The saints are alive. When worshippers or visitors enter a Catholic church, they are surrounded by many striking paintings and statues of men and women.
Sometimes these figures almost step out of the canvas or marble as if to speak or to reach out a hand; often they are portrayed as being in conversation with Christ or his Mother. It is like entering into a beautiful and welcoming house that is somehow familiar to us. The objects of these works of art are representations of real people who at one time walked on earth. Though they are no longer “on this side of the veil,” nevertheless, they are as alive as ever they were. These saints are in heaven, and they invite us to join their company.
John Henry Newman (1801-1890), widely known for The Idea of a University, the account of his philosophy of education, as well as his spiritual aeneid, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, was declared a saint of the Catholic Church by Pope Francis on Oct. 13. This means that Newman, like the people portrayed in the many works of art in Catholic churches around the world, is not only alive, but he is enjoying the company of the saints, many of whom, we can imagine, will seem like old friends to him. Who might these saints be and what might they be discussing?
In The Idea of a University Newman eloquently describes what a university does and how it enlarges the mind and teaches people to have the right habit of thinking. Newman’s vision of a university’s milieu would provide an excellent topic of conversation, as it still does in the world today. So do many other of his other rich theological writings.
The development of doctrine, the certitude of the act of faith, the role of moral conscience are but a few. But leaving these influential writings aside, let us consider the person of Newman, the man with his many friends on earth, his simple way of life, and his raison d’être.
In some sense we imagine him with the company of other saints, two of whom he knew through reading and two of whom we now know he met later, in the world of the One who moves the spheres with love.
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