The Bishop's homily at the University of Nottingham (13 October, 2019), honouring Cardinal Newman


The Bishops offered Mass at the University of Nottingham for the Catholic students on Sunday, the 13th of October, 2019, a day that was distinguished by the canonisation in Rome by the Holy Father of the nineteenth-century English Cardinal John Henry Newman. The following is the sermon delivered by the Bishop at that Mass.

"John Henry Newman was at one and the same time, aman of prayer, an intellectual,and atrue pastor, especially to the poor and the sickof the Oratory parish in Birmingham.When he died thousands ofpeople, who knew nothing of hislined the streets topay their respectsto a caring priest, apastor of souls.

"From the moment he could first read John HenryNewman became an avid reader of the Bible;at the age of just 15he had an experience whichshape his life. He described it as his first conversion,in that he experienced God not just as an object of belief or thought, but as the subjectof an overwhelming experience in that,within himself,he discoveredthe presence of another in his conscience and heart whom he recognised asGod. Fromthat momentGod would beat the centre of his life and thought.recognised the fundamental truth that it is necessary for our ideas concerning God to be as clear and precise as possible, because theway in which we think about God shapesvery muchthe waywe pray and relate to Him.young Newman was a brilliant scholar,so much so that his father enrolled him at Trinity College, Oxford, when he was only 16. He did, however, struggle with his final exams andachieve his true potential.He was, however,to remainat Oxford,as undergraduate and then as Fellow of Oriel College,for some 28 years, one third of his life.

"Hewas also one of the most influential preachers of his time, even though he did everything that we are toldnot to do whenpreaching; his sermons were long, rarely less than 30 minutes; he read them without any eye contact with the congregation; he spoke quickly in a voice which many described as ‘musical’,and he left long pauses between his sentences! But hehad an amazing ability to raise hearts and minds to God.Those listening described him as someone who knew personally the One of whom he spoke, and as someone who also knew the hearts of those to whom he spoke; he had an abilityto empathise with his listeners.Over and over againin his preaching, andI for one am greatly heartened by this,Newman emphasises the need for a personal encounter with God inthe depths of our being.insists that the Christian,who tries to live in the presence of God through continual acts of prayer, is never alone:“It is in the solitude of our own ‘heart’ that we find God for we are never less alone than when alone”He invites his listeners,and those who read his many writings,to reflect on what it is that makesa Christian. For Newman the ‘true Christian’ is one who has a deep sense of God’s presence within them ‘through theHoly Spirit’. He continually emphasises that faith involves the whole person and not just their intellect or reasoning capacity. He makes the point that ‘faith’ is not merelya matter of adhering to certain ideas or beliefs, but it is more in the nature of a personal encounterwith God,or a desire for such an encounter. It involves, he says, a ‘preparation of the heart’. If God is indeed an inner presence and not just a mere idea, thenNewman suggests thatwe must ask God for the grace to be more open to that presence. “To have faith in God is to surrender one’s selfto God, humbly to put one’s interests, or to wish to be allowed to put them,into His hands who is the Sovereign Giver of all good.”Faith and Obedience, Parochial andIII, p80)

"He shares beautifully with us his own experience of responding to God’s call:“God has determined, unless I interfere with his plan, that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, He calls me by my name, He knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness, and he means to give it to me’.He goes on to develop this: ‘God knows whatis my greatest happiness, but I do not.There is no rule about what is happy and good; what suits one would not suit another. And the ways in which perfection is reached vary very much; the medicines necessary for our soulsare very different from each other.God leads us by strange ways; we know He wills our happiness,but we neither know what our happiness is, nor the way. We are blind; left to ourselves we should take the wrong way; we must leave it to Him”He further develops this by speaking ofwhat this might mean for each of our lives: ‘God has created me to do him some definiteservice; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission -I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.I am necessary for his purposes...I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught.I shall doI shall do His work.’Meditations on Christian doctrine, March 6& 7,

"While on holiday in Sicily Newman fell seriously ill and sensed there that God was calling him to someparticular workin England.When hehe wrote one of his best known and loved hymns, “Lead Kindly Light”. Thehe felt called towas to be the‘Oxford Movement’;a call to the Church of England to find a‘via media’between Protestantismand Roman Catholicism; it was also a call to spiritual renewal through rediscovering the sacraments, liturgy and a life of prayer. But sadly, as time wentgrowing doubts about this‘via media’gradually cameto recognise the Roman Catholic Church as the true heir to the Church of the Apostles.left his teaching post at Oxford and the Church ofand, on 9 October 1845, hewas received into the full communion of the Roman Catholic Church by Fr.(now Blessed)Dominic Barberi, a Passionist priest, at Littlemore in Oxfordshire.

"Newman’slife as a Catholic was not always easy,some of hisangry with himfor becoming a Roman Catholicand persuading many other colleagues to join him in doing so,and he wasoften misunderstood by some within the Catholic Churchwho were threatened byof his views.His writing in 1864 of the Apologia, a sort of intellectual biography,was a turning point for Newman in that it was widely well received and helped people, both withinand outside of church circles, to recognise him as a man ofwho had not always been treated 1879at the age of78, he was made a Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII, and he took the motto, ‘Cor ad‘Heart speaks to heart’,which he borrowed from St. Francis de SalesTreatise on the love of God, Book VI, chapter 1).honour was well received, as an honour not only conferred on Newman, buton England. One Anglican friend described Newman at that time as the most lovedman in all England,and saw in him, because of that love, a powerful force for unity between all Christians. It would be wonderful if all Christians here in England could look uponCanonisation in thatsame way.Let me emphasise:John Henry Newman is not some plaster saint; he was very human; hehad his highs and his lows, he experiencedfailures and disappointments. He also knew University life, and soif we seek his prayerful intercession,he can be a true friend in heaven to you, to all of us.

"St.John Henry Newman,pray for us!"