On the second to last day of my trip in London, I met a hero. Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman.
Blessed Newman (21 February 1801 – 11 August 1890) is the unofficial patron saint of Campus Ministry in the United States. He gave the Church the opportunity to peer into our tradition with academic rigor unheard of since Aquinas. He was a model, I think, of a believer that wanted to believe even deeper. A lover of God who wanted to illuminate the richness and depth of the tradition in a myriad of ways. The persecution that he had undergone throughout his life showed him Christ’s compassion, and through him, God allows us a model of how all of us can respectfully question our tradition and fall in love with the tradition in which we are a fleeting member.
So as I was saying, I found myself at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is right next door to Brompton Oratory. I couldn’t help but go inside.
There is a statue of Newman outside the Oratory. Inside, there is also a side chapel dedicated to his intercession. Sadly, his side altar is quite dark, so I failed to snap a picture.
I had spent a good time praying at various altars, gazing at the marble-work, and seeing a cleric set up for his own private Mass on the side altar.
As I had been praying at the Sacred Heart Altar I heard a bell. I strolled over to the nave. I had seen about eight others in the nave, and an elderly cleric, dressed in a fiddleback chasuble, walk out and begin Mass.
I had been transported.
You see, when Newman converted from the Church of England to the Church of Rome, he became an Oratorian of St Philip Neri, the group that holds Brompton. He was 44 years old. It is ambiguous if he had actually been stationed here—nonetheless, we know that he had stayed there at some time.
So here I am, seeing an older cleric in a preconciliar vestment saying Mass. I watched a priest vested just like Blessed Newman would have been vested saying Mass at the very same altar that Newman himself would have said Mass. I had felt that Blessed Newman had tapped me on the shoulder and waved hello.
At least in the campus ministry world, praying to the saints had become passé. Like, that’s something that your parents did, therefore, you ought not. However, the saints are just as present to us as any other member of our family. Actually, the saints are even more present to us, because the saints are united with God in ways we know not—and because of that, they are more present in our lives than any members of the Church militant.
So perhaps Blessed Newman did tap me on the shoulder and wave. I would rather like to think so. I would rather think that the saints are with us, closer to us than our next breath, praying that our heart would speak to His heart, and bring us home rejoicing.
Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!