Saturday evening in London’s Hyde Park Pope Benedict XVI presided at the vigil of prayer for the beatification of Cardinal Newman. Encouraging young people to be open to God’s call, he said that Christians can neither go on with “business as usual” nor ignore the “profound crisis of faith” in modern society.
Following a greeting by Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark, vice-president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, the Holy Father began a Liturgy of the Word.
After the Scripture readings, he spoke of the “immense spiritual joy” that the nineteenth century theologian and convert Cardinal John Henry Newman, “a great son of this nation,” will be beatified.
“How many people, in England and throughout the world, have longed for this moment!”
He also expressed his personal great joy, calling Newman an “important influence” in his own life and thought. The Pope explained that Newman’s life is an invitation to examine our own lives in light of God’s plan and to grow in communion with the Church.
Pope Benedict commented that a “powerful experience of conversion” of a religious and intellectual nature was key for the young Newman as “an immediate experience of the truth of God’s word, of the objective reality of Christian revelation as handed down in the Church.”
The Pope then praised Newman’s “fine Christian realism” which saw that faith must bear fruit in the lives and activity of believers:
“No one who looks realistically at our world today could think that Christians can afford to go on with business as usual, ignoring the profound crisis of faith which has overtaken our society, or simply trusting that the patrimony of values handed down by the Christian centuries will continue to inspire and shape the future of our society.”
He reminded the Hyde Park crowd that God has raised up saints in times of upheaval and everyone must work to imbue daily life with the Gospel.
“Each of us has a mission, each of us is called to change the world, to work for a culture of life, a culture forged by love and respect for the dignity of each human person,” he continued, granting that only Jesus knows what each person’s “definite service” is to be.
“Be open to his voice resounding in the depths of your heart: even now his heart is speaking to your heart,” he commented, alluding to the motto of Cardinal Newman.
Pope Benedict added that Christ needs families to remind the world of human love and of the beauty of family life, he needs those who will educate the young, and he needs those who will consecrate their lives to follow him in chastity, poverty, and obedience.
“And he needs priests, good and holy priests, men who are willing to lay down their lives for their sheep,” he added.
“Ask our Lord what he has in mind for you! Ask him for the generosity to say ‘yes!’ Do not be afraid to give yourself totally to Jesus. He will give you the grace you need to fulfill your
Pope Benedict noted that at the end of Newman’s life the theologian described his life’s work as a struggle against “the growing tendency to view religion as a purely private and subjective matter, a question of personal opinion.” This teaches that, although an intellectual and moral relativism threatens to undermine society, “we were created to know the truth, to find in that truth our ultimate freedom and the fulfillment of our deepest human aspirations.”
“In a word, we are meant to know Christ, who is himself ‘the way, and the truth, and
the life’,” the Holy Father explained, citing the Gospel of John.
“Newman’s life also teaches us that passion for the truth, intellectual honesty and genuine conversion are costly,” Pope Benedict continued. He explained that liberating truth cannot be kept to oneself. He then referred to the martyrs of Tyburn, whose faithful witness was “ever more powerful than the inspired words that so many of them spoke.”
“In our own time, the price to be paid for fidelity to the Gospel is no longer being hanged, drawn and quartered but it often involves being dismissed out of hand, ridiculed or parodied.”
Despite this, the Church cannot stop proclaiming Christ and the Gospel as “saving truth, the source of our ultimate happiness as individuals and as the foundation of a just and humane society.”
According to Pope Benedict, Newman also teaches that there cannot be a separation between one’s belief and the way one lives. He recognized that truth is not accepted in a purely intellectual act but is embraced in “a spiritual dynamic that penetrates to the core of our being.”
“Our every thought, word and action must be directed to the glory of God and the spread of his Kingdom,” Pope Benedict explained, saying that truth is passed on not only by formal teaching but by “the witness of lives lived in integrity, fidelity and holiness.”
The pontiff then asked the crowd to join him in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and in prayer to Jesus Christ.
“In a special way, let us thank him for the enduring witness to that truth offered by Cardinal John Henry Newman. Trusting in his prayers, let us ask the Lord to illumine our path, and the path of all British society, with the kindly light of his truth, his love and his peace.”