Nine Days with St. John Henry Newman – Day 4

Day 4 – Inevitable Consequences

I joined the Catholic Church to save my soul… No inferior motive would have drawn me from the Anglican. And I came to it to learn, to receive what I should find, whatever it was. Never for an instant have I had since any misgiving I was right in doing so – never any misgiving that the Catholic religion was not the religion of the Apostles.”
        (Letter from John Henry Newman to E.J. Phipps, July 3rd, 1848)

On October 9th, 1845, John Henry Newman did the one thing many people prayed he would not do. He was received into the Roman Catholic Church. 

Newman, at the time, was something of an academic celebrity. He had been a clergyman in the Church of England for half of his life. He was outspoken about the many ways his church had drifted from the teachings of the ancient and apostolic church. His writings and sermons were lauded. He was considered a shining star in the firmament of orthodox Anglicans. 

And yet, all was not well. As the Church of England embraced liberalism and, for some, the worst of Protestant ideas, Newman found himself increasingly at odds with the church he loved. Eventually, the time came when he could no longer defend its views and actions. He spun into an intellectual and spiritual crisis that lasted almost six years. Through prayer and study, he came to understand and accept the teachings of the ancient church as realized through the Roman Catholic Church. They were, in fact, one and the same. So Newman did the unthinkable and joined the Church he had previously denounced and derided. 

In this age of so-called inclusivity, it may be hard for some of us to appreciate what it meant for Newman to do such a thing. Biographer C.S. Desain noted that “becoming a Catholic in England in the mid-nineteenth century had far graver social consequences than becoming a Communist in the mid-twentieth.” The Catholic Church, since the time of Henry VIII, had become unattractive and unwelcome in England. It was the Church of peasant foreigners: the Irish, the Italians, and the Spanish. England had its own church, which was far more conducive to the nation’s sensibilities whether they believed what it taught or not. 

Worse, to become Catholic was a kind of professional suicide. No respectable academic who hoped to be taken seriously, or were given jobs worth having, would ever join with the Anti-Christ Pope and his “Whore of Babylon.”  

John Henry Newman’s reception into the Holy Roman Catholic Church brought him a long-awaited peace as he found the truth of Christ in His Church, but many new battles began. Anglican friends became adversaries. The public that had followed him as a visionary in the Oxford Movement felt betrayed. He felt the burden of hundreds of students and educated people who followed his example, came into the Catholic Church, and – as noted by a good friend – gave up “fellowships, livings, curacies,” and “intended careers.” Families and friends were alienated. 

Only a few months later, Newman lamented to a friend, “[C]an you point to any one who has lost more in the way of friendship, whether by death or alienation, than I have? … So many dead, so many separated … dear friends who are preserved in life not moving with me; [some] strongly bent on an opposite course, [others] protesting against my conduct as rationalistic, and dying – [others] viewing it with utter repugnance. Of my friends a dozen years ago whom have I now?” 

But Newman stated clearly again and again why he became Catholic, “If I thought any other body but that which I recognize to be the Catholic [body] to be recognized by the Saviour of the world, I would not have left that body” (letter to a friend, October 9th, 1845). His personal integrity would not allow him to remain in a state of half-truths or wishful thinking. He followed the Truth of Christ to where it led, and embraced it fully.  

 “[N]ot for one moment have I felt otherwise than most grateful to God that I did what I did…” Newman wrote. If anything, he said he often felt “tempted now to reproach myself that I did not move faster…” 

If we ended the story there, we would still have a treasure worthy of inspiration. Newman, like all of the saints, was willing to follow the Truth no matter where it led, no matter what it cost him. Even before he became a Catholic, Newman understood this. “Let us set it down then, as a first principle in religion, that all of us must come to Christ, in some sense or other, through things naturally unpleasant to us; it may be even through bodily suffering, such as the Apostles endured, or it may be nothing more than the subduing of our natural infirmities and the sacrifice of our natural wishes; it may be pain greater or pain less, on a public stage or a private one; but, till the words ‘yoke’ and ‘cross’ can stand for something pleasant, the bearing of our yoke and cross is something not pleasant; and though rest is promised as our reward, yet the way to rest must lie through discomfort and distress of heart… This is the especial object which is set before us, to become holy as He who has called us is holy, and to discipline and chasten ourselves in order that we may become so; and we may be quite sure, that unless we chasten ourselves, God will chasten us” (written February 24th, 1839). 

We admire saints like John Henry Newman for sacrificing so much for their Savior, often forgetting that we are called to do the same – not only in the biggest events of our lives, but in the everyday moments. Are we ready?

PRAYER: (Adapted From John Henry Newman)

Dear Jesus
Help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly,
that my life may only be a radiance of Yours.

Shine through me, and be so in me that every soul I come in
contact with may feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus!

Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine,
so to shine as to be a light to others; The light, O Jesus will be
all from You; none of it will be mine;
It will be you shining on others through me.

Amen.

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Written by Paul McCusker

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