The leading English bishop said Sunday that Blessed John Henry Newman offers an important witness for the Catholic Church in England during difficult times, and is a patron for the call of every Catholic to “missionary discipleship.”
“Cardinal Newman faced difficult times and circumstances. So do we. At this moment, there is much unease in our society. We seem to have lost a sense of shared hope and vision around which to gather. Our present-day culture offers no reason or encouragement to offer forgiveness to those who have offended. A harshness of speech and a quickness of condemnation seem to be everywhere. This is the society in which we are to give our witness, and for which we readily offer our prayer. Let us never lose heart in doing so!” said Cardinal Vincent Nichols in a Sept. 29 pastoral letter.
Nichols is the Bishop of Westminster, which encompasses much of the city of London. He is also head of the English bishops’ conference, and the de facto leader of the English bishops.
Newman, an Englishman and former Anglican cleric who converted to Catholicism in 1845, is set to be canonized a saint by Pope Francis next month.
Nichols discussed the cost, and courage, of Newman’s conversion.
“One of the most important aspects of his life is the long and difficult journey he made into the fullness of faith in the Catholic Church. It cost him dearly. Yet it is an essential part of his witness. His search for truth led him to examine in detail the foundations of the Catholic faith in the history of the Church.”
“It also drove him to look closely at his own experiences, and feelings, sensing in them the call and promptings of God. He was utterly convinced that in all our experiences in this world, there is a sign, a shadow, an impression, like a fingerprint, of the presence of God. This conviction made him a wonderful witness to the nature, importance, and experience of the Catholic faith.”
“From his earliest years as a young priest of the Church of England, and throughout his time as a Catholic priest, right up to his death at the age of 89, he was unwavering in his care for the poor. For this reason, thousands lined the streets of Birmingham to offer their love and respect to him as his hearse passed by. This care for those facing poverty must be a hallmark of our lives too. It is certainly one of the most eloquent and effective ways of witnessing to our faith that we can give in our society today!”
The cardinal noted that Newman is a “good patron” for the “Extraordinary Month of Mission” which Pope Francis has designated October.
“Pope Francis invites us to renew our sense of mission, our task of bringing the Gospel to life so that others may see it and come to share its joy. He often reminds us that we are ‘missionary disciples’. Through baptism we share in the task given by God the Father to his Son, Jesus, to bring his truth, love, compassion, and forgiveness into this world. There is a lovely saying: ‘It is not that the Church of God has a mission, but that the mission of God has a Church!’ We are that Church, and God gives us our mission,” Nichols said.
One aspect of missionary discipleship, Nichols added, “is that we become more aware of the potential we have for bringing the loveliness of our faith, and its joy and consolation, to the attention of others. Personal conversations, individual acts of kindness, having compassion for others in their trials, offering to pray for those in need, whoever they may be: all these are steps in our missionary activity.”
In his letter, the cardinal announced that the English bishops are launching this month “a time of special focus on the role of the Holy Scriptures in our lives. This initiative has the title ‘The God Who Speaks’. It runs from now until the end of 2020.”
“In order to share the Good News of Jesus with others, we must be immersed in his word, his wisdom, and his peace. This we do through praying over and pondering on the words of the Bible. In the coming months this venture will unfold in your parishes and, I know, will offer real help.”