Looking for Miracles

An American clergyman from Boston is visiting Britain at the moment and he is telling everyone how he has been cured by a miracle.

I am delighted for him naturally. Apparently this man has had a potentially paralysing spine condition but after praying to his hero, the late Cardinal Newman (1810-1890), he was instantly cured. Something that has, apparently, amazed the medical team looking after him.

He was in hospital desperate that his condition would prevent him finishing his training to become a deacon so, in his words, he prayed to Cardinal Newman: “Please Cardinal Newman, help me to walk, so that I can return to my classes and be ordained.”

Well the good Cardinal was listening because within minutes he was feeling something extraordinary:

“Suddenly I felt a tremendous sensation of intense heat all over, and a strong tingling feeling throughout my body, both of which lasted for a long time. I also felt an overwhelming sense of joy and peace, as well as a strong sense of confidence and determination that finally I could walk.”

And walk he did, right out of the hospital and back to his priestly studies. So well done to him and congratulations too for finding something within himself that could lead to such an unusual phenomenon.

I don’t know whether he has become an amazingly good priest or not or whether Cardinal Newman thought he was a particularly good candidate for salvation but Mr Sullivan does seem to be cured.

I met a woman once who had arrived late for a meeting in the local village hall. It was a meeting to arrange the village’s summer festival and, as she was a particularly vocal member of the committee, we all waited to see what had happened.

When she finally arrived, she was very flustered but also rather joyful. She told us that she had skidded on some oil but God had taken over the steering wheel and guided her away from certain death. Hallelujah! Did God value this woman very highly, I wondered because, in all honesty, I had always found her rather irritating. Maybe he valued that village fete and thought it might not happen without her muscular form of good works. I don’t know but I did find out that on the same night there had been an horrific air crash which had killed hundreds of passengers including a high proportion of babies and children. I am afraid, I just do not believe that any God would have saved the woman in her car and let all those others perish.

I don’t think Cardinal Newman would have believed that either. He was, from what people say, a shy and modest man with a deep faith and a lot of love. He tried and failed to preserve his branch of Catholicism within the Church of England and then joined the Roman Catholic Church where he became a Cardinal, a Prince of the Church.

Jack Sullivan’s back is significant here because there has been for some time a feeling in the church that Cardinal Newman ought to become a saint. For this to happen, there has to be proof that he had worked miracles and Mr. Sullivan appears to have done the trick.

When Pope Benedict XVI visits Britain next year, he may announce that Newman has passed the first hurdle and that a ceremony of Beatification may occur in Birmingham where he is buried. Beatification is the step before Canonisation and, if the whole thing goes through Newman will be the first English Saint who did not die a martyr’s death since the Reformation. So well done Mr. Sullivan.

The wife of our former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, Cherie Blair has discussed Newman’s canonisation with the Pope and apparently he was enthusiastic about the chances but said the problem is that miracles are difficult to find in Britain. Now a visiting American has done the trick.

In preparation for the Beatification, rumour has it, the late cardinal’s body is to be removed from its resting place and reburied in Birmingham Oratory which was his base. There have been a few problems here though. Firstly, after a grander burial site had been identified, digging up the grave in Rednal Cemetary near Birmingham showed that the damp conditions and the wooden coffin meant that there weren’t really any remains to rebury.

The second problem was that Newman had insisted on being buried in the grave of his companion of 32 years, Father Ambrose St. John (1815-1875). The Vatican, apparently was unhappy about this relationship even though Newman wrote in old age: “I wish with all my heart, to be buried in Fr. Ambrose St. John’s grave.”

Newman preached the sanctity of celibacy and there is no reason to doubt him there just as there is every reason to believe him when he said that Ambrose St. John’s death moved him to the same depth as bereavement felt like to a husband or a wife.

How strange then that the Vatican whilst celebrating Newman’s undoubtedly saintly character should choose to hide something of such importance to the understanding of his life. Instead, we are expected to venerate the man because he manages to do some clever conjuring tricks in a Massachusetts hospital.

Odd too that Father Ambrose died after completing a translation of a learned German study of Papal Infallibility.

Now, if Pope Benedict XVI would bring himself to that simple joint graveside to issue his blessing then Britain may well have achieved a sort of miracle at last.

Any lover of English music has to be persuaded at least to an ounce of sympathy for Newman after hearing Elgar’s great musical setting of the Cardinal’s emotional and mystical poem The Dream of Gerontius. I can imagine that Jack Sullivan’s devotion to Newman may well, at least in part, come from the poem’s illustration of what it might be like for a good but questioning Catholic to lie on his deathbed wondering just what was going to happen to that much discussed object, his soul.

Edward Elgar, a doubting Catholic himself, caught the terror and the ecstatic expectation in music that found a terrifying realization in the recording by the ailing Benjamin Britten with his life time companion, the, by then, vocally elderly but musically inspired, Peter Pears as Gerontius. This work, if nothing else, will keep Newman’s name immortal.

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