Through a series of changes, I recently had the opportunity to learn about the life of John Henry Newman. I found his story to be fascinating. Living in England for almost all his life, the change that resulted from his conversion was huge. He faced great challenges in going from the Anglican Church to the Roman Catholic Church.
John Henry Newman’s road went from childhood to Trinity College, Oxford student to vicar, teacher, preacher and writer at Oxford University to Roman Catholic priest and eventually Cardinal. He was a great theologian; first in the Anglican tradition and then in the Roman Catholic tradition. When he became a Roman Catholic priest though his entire life was turned upside down. He could no longer teach, preach or write at Oxford and because of his prominent Anglican position prior to his conversion he was seen as suspect within the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Essentially, all that he knew was taken away from him. Many of his relationships were severed and he was stripped of his teaching position and the prestige that went along with it. However, amidst these very big changes, his desire and resolve to seek and live a life of truth did not change.
John Henry Newman remained faithful and true to God and what he felt God was calling him to, throughout his life. We are called to do the same. Despite his less than favorable status with the Pope at the time of his conversion (Pius IX), he carried on and kept following his conscience. We are also called to follow our conscience. When Pope Pius IX died and the next Pope (Leo XIII) came along, Newman was named Cardinal even though he was not a Bishop and he was not a resident in Rome.
When John Henry Newman was named Cardinal, he took the motto “Cor ad cor loquitur” (“Heart speaks to heart”). How fitting for someone who was, and still is, in many ways a champion of the authority of the Church—God.
“It is indeed sometimes said that the stream is clearest near the spring. Whatever use may fairly be made of this image, it does not apply to the history of a philosophy or belief, which on the contrary is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad, and full. It necessarily rises out of an existing state of things, and for a time savours of the soil. Its vital element needs disengaging from what is foreign and temporary, and is employed in efforts after freedom which become more vigorous and hopeful as its years increase. Its beginnings are no measure of its capabilities, nor of its scope. At first no one knows what it is, or what it is worth. It remains perhaps for a time quiescent; it tries, as it were, its limbs, and proves the ground under it, and feels its way. From time to time it makes essays which fail, and are in consequence abandoned. It seems in suspense which way to go; it wavers, and at length strikes out in one definite direction. In time it enters upon strange territory; points of controversy alter their bearing; parties rise and around it; dangers and hopes appear in new relations; and old principles reappear under new forms. It changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” – Blessed John Henry Newman