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For want of a miracle, Newman's cause is held up.

OXFORD, England -- Pope John Paul II on Jan. 22, 1991, confirmed the judgment of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints that John Henry Newman (1801-90) bad practiced the theological and moral virtues "to a heroic degree." Things looked good for the British cardinal who suffered so much from the church.

The year after his death, his rival, Cardinal Edward Manning, said to a recent convert;"I gather you are under the impression that Dr. Newman is a good Catholic."

"Such was my vague belief," the convert tentatively replied.

"Then either you are ignorant of the Catholic doctrine," retorted Manning,"or ignorant of the works of Dr. Newman." Manning then ticked off on his fingers 10 distinct heresies to be found in Newman's works.

The papal decision seemed to put a stop to that kind of nonsense. It meant that Newman was more than ordinarily holy, was entitled to be called "venerable" and was a fit subject for beatification and canonization.

Since then his process has stalled. The alleged reason is that no miracle capable of meeting the stringent demands of the congregation has been produced.

Fr. Vincent Blehl, 72, the New York Jesuit who wrote the historical positio that got Newman so far, is now appealing for "an organized and concerted attempt to secure the necessary miracle."

He doesn't really know how to "secure" a miracle, but meantime three things might help. First the sick, especially the incurably sick, must be urged to pray through Newman's intercession. Second, "from long experience, the congregation has instructed postulators to make sure that the officially approved prayer for canonization is used in these circumstances." (Copies from the Newman Secretariat, the Oratory, Hagley Road, Birmingham B16 9UE, England). Can it be that God only listens to officially approved prayers?

Third, it would be a great help if the crusade of prayer could be extended to other nations. Miracles don't have to occur in any particular place, and it's suspicious if they come from within the organization (for example, Opus Dei miracles from Opus Dei incurables).

Students at all those Newman Centers in the United States could start praying furiously for Newman's cause (using the proper words, of course). In his lifetime Newman had doubts about the miracles business. He thought the proper task of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints should be to establish holiness.

Miracles may come afterwards. They really belonged to the Middle Ages when a saint was looked upon as a wonder-worker. Pope John Paul has some sympathy with this view, lessening the number of miracles needed and dispensing with them altogether in some cases. But this concession does not help Newman, for it is restricted to martyrs.

Another approach might perhaps work. More than 200 firsthand testimonies to Newman's spiritual influence today were gathered by the Historical Commission. These witnesses affirmed before the diocesan tribunal of Birmingham, England, that this posthumous spiritual influence amounted to a "moral miracle." and it continues to grow. An editorial in The Times of London declared in February 1990: "There is probably only one Victorian Englishman of whom it may be said that his influence has even now not reached its peak."

People are still being converted by reading his novel, Loss and Gain: The Story of a Convert. Though his Apologia pro Vita Sua has many readers, Blehl says that the greatest spiritual influence comes from his Parochial and Plain Sermons.

Thirty thousand copies of a popular collection of his Meditations and Devotions have been sold without any publicity. Francesco Cossiga, ex-president of Italy and an honorary fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, has had it translated into Italian.

Unlike sober Anglo-Saxons, always a bit reluctant to produce miracles, the more exuberant Latin saints have no such inhibitions. Perhaps if the evident moral miracle doesn't count, Cossiga's prayers will do the trick.

I wonder, though, if the real difficulty is not the absent miracle but Newman's theology -- an echo of Manning's charges. In the early years of the century, he was often suspected of "modernism" and that charge could easily be revived again today. After all, Newman's views on the development of doctrine are hard to reconcile with the timeless, immutable truths proclaimed in Veritatis Splendor (53).

Newman was certainly no liberal, but on collegiality, the need for an educated laity in the church and the importance of freedom in theological research, he prophetically anticipated Vatican II. So to beatify Newman would be to set the seal on Vatican II and to set up a serious intellectual saint to counterbalance Opus Dei founder Blessed Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer. Now that would be a moral miracle.
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Title Annotation:John Henry Cardinal Newman canonization
Author:Hebblethwaite, Peter
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Biography
Date:Nov 12, 1993
Words:772
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