I am writing this having just celebrated Mass in our chapel on the Feast of Blessed John Henry Newman. In just two days’ time we shall join thousands of pilgrims from all over the world as they descend upon Rome for Sunday’s Canonisation Mass, during which Pope Francis will declare Newman to be a Saint. Four others will be canonised with him – Sister Mariam Thresia (India), Sister Guiseppina Vannini (Italy), Sister Irma Dulce Pontes (Brazil) and Marguerite Bays (Switzerland) - so it will be a very international occasion as well as a moment of great joy for the Universal Church. These five new saints are gifts from God Himself. They have been given to us at a particular time and for a particular reason.
St Dominic once famously said that he would be more use to his brother friars once he was dead than he had ever been while he was alive. The same is true of these new saints. From their place in Heaven they will be of huge assistance to the on-going mission of the Church here on earth. The example of their lives and their faithful intercession will be a source of inspiration to us as together we face the daunting challenges of the 21st Century. They will always remind us that we are not alone in our struggles. Instead there is an invisible army of holy ones who surround us and are constantly working and praying on our behalf. Whatever issues we face as Catholics (and there are many) we are able to remain positive, focused and undaunted, for as the prophet Elisha once reminded his servant when they were encircled by enemy troops: “There are more on our side than on theirs.” After the prophet had prayed, the Lord opened the servant’s eyes “and he saw the mountain covered with horses and chariots of fire surrounding Elisha” (2 Kings 6:16-7). It is not horses and flaming chariots which surround us. It is a great multitude of God’s saints and each one is a sign and an instrument of God’s care and protection.
On Wednesday 16th October, just days after the Canonisation Mass, the famous author, speaker and theologian, Bishop Robert Barron, will give a lecture in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, where Newman was once Vicar and delivered some of his greatest sermons. Bishop Robert is the founder of “Word on Fire Catholic Ministries” and an Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He has chosen as his theme “Newman and the New Evangelisation,” linking Newman in a special way to the mission of the Church today. The St Barnabas Society was invited by the Fathers of the Oxford Oratory to help sponsor this important event and we readily agreed to do so. Bishop Robert will explore the relevance of Newman’s legacy for the Church of today, so it should be an inspiring occasion and I am not surprised to learn that it is already a sell out! There was a time when the pews of St Mary’s were filled to capacity with those who wanted to listen to Newman. It will be a wonderful act of witness to see them filled once again with those who want to hear the words of one of Newman’s modern-day disciples.