(Patriarch of Venice, Albino Luciani, 1969)
St John Henry Newman’s Gospel Energy
Newman had a real interest in Astronomy, built an observatory and would have been fascinated to know that Albino Luciani’s impact was described, after he died, by the Vatican, as being “like a whirling comet” …a flash of hope…a marvellous rainbow.” John Paul I, who had the shortest pontificate in history (33 days 26th August – 28th September, 1978), is due to be beatified on 4th September. One can imagine that Newman, inspired by St Philip Neri’s humourous approach to evangelisation -in the street among the traders and shoppers and well beyond it – would appreciate the Pope’s observations on the need, at times, for a playful approach to preaching the Gospel:
“When St Thomas Aquinas said Joking and making people smile was a virtue, he was in agreement with the “glad tiding” preached by Christ and the hilaritas recommended by St Augustine. He overcame pessimism, clothed Christian life in joy and invited us to keep up our courage also with healthy, pure joys, which we meet on our way.” (General Audience, 20th September).
Newman shares the same infectious zeal in this excerpt from one of his homilies:
Let us pray to be filled with the spirit of love. Let us come to Church joyfully; let us partake the Holy Communion adoringly; let us pray sincerely; let us work cheerfully; let us suffer thankfully; let us throw our heart into all we think, say, and do; and may it be a spiritual heart! This is to be a new creature in Christ; this is to walk by faith. (Parochial and Plain Sermons V, 12).
Newman would also agree with John Paul I’s synthesis of what mission means when he says that the principal ecclesial “task of divinizing does not exempt the Church from the task of humanizing.” The coming of Christ as one like us in all things but sin, reveals that God understands us from the inside and communicates with us through our conscience. Newman taught that this encounter helps us identify right from wrong. Then, in freedom, he says, we can prudently choose, using practical wisdom, how to apply the Church’s teaching, revealed by the Holy Spirit, to particular situations. By educating our conscience, through prayer and the sacraments, the closer we will unite ourselves with God. And become, more speedily, the most humane person he calls us to be. As Newman energetically states:
In all circumstances, of joy or sorrow, hope or fear, let us aim at having Him in our inmost heart. Let us acknowledge Him as enthroned within us at the very springs of thought and affection. Let us submit ourselves to His guidance and sovereign direction. Let us come to Him that He may forgive us, cleanse us, changes, guide us and save us.
(Parochial and Plain Sermons V, 16).
John Paul I is caught up in the same star-light canopy, which perpetually enfolds the galaxy called ‘salvation’, when he writes, as Patriarch of Venice:
“You have loved us, O Lord! The crib and Bethlehem are only the beginning. Nazareth, Jerusalem, Calvary, the cross and the resurrection are the completion. They say to us “He has done everything for you. What will you do for him?” (Radio Message, 25th December, 1971, Translated by Lori Piper, The Pope John Paul I Association Website).
Fr Peter Conley