The Church’s New English Saint

On Sunday, at a Mass celebrated in Saint Peter’s Square, Pope Francis declared John Henry Newman a saint of the Catholic Church. Who would ever have imagined that this would be the ultimate fate of an Englishman who had been born and raised an Anglican, and who served for years as an Anglican cleric?

NewmanBorn in 1801, Newman studied at Oxford and was drawn to the “Oxford Movement,” a group of Anglicans who sought to re-introduce many elements of Catholic ritual into the Anglican liturgy. Eventually, after studying the early Church Fathers, wrestling with historical facts, and persisting in a years-long search for the truth, Newman concluded that the Catholic Church is indeed the one true faith established by Christ Himself. He became a Catholic in 1845, and was soon ordained a Catholic priest.

While Newman felt that theologically, he had finally come home, he soon found that in some ways he didn’t really fit in. Many in the British Catholic hierarchy viewed Newman as an outsider, whose Anglican background meant he wasn’t really “one of them.” At the same time, Newman’s many Anglican friends viewed his reception into the Catholic Church with surprise and dismay, leading them to break with their former colleague and fellow member of the Church of England. As a result, Newman often felt alone. His beautiful prayers and poems reflect his sense of uncertainty, groping for God in the darkness–and yet ever trusting in Him.

At the canonization ceremony, Pope Francis referenced Newman’s classic work, “Lead, Kindly Light,” which demonstrates Newman’s deep trust in God even while he was very uncertain about his own future:

Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th’encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst 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!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Meantime, along the narrow rugged path,
Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Saviour, lead me home in childlike faith,
Home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.

Amen! Saint John Henry Newman, pray for us!

Welsh tenor Aled Jones gave the world a brilliant musical rendition of Newman’s beautiful testimony of faith, which you can listen to here. Enjoy!