Mary, as our pattern of faith-filled reflection, according to Newman, inspires us to be ‘detectives’ of God’s Providence because, like her, we “investigate, weigh and define as well as profess the Gospel.” (University Sermons XV).
In view of this, I eagerly opened a parcel containing a scholarly, accessible and interesting volume of essays edited in the States, by a good friend of mine, Fr Juan Valez. It is entitled A Guide to John Henry Newman: His Life and Thought (The Catholic University of America, 2022) and I recalled that Newman, a super sleuth himself, always took copious notes. As I grabbed my pen and paper, his words rang in my ears “dipping into books or skimming them, and consulting them is not reading.” (LDXXXl, p.33*). Point taken!
This particular text is very timely, given the synodal pathway discussions taking place across the world, as it invites St John Henry Newman to be a shining light upon them, and provide inspiration for the future shape of the Church. Looking at the table of contents, I was immediately drawn to consecutive Chapters, focusing on Newman’s ecclesiology. I found, in them, keys to listening for his pastoral heart beating within the volume itself. The first, by Fr John Ford CSC, a well-known scholar, is entitled The Church: A Leitmotiv in His Writings (p.448-468). Using a perceptive musical metaphor throughout, Ford blends the notation of Newman’s biography memorably. Fr Velez complements this analysis with an apposite piece Newman’s Far-sighted Understanding of the Laity’s Role in the Church (p.469-488) as does Tracey Rowland’s John Henry Newman on the Development of Doctrine: A Via Media between Intellectualism and Historicism (p.352-372). These contributions have direct bearing on my context as a priest combining Parish and University ministry, as does Paul Shrimpton’s comprehensive An Educator from first to last (p.191-208). I recalled that Newman viewed the daily events of his own life, and that of those he cared for, from within a liturgical framework. This led me to read Fr Keith Beaumont’s exploration of Newman from two perspectives: The Spiritual and Doctrinal Significance of His Sermons (p.309-336) and The Connection between Theology, Spirituality, and Morality in his works (p.393-413). (On this theme see also John Crosby’s Newman’s Vision of Intellectual Virtue in its Relation to Moral and Religious Virtue p.233-246). I then turned to the Chapters by Fr Uwe Michael Lang and Fr Juan Velez From the Book of Common Prayer to the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Roman Breviary (p.373-393) and Msgr Roderick Strange’s exploration of Newman’s Christology Jesus as Saviour (p.414-425).
Realising that my choices were forming into cadences, I was led to Barbara H. Wyman’s The Poetry of John Henry Newman: Intimations of the Invisible World (p.247-266) which identifies the internal harmony within Newman as a poet, who experienced Christ’s call, in the midst of natural and human creation, as one world – where earth is wedded to heaven. This made me remember the beautiful observations on nature Newman offers in his letters and diaries, and especially in his novel Callista. One of Wyman’s colleagues at McNeese University, Scott Goins, drew my attention, in his A Student and Tutor of Classics (p.140-156), to the influence that Cicero had on Newman’s sentence construction. This made me realise why his ability to ‘picture paint’ creation has had such an impact on me. I then turned to Stephen Morgan’s appreciation of Newman as An Imaginative Mind (p.38-55), and consolidated the benefits of my literary travels, through the informative richness of the Guide, via reading John Henry Newman’s Lifelong Journey of Conversion by Fr Juan Alonso (p.21-37). I recommend the book highly.
Fr Peter Conley,
Author of Newman: A Human Harp of Many Chords