Monday, May 10, 2010
I have always wondered why ex-nuns like Karen Armstrong or ex-priests like Michael Walshseem to make a profession of their "exness", even former seminarians like Bobby Mickens get on the bandwagon. What seems to mark them out is their bitterness, almost visceral hatred of the Church and its institutions, yet there whole life is about "churchiness". They seem to have a pathological inability "to get a life" of their own, at least one that doesn't revolve around Vatican gossip and vestments. What marks them out is the lack of faith that marks their writings. In classic 1970's style they are continually scratching the itch of their indisposition, it is perhaps a neurotic attempt of coming to terms with an inner conflict.
John Cornwell, another professionally bitter ex-seminarian does a bit of Pope bashing in the Sunday Times by attacking Newman's beatification.
He questions Deacon Jack Sullivan's miraculous healing and points out that it doesn't quite conform to the usual norms the Congregation for the Causes of Saints sets for a miracle. Jack's back pain was relieved for ten months and then returned, eventually he was operated on. I don't have a problem with that. I suppose I am a victim modern scientificism, I find my faith makes me more skeptical not less about the miraculous. Whilst I certainly don't dismiss the miraculous, it is a essential element of religion, there is always a "factor X". Faith gives us the ability to put God in the box marked "X", others might supply another reason. The skeptic both religious and non-religious wonders whether "X" might be simply something un-explainable. Science pushes back the very concept of "miracle". Those of us who are believers are ultimately willing to leave the final decision to the Church and to he to whom Christ has given the authority to bind and loose on earth and in heaven. This is not Ultramontanism but simply believing the words of Christ to the Apostles. Miracles are a testimony to divine intervention, it is worth remembering they are not needed for the beatification or canonisation of martyrs. Though we look for substantial evidence, their testimony is always ultimately subjective. I believe in the Resurrection because I trust the testimony of those who trust the testimony of the Apostles.
Cornwell, tongue in cheek, seems to suggest that the absence of Newman's relics is miraculous, without my tongue in my cheek, I actually agree with him. There are lots of good explanations for the absence of a body but actually the real reason is Newman's amazing humility, which adds to the complexity of his character. I have a devotion to him because his whole was an attempt to subject his frail nature to the Grace of God. That is nature of sanctification, in Newman its effects are seen in his faith-filled writings, in others it seen in their asceticism or it their work amongst the disadvantaged.
Newman was not perfect, he was capable of bitterness and resentment towards his opponents, especially his former friends but he was also capable of great affection. The more I get to know Newman the more impressed I am by his flawed humanity and the rich life of Grace that covered it, like the cardinal's robes, or priestly vestments which covered his frail body. It places him alongside St Peter, or St Jerome who when Pope Honorious past an icon of him, beating his breast with a stone said, "Ah, Jerome, but for that stone you would be in hell not heaven". Saints are not perfect, that belongs to God alone; saints are those who desire Perfection and show the signs of it in their lives.
Cornwell quotes Peter Tatchell who wants to smear Newman with homosexuality. I see I see Newman's love for Ambrose St John as something positive, here is virginal chaste love between two men, which until recently we would have seen and described as fraternal charity, in the same way as St Augustine loved; both men write with the same grief and beauty on the death of their friends. There is nothing foreign to Christ here, in fact it mirrors Christ love for Lazarus. In "gay" but also very sad Brighton I would love to see Newman made patron of friendship.
Cornwell again comes up with the old canard about Newman being the archetype of liberalism and quotes his "I'll drink to the Pope but to conscience first". Dr Kerr has dealt with that quite conclusively. Cornwell also suggests that Newman was a dissenter from 19th century Ultramonatanism, what Cornwell refuses to understand is so is Pope Benedict XVI. That is the refreshing thing many of us find in this Papacy, Pope Benedict sees the role of the Pope as the servant not the master of the Church. He is returning us to a traditional understanding of Papacy as the defender of Tradition.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake