Last week I had the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to England and Rome. The theme was the life of John Henry Newman. He was canonized last Sunday as a Catholic saint along with four other saints. We were a group of five men, Catholics as well as Lutherans interested in Catholicism.
The journey was important to me and my traveling companions in many ways, as Saint John Henry Newman was perhaps the first Protestant convert to Catholicism to be made a saint. St John Henry Newman was originally an Anglican priest who later converted to Catholicism, and was then ordained a Catholic priest. Later still he was created a cardinal. He strongly influenced the return of Catholic faith to Anglican England.
Oxford and Birgminham, London and Rome
In Birmingham and London, we visited the Oratories that Newman had established following the example of the Roman Oratory founded by Saint Filippo Neri.
On Saturday evening we flew to Rome and on Sunday we attended the solemn Canonization Mass at St. Peter's Square. St. Peter's Square is full of people. The choir is singing Gregorian chant. Five large images of the new saints are hanging on the facade of St. Peter's Church. Newman is in the middle. His gaze is deep and clear.
I do not know how this canonization will affect Newman who was already in heaven, except that he will certainly be more often asked for intercession here on earth. I guess there is no time in heaven, so the plentiful of prayer requets should not bother Newman too much. How else could Virgin Mary deal with so many Hail Marys…
Next to our hotel in Rome, there was a church that kept the pillar at which Jesus was scourged. Standing in front of this relic, the words "Lord, have mercy" echoed in my mind more deeply than usually.
We humans need role models. We need to see what holiness means in practice, what it does to people, and how it changes people. We need examples so that we can become better versions of ourselves. For this purpose, there are different saints, each who can set an example for a particular person according to his or her life situation and personnal preferences.
Relics and holy places, on the other hand, help us remember the reality of holiness that Christians have lived in time and place. The same principle applies to everyday and worldly matters as well. We experience human goodness through other people, especially our neighbors and friends. Grandpa’s pipe and grandfather's shirt remind me of them and thus of their virtues, which are truly worth pursuing. Maybe this is the impulse that makes us build museums and visit them.
St John Henry Newman, thank you for your example. Pray for all who seek God, truth, and meaning for their lives!