and asking Him to care for them, and bless them, and heal them, or forgive them, or grant them eternal rest. Newman was a faithful intercessor while here on earth; and now that he is in heaven we can be sure his power of intercession is even greater. So here is my second concrete exhortation to you this evening: Pray to Blessed John Henry! Pray for all your needs, and for those of your friends and foes!”
Isn’t that beautiful? I smiled at the reference to the long lists he used to keep; how endearingly human that sounds! But as I read this passage, I was suddenly filled with tearful thoughts of loved ones (and I am often in tears when I think of them) who have moved away from the fullness of the Church to worship elsewhere; or who have ceased to be Christian, while retaining a firm belief in God. I long so much for them to return! And as I read, I was moved to pray to Blessed Cardinal Newman, to ask his intercession for those who are in that particular category of the lapsed or gone-astray. Until I can think of a better term, I will refer to them as the “thoughtful apostates”. They have thought, they have reflected, they have seen and been dismayed at the state of the Catholic Church, at the examples of banality and casual irreverence. At this stage or that in their reflections, they have made a false step in their thinking, and have continued to apply their reasoning along the erroneous path they have unwittingly taken. And this is where they are today: absolutely sincere; reverent and even prayerful; but separated from the fullness of the Church, or from the personal consciousness that the Lord Jesus Christ, who loves them with infinite love, is waiting patiently, so very close to them.
I will pray for the intercession of Blessed John Henry Newman, whose intellectual powers are so much a feature of his sanctity, for the return of the “thoughtful apostates”.