By Matthew Soo
One Saint who was elevated to the ranks of the Cardinals is Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman. Till the point of his death, Cardinal Newman exemplified what a pursuit for truth which was inspired by love for the Lord meant.
His Journey into the Catholic Church
Born in 1801, Cardinal Newman was raised Anglican. He encountered the Lord at 15, leading him to pursue a life as a “minister of Christ”. At the age of 24, he was ordained an Anglican priest and began his ministry in the City of Oxford. In his ministry, he became known for visiting all his parishioners, especially the sick and the poor. So fervent was he in faith that he was reputed to have said “I have work to do in England” when he was delirious and close to death’s edge following a fever.
It was this heart for Christ that eventually led Cardinal Newman into the Catholic Church. As he studied the Church’s history, Cardinal Newman was inspired to attempt proving that the Church of England was more consistent with the teachings of the ancient Church. This was important since it would have meant that he was living out an authentic Christian faith. However, as Cardinal Newman began writing on these issues, he was condemned throughout the Church of England for the comparison of itself with the Catholic Church. These condemnations were so great that his writings were suspended by his Bishop.
He eventually resigned his office and moved to a small church in the country, gathering a few close friends and spending his time in study. After almost 2 years of isolation, he eventually converted to Catholicism. This reception was not the end of his struggles. Instead, it led him to losing even more of his friends, and also his job as a fellow in his old university.
What does his life mean for me?
The struggles faced by Cardinal Newman in his journey to sainthood is instructive for us. First, it reminds us that the difficulties of life are also an opportunity to draw nearer to Christ. In his book Meditations and Devotions, he described what the Lord looked like to him after he lost every friend he had:
He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me in among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me – still He knows what He is about.’
This pursuit of Jesus reflects the core of Cardinal Newman’s character. Here was a man willing to leave the Church he grew up in, his job as a teacher, and his ministry as a pastor in pursuit of the truth. Importantly for us, Cardinal Newman’s experience of surrender is also available to us. In our daily lives, the small moments of suffering are also opportunities to be reminded of a God who knows what He is about.
Second, Cardinal Newman’s life is a reminder that while a life in Christ is one which brings great peace and joy, it is not always without its struggles. Instead, the call of a Christian is to live for the glory of Christ! In Cardinal Newman’s own life, he was only elevated to the rank of a Cardinal at the age of 78. This meant that he spent a life-time toiling for the Kingdom of heaven! While not covered in this short article, his journey following his reception into the Catholic Church was similarly tumultuous – even being reported by a Bishop for being a heretic!
This relatively simple reminder is necessary because it is a truth we often forget. The journey toward Sainthood is not something that is “easy” by any standard. Yet in constantly turning our eyes to Jesus, we are reminded that we live not for our own glory, but the glory of God. As St Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:
so we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
Saint John Henry Newman did not live an easy life. Yet through his struggles, the glory of the Lord was magnified in him. As he pursued the heart of the Lord, he too was a vessel to minister to others in England. In deploying his intellect, his 60 books and over 21,000 letters continue to inspire generations of Catholics today. My friends, let us pray for the grace to draw close to Christ in our struggles, and allow our lives to glorify the Lord!