9 October 2012

Blessed John Henry Newman

Back from a wonderful trip; to the Shrine of Blessed John Henry, in Birmingham. You might think that just being in such a place on such a day as his Solemnity would be wonderful enough; but there is more to it than that. Just before First Vespers of the Solemnity, I was privileged to be invited to witness the reception of the Habit of S Philip by a former pupil of mine, Mr Andrew Wagstaff. And the next morning, the feast itself, I offered the Holy sacrifice.

Andrew and I go back quite some time. He was one of the very ablest of my theological students at Lancing; then he shone equally in the Theological Faculty in Oxford. He managed the serving at Pusey House in Oxford (I had the title of Senior Research Fellow there while I was priest in charge of S Thomas's); then he became a barrister. Now ... well, you see where it has all led. But I had better come clean about something else: a month ago I spent a week in the Birmingham Oratory, lending a very inadequate hand with the clerical work of the House. And what a welcoming, vibrant place it is; both in terms of the Fathers and Brothers, and of the congregation. (Ah, and Pushkin the Cat as well!) Youth and Enthusiasm mark both! There was a good congregation at the (Extraordinary Form) High Mass on the Sunday, at which I celebrated and preached. During some of the other Sunday Masses, a couple of which were packed out, I occupied a confessional; one of those nice Baroque confessionals, in which there is a sliding panel each side and as the penitent to your left departs, you slide the shutter back, heave over onto the right buttock, and hear the confession that side, thus rocking back and forth non-stop. The queues lasted until after the end of Mass.

Incidentally, you can find on the internet lovely pictures of the Ordination and First Mass of Fr Martin Stamnestroe in Oslo ... he is another former Anglican, another graduate of Pusey House. I remember happy days sitting in his study chatting and and admiring his superb collection of liturgical books. And there is the news of the profession of a new novice in the now formally erected Redemptorist community on Papa Stronsay, very dear friends of mine. No lack of signs of growth, at least as things seem from my viewpoint in the Church; and a fair bit of that growth seems to happen among the very able. Oh, and the Ordinariate's first two new home-grown seminarians are getting under way. We really do seem to be moving on from the arid years. Vivat Papa.

But back to the Birmingham Oratory. Fr Anton, the Parish Priest, very kindly made me free of 'the Cardinal's' study (with adjacent chapel). Little discoveries can be as satisfactory as large ones; we all know that on Monday December 3, Newman left Oxford for the foreign travels which led him to Sicily, serious illness, and the writing of Lead kindly light. The day before, he preached a University Sermon which could be regarded as the start of the Catholic Revival in the Church of England. But what was he doing on the preceding Saturday? I can now reveal the Truth. He was shopping ... for books. Devout tomes? Deary me, No. He bought a pocket copy of Thucydides; and one of Pindar. Isn't it a lovely mental picture; the slender, donnish, very English figure, sweat pouring down his face as he plodded round the bumps near Syracuse and traced (Thucydides in hand) the footprints of the ill-fated Athenian Expedition during the Peloponnesian War; then sitting in a cafe (I think I detected slight wine marks on some pages) and reading Pindar's mannered encomia upon the equestrian victories of Sicilian rulers in the Games.

Newman once said, I think, that he could never be a saint; because he loved literature too much. But Classicists, evidently, can become saints!

How very fortunate the inhabitants of Birmingham (and its surrounding areas) are, to have such a wonderful shrine in their midst; to be able to go to Mass in such a flourishing and well-run church. And one with such a large car-park behind it!

35 comments:

Kent Community Activist said...

Thank you for the article.

Edwin said...

Great to be able to read you once more, dear Father.

Mike Sheil said...

At long last. Welcome back, Father!

Father Anonymous said...

Good to see you back, Father.

Woody said...

You have returned. Alleluia! Or Halleluuuuuya, as we would have said in my own former Evangelical days.

Joe Mroz said...

Welcome back, Father, and God bless you!

James C. said...

A blessed day, Father, and a real blessing to see you return to this blog after so long! May we hope to see more activity from this point forward?

animadversor said...

καλώς.

Pastor in Valle said...

Welcome back, Father! And congratulations to Br Andrew if he is reading this.

johnf said...

Welcome back Father. God bless you.

Hughie said...

Delighted that you are back, Father.

Lazarus said...

A very welcome return!

GOR said...

Welcome back, Father! The blog title is very apropos...

Joshua said...

Great to read news from you again - I was just talking to Mike on the phone today and he was glad to hear that you're back online; both of us still remember your kind hospitality when we visited you in Oxford.

Mark said...

Although I remain Anglican, it gladens me to see you so flourishing as a priest again. Keep the reports coming.

mark
aka wannabeanglican

IanW said...

Welcome back, Fr.

Stephen Hemingway said...

Thank you for your interesting article, Father.

What the world needs now is erudition, sweet erudition! And I believe that you can provide it.

As a lover of literature, mainly that very religious tome "Moby-Dick", I do hope that literature lovers are able to pass through the eye of the needle, so to speak.

May God bless you and your work, Father

Stephen Hemingway said...

Thank you for your article, Father.

What the world needs now is erudition, sweet erudition! And I believe that you can provide plenty.

As a lover of literature (especially that very religious tome, "Moby-Dick") I hope that literature buffs can pass through the eye of the needle without having to crawl too much!

May God bless you and your work, Father.

Father Mervyn Jennings said...

You are my today's "Good News" I look forward to reading you in the future. May God richly bless your ministry Father

Indelible Inkstain said...

Welcome back Father!

Flambeaux said...

Dear Father,

What a delightful post! Thank you.

We'll continue to pray for you.

PeterHWright said...

How wonderful to read once again this inimitable blog. Its absence was a real impoverishment. Long may it continue.

God bless Fr. Hunwicke. I have missed quite dreadfully his witticisms and erudition.

Don't disappear again, please, Father !

Conchúr said...

Welcome back, Father!

Fr Levi said...

Delighted you are 'back.' Long may you continue.

Londiniensis said...

It is indeed good to see you blogging again, Father. Welcome Back!

Londiniensis said...

It is indeed good to see you blogging again, Father. Welcome Back!

Sadie Vacantist said...

Welcome back!

CPK said...

Thanks be to God!

John Nolan said...

God speed the Ordinariate! The English Church is already richer for it.

Dinis said...


Dear Father Hunwicke,

What a blessing it is to have you back with us to our delight and to God's greater glory!

May He Grant You His Peace,
Dennis

Dinis said...

Dear Father Hunwicke,

May God grant you His peace.
What a blessing it is for us that you are blogging once again to God's greater glory!

Heartfelt Thanks,
Dennis

Katie said...

Very happy to hear your blog voice again

Stan Metheny said...

Thank you. Your long absence from the blog left an empty spot in my day and your return is welcome indeed.

Jakob Knab said...

COR AD COR LOQUENS
Jakob Knab

Michael Ortiz said...


Great post, Father. I am reading Ker's biography of JHN, and yes, when someone refered to him as a saint, he said, in effect, "oh, literary men can't be saints."

I suspect he was hinting at the vanity involved.