I appreciate the challenge Dr. Muller met in culling through the numerous writings of the recently canonized John Henry Newman to produce such a reader. Along with biographical information, for a man well-known and loved through the power of his pen, such a reader is necessary for intellectual giants like that of Newman.
Meeting Saint John Henry Newman
My first encounter with Newman came in a Philosophy 101 class when an enthusiastic professor led us through the Idea of a University, exemplifying the goals of our liberal arts college (and helping him explain to students why future engineers must take Phil 101).
My next encounter took place in graduate schools as I plated cheese and crackers for the Newman Lectures. He was an important man on that stage, though what thoughts I overheard of his, I cannot say.
There was a day a professor said we must read Newman aloud, using his abundance of punctuation to guide the cadence and the pauses during the reading. He read beautifully, but I do not know the name of what he read.
With others so eager to promote this man’s cause, with Protestant converts feeling the heartache of their search affirmed, with a miracle of an unborn baby and bleeding while siblings sit downstairs eating cereal and the mother begs to be saved, I was very eager to meet this man others knew, loved, and followed feverishly.
A Newman Reader
The book is beautiful with a pensive black and white photograph of a man on the matte cover, slightly smirking perhaps. We can see him, but not fully, as this will be only an introduction. After walking through the introduction, I stand daunted before a forest of intellectual thought in Newman’s essays. I am no theologian. I would rather take the mystics, the preachers, the poets, and the commentators on culture and psychology. For a week, I approach, wander a bit through the words, re-read and re-read again.
Then, after educating myself with the index I turn to his poetry. The first in the selection is called “The Pillar of the Cloud (Lead Thou Me On).” I read it once, then again, and have read it every night since wishing I could find a way to curl up inside it and stay there indefinitely.
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene — one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor pray’d that Thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.
Growing Closer to God through Suffering
The next section, “Meditations,” offers expansion to this spiritual thrusting into the Heart of God, a lesson learned only through suffering.
Newman suffers, as I have suffered, though, could our suffering have been more different?
At the height of his career, he converts and experiences rejection and alienation on all sides. Hidden in the maternal world, my loss was private and hidden, brought to light only by my written words and the prayers of others lifted up to Heaven. I was rallied around, while he was abandoned. My sufferings were grounded deeply in the physical brought to us against our will; his, in the intellectual/spiritual detachment following the choice to leave what you have known, for the thing you know to be right.
He writes in the meditation, “Hope in God—Creator”:
God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have a mission — I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for his purchases…
This could be written for anyone. It has the universal quality of truth. Written in the first person, like his poem, I want to take it in and read it again and again. It acts therapeutically upon my heart in bringing out the words of my suffering and my hope. It acts as spiritual fodder pointing my intention in the proper direction, up, to the Lord, to the Cross on which He suffered and to the sky when He ascends to His Father.
Worth Reading, Worth Meeting
As I reflect on the richness of the language, where every line brims over with meaning, I am grateful for the ability to read a Saint in his native language. My state of life and pregnant physical state present unending obstacles to fully tackling his essays. I dip into the waters of this man’s heart through poetry.
When we seek the Lord, we do not become more narrowly focused, our minds diversify their offerings as we encounter the omniscient, the One who knows all things and made all things.
While not every Saint’s personality will correspond with every sinner’s personality in friendship, there is someone for each of us on earth to gain from each of them in Heaven.
As a reader, an introduction, this little editorial feat of a mere 142 pages does an excellent job in making accessible a bit of Newman to everyone.BIS Reads: A Newman Reader Review #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Kathryn Anne Casey is a graduate of Divine Mercy University, freelance writer, housewife and mother of four children. Her weekly newspaper column “Here’s to the Good Life!” and blog, www.KathrynAnneCasey.com, focus on art, psychology, consumerism and the importance of local community. Her book, Journey in Love: A Catholic Mother’s Prayers After Prenatal Diagnosis, published by Our Sunday Visitor is available now.