Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Second Spring and the "Catholic Spring"

From Crisis Magazine and the inimitable Father George Rutler, this comparison between a great, holy Newman and 21st-century Newman:

On a Tuesday in 1852, the thirteenth of July for the literary record since it was a day important for English letters, Blessed John Henry Newman mounted the pulpit of Oscott College, its halls relatively new though designed by Joseph Potter and Augustus Pugin to recall the best of the Tudor times before the depredations of the eighth Henry. Always attentive to signs of decay, at 51 he claimed to be entering old age but was ready for a second breath, both for himself and his Church. That sermon, “The Second Spring,” is as poetic as homiletic, and could take its place in the annals of free verse as one of its most lyrical samples.

The occasion was the gathering of the First Provincial Synod of Westminster, when the Catholic episcopate had been restored, and hope was mingled with a quality of caution, for the road ahead was not straight and smooth and there were no sureties of rest along the way. That is why Newman took the temperature of the times:

Have we any right to take it strange, if, in this English land, the spring-time of the Church should turn out to be an English spring, an uncertain, anxious time of hope and fear, of joy and suffering,—of bright promise and budding hopes, yet withal, of keen blasts, and cold showers, and sudden storms?

The same might be preached today, in this peculiar period when the Church seems as conflicted as our nation, for the issues at hand have never been greater and the commentaries on them both in Church and State are almost burlesque in their shallowness and venality. Napoleon called China a sleeping giant and various sources have said the same of the Catholic Church. During the present election season, fevered as it is with unprecedented bitterness and banality, the Church could almost pass as a giant more comatose than slumbering.

If anything has stirred the Church, rusty when urban and flaccid when suburban, it has been the discovery of documents revealing cynical attempts by political strategist to subvert and suborn the institution, stripping her of supernatural credentials to become a tool of the State, like the Gallican Church of the French Revolution. Leaked emails from February 10-11, 2012 record exchanges entitled “Opening for a Catholic Spring?” between the current manager of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, John Podesta, and Sandy Newman, president of a political action group called Voices for Progress. Sandy Newman is certainly no heir to John Henry Newman nor are his visions of Spring like those of the Second Spring preached at Oscott. For Sandy Newman, “There needs to be a Catholic Spring in which Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic church.” The mandate for contraception coverage in medical plans might be a rallying point to “plant the seeds of the revolution.”

How Victorian! Accusing the Catholic Church of being medieval! 

Gentlemen, the Catholic Church is ancient; we are one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Podesta and this Newman may think they are sophisticated and brilliant strategists, planning the infiltration of the Catholic Church, but they should look up Julian the Apostate, Napoleon Bonaparte, and a few others along the long history of the Church and see how well they fared in their attempts.

As Father Rutler concludes:

So there we are at this crossroads of culture and, more than that, of civilization itself. Two Newmans proffer two Springtimes and they are not occasional variations of a common climate. Our nation has endured recent years of eroding faith and moral reason. It cannot endure several years more in the confidence that the erosion can be reversed as though it were just the habit of a cyclical season. There is a better prospect, but it is possible only if Catholics assent to the lively oracles of the Gospel and cast their votes and vows against those who are against it. The Newman who is blessed saw a Catholic Spring in the pulpit at Oscott that is not the clandestine plot of e-mails:
I listen, and I hear the sound of voices, grave and musical, renewing the old chant, with which Augustine greeted Ethelbert in the free air upon the Kentish strand. It comes from a long procession, and it winds along the cloisters. Priests and Religious, theologians from the schools, and canons from the Cathedral, walk in due precedence. And then there comes a vision of well-nigh twelve mitred heads; and last I see a Prince of the Church, in the royal dye of empire and of martyrdom, a pledge to us from Rome of Rome’s unwearied love, a token that that goodly company is firm in Apostolic faith and hope.
The photograph above is of the shrine Father Rutler installed in his former parish in New York, the Church of the Saviour. I certainly hope it is still there (the succeeding pastor made some changes). I took this picture in 2011 and so it is (c) Stephanie A. Mann.

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