Friday, January 8, 2016

John Henry Newman and Cardinal Sarah: Friendship and Holiness

Robert Cardinal Sarah
For a good number of years, without really knowing too much about him,  I have felt an attachment to the person of Blessed John Henry Newman. Like other saints that I've met along the way something about him attracted me.  It's not because I've read much about Newman or by Newman. Somehow, somewhere along the way, I've just felt a kinship with him. A few months ago, someone sent me a biography of Newman which I picked up but never finished.  A few weeks ago, however, after another friend suggested that I read a particular sermon by John Henry Newman, my interest was once again piqued, and I flew through that biography. Reading about his life made me feel all the more attached to him and interested in learning more about him and deepening our spiritual friendship. My intuition for the past twenty years or so has been that what is needed in the life of the Church is a more profound experience of friendship. When people live and experience true Christian friendship, it draws them closer to the Lord. We want more vocations, more active parishes, more conversions, more communion among prebyterates and bishops . . . ? The answer is friendship. Newman knew how to live friendship and that friendship bore fruit in the life of the Church.
Blessed John Henry Newman

No sooner had I finished Newman's biography, I picked up another book entitled, "God or Nothing"
by Robert Cardinal Sarah and published by Ignatius Press.  I knew very little about Cardinal Sarah before I began reading his book (which takes the form of an interview with him). I have been really struck by his humility, sincerity, and intelligence. Cardinal Sarah is the Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Among other things, what is so remarkable about Cardinal Sarah is that he has no business being where he is! Born in a remote village in the African nation of Guinea, Cardinal Sarah should not even be Catholic, never mind a Cardinal in the Vatican!

What is so striking throughout the book (which I am only halfway through) is Cardinal Sarah's profound spirituality. Cardinal Sarah repeatedly returns to an urgent plea for all of us to grow in intimacy with God. I have been reading quickly through his book, but could read even more quickly were it not for the fact that I have to keep putting the book down so that I can go and pray. Cardinal Sarah's insistence on the need to grow in holiness and in a life of prayer continually causes me to pause reading so that I can go to the chapel and pray. His words and his example drive me to my knees.  As I read his reflections, I am moved by his life which is clearly nourished at the fountain of prayer. When I read what he writes, I think, "I want to be a better priest. No, I NEED to be a better priest."

Blessed John Henry Newman's life is one that was centered on the person of Jesus Christ. Cardinal Sarah's book, thus far, is centered on the need of every person (especially priests and bishops) to be close to Jesus Christ. We need to be holy. The Church needs men and women who are in love with God, who live life close to God, and who are able to communicate to others the good news that God is near us. Additionally, both men have suffered in various ways for their love of Jesus. In this way, they remind us that holiness is always achieved through the Cross.

If you are looking for some good spiritual reading that also has profound reflections on the current state of the Church and the culture, I highly recommend to you Cardinal Sarah's book, "God or Nothing." All I know is that as I read his book, I keep thinking, "I want to be holy." That, to me, is a sign of an excellent Catholic book.

We all need to grow in holiness. Surrounding ourselves with good witnesses--be they here on earth or in heaven--and good Catholic books can help us towards our own growth in holiness. Today, I'm grateful for two such witnesses and books. Blessed John Henry Newman and Cardinal Sarah, thanks for reminding me what it's all about: living a life of holiness, friendship with God and with one another.