Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cardinal Newman to be Beatified

It appears that the anticipated beatification of John Henry, Cardinal Newman is at last to take place. According to stories in the Sunday Times (London) on 20 April and the Birmingham Mail on 21 April, he is set to receive the title "Blessed" later this year in a ceremony at the Vatican. (I believe he is now designated as "Venerable.") The Holy See has confirmed that at least one miracle can be attributed to the intercession of Cardinal Newman. An American deacon was miraculously cured of a crippling spinal disorder after petitioning the prayers of the good cardinal. Only one more bona fide miracle is necessary for him to be officially declared a saint.

For former Anglicans like me, this is very big news. Newman is perhaps the most famous Anglican convert of all time. After founding the Oxford Movement in the 1830's, he rocked the Church of England to its core in 1845 when he converted to Catholicism, eventually becoming a priest and, of course, a cardinal. He is often referred to as the “Father of Vatican II.” In a sense all of us who have crossed the Tiber from Canterbury and its offshoots stand on his shoulders. And very broad shoulders they are indeed! He is already a sort of de facto patron saint for many former Anglicans.

Back when I was considering entering the Catholic Church and fretting over the usual protestant difficulties concerning Mary, a priest directed me to a booklet of excerpts of Newman's writings, Mary as the New Eve (Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3). It helped me to understand what lies behind the Catholic dogmas and practices concerning Mary that I found problematic. As I wrote elsewhere:

I learned that this idea – that Mary, because of her “yes” became the means of undoing Eve’s “no” – was not a new one. It was the subject of some of the writings of the Church Fathers, including St. Justin Martyr (A.D. 120-165), St. Irenaeus (120-200), Tertullian (160-240), and, later, Jerome (331-420). In other words Mary, like Eve, was a responsible moral agent, complete with the same free will that Eve perverted to her own ends. But Mary not only said yes, she did so with great joy and humility, and so, in the words of St. Irenaeus, “the knot of Eve’s disobedience received its unloosing through the obedience of Mary.” That is, she was not merely the vessel of the Incarnation, she actually cooperated in God’s plan for the salvation of the world.

My “difficulties” with the Marian dogmas were certainly not unique to me. I eventually came to understand what Newman understood, that a thousand difficulties do not add up to a doubt. I am grateful to him for helping me along in the journey to Rome.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Washington, D.C. Papal Mass

Having posted nothing since Holy Week, I now seem to have a great deal to talk about, including the Papal Mass last Thursday at Washington Nationals (baseball) Stadium. My husband and I were fortunate enough to be chosen in our parish lottery, so we had the privilege of celebrating mass with the Holy Father (and some 46,000 of our fellow Catholics). It was a glorious spring day, the likes of which tend to be rare in Washington, where the weather can turn from winter to the tropics in short order. It had been cold here, in fact, before he arrived last Tuesday. Even the dogwood trees popped into bloom last weekend, almost on cue!

April 7 marked our first anniversary since being received into the Church, and what a great way to celebrate what has been perhaps the most significant year of our lives. Pope Benedict played a not-insignificant role in my conversion, after all, as I alluded to in my conversion story:

One of the defining moments for me in this journey was the day that the white smoke appeared from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel a little over a week after John Paul II’s death. When then-Cardinal Ratzinger appeared on the balcony a few minutes later, I knew beyond doubt this is a church that is not captured by the spirit of the age. I had read enough of the current Pope’s writings to know then that the Church would be in good hands, and I think I knew even then that I would not remain a protestant much longer.

Since then, I have come to admire this man even more, and his visit to the U.S. has only reinforced my conviction that the Church is in very good hands.

Back to the Papal Mass: I was impressed by many things, not the least by the sheer size of the event. Hats off to the organizers for pulling off the feat of serving Communion to that many people and ending on schedule. It was also encouraging to see the vast numbers of young Catholics who are evidently enthusiastic about their faith. The legacy of JPII lives on, I think.

The Pope's homily continued, as expected, the theme of his visit, "Christ Our Hope." He noted that "Americans have always been a people of hope," from the very beginning. He encouraged us to build on that legacy and to meet today's challenges with the hope found in God's love. He said that he had come here to proclaim Christ's resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. That same Spirit, he said, calls us now to constant conversion as we work to renew the Church in the U.S. He mentioned the need for better Catholic catechesis, and the need to restore a genuinely Catholic culture, founded on faith and reason – both subjects near and dear to my heart. His comments about the sexual abuse scandal were, I thought, extremely gracious. His words and his actions during his visit were received in the intended spirit of healing by those directly affected by the scandal, especially the abuse victims with whom he met privately at the Vatican embassy.

Perhaps the one sour note of the mass (please pardon the pun) was the music. Much has been written on the subject already in the Catholic blogosphere. It certainly leaned rather heavily toward the let's-celebrate-us variety of liturgical music, including a heavy dose of multilingual and multicultural mush. There were occasional periods of relief--Mozart's Ave Verum, for instance, or Veni Creator Spiritus. All in all, it was rather embarrassing, especially given all the Holy Father has written and said on the subject over the years. I understand that the services in New York were something of an improvement in this regard, but I haven't yet read any very thorough accounts.

Please feel free to comment with your impressions of this event – or other aspects of the papal visit – whether you attended or not.