There’s a bus that leaves at the end of our street which goes to St John Henry Newman’s childhood home by the Thames at Ham. It’s a pleasant ride though the suburbs, and Ham, on arrival, is a lovely spot. It lies right by the river between Kingston and Richmond, near Richmond Park.
The more satisfying way to get there is to catch the train or bus to Richmond, and walk down along the river, past the Petersham Meadows where the cows will be grazing by now, and then across past the great Jacobean mansion of Ham House—already old in Newman’s day—and on to Ham Street. Grey Court House is on your left as you walk up the street, a fine Georgian house with high gates in front: you can see the blue plaque on its wall stating that the great Cardinal spent some years of his childhood there. It’s part of a school now, standing alongside the modern buildings of Grey Court Secondary School: it’s called Newman House and they use it for children with special needs and for art and craft work. A pleasant walk through the village and across the Common takes you to the New Inn, where I’ve often enjoyed a long talkative drink with fellow Newman pilgrims before catching the bus home.
But I can’t get there now. Everywhere, there are posters telling us all to stay at home: when I go out to buy groceries and a newspaper, full-page advertisements in the latter carry the same message. Buses still trundle along, but are mostly empty, and carry notices urging you not to board unless your journey is really necessary.
The summer programme of Catholic History Walks is on hold: the national lockdown happened just as I was about to publicize the May dates. Along with a thousand other Catholic events—not least, the solemn re-dedication of our country to Mary, formalizing a bond established in the reign of Richard II, and involving all our bishops and thousands of the faithful and their clergy—the only activity is online.
It’s bleak, but not entirely bleak. That solemn dedication was watched by thousands; so many that the website crashed and the whole event had to be screened again and again later in the day. Parishes across Britain stream online Masses and, if our parish in South London is anything to go by, numbers logging on are quite impressive.
This doesn’t have to be, nor should it be, a spiritually dead time. John Henry Newman dated his life’s spiritual journey from the summer of 1816 when he lay ill at school, and a schoolmaster lent him a book to read—a book that changed his life because it spoke to him of the reality of Jesus Christ as God and Saviour. Newman came, as he would later put it “under the influence of a definite Creed”—from seeing church attendance and the Scriptures as merely part of a pattern of life generally accepted as the norm, he followed prayerfully God’s plan and purposes for his own life day by day, with powerful consequences.
Read more at Catholic World Report