Littlemore Pilgrimage 2009: reflecting upon Newman’s Divine Call

Relief of Newman and Barberi in Littlemore church

Relief of Newman and Barberi in Littlemore church

The annual pilgrimage to Littlemore took place on Saturday 10 October, bringing together Oratorians, other clergy, and members of the faithful from Birmingham, Oxford and beyond, to mark the anniversary of John Henry Newman’s reception into the Catholic Church on 9 October 1845.

Bishop Philip Boyce OCD, of Raphoe, Ireland, celebrated the Solemn Mass in the Catholic Parish church of Blessed Dominic Barberi. Blessed Dominic (1792-1849) was the passionist missionary who at Littlemore welcomed Newman into communion with the Successor of Peter.

In his homily, Bishop Boyce said that Newman was led towards the Catholic Church because he followed his conscience, the inner light drawing him towards the fullness of truth. Bishop Boyce quoted Newman, from his 1839 sermon ‘Divine Calls’. Newman explained how it is God alone who knows which human thoughts and actions manifest the perfect truth. Newman said: “God knows which it is; and towards that one and only Truth He is leading us forward. He is leading forward His redeemed, He is training His elect, one and all, to the one perfect knowledge and obedience of Christ; not, however, without their cooperation, but by means of calls which they are to obey, and which if they do not obey, they lose place, and fall behind in their heavenly course. He leads them forward from strength to strength, and from glory to glory, up the steps of the ladder whose top reacheth to heaven.”

Bishop Boyce said of Newman’s conversion to Catholicism: “Once Newman was convinced, he did not hesitate … when the divine call came, he would not turn it down.” This was because Newman was so attentive, not to his own plans, but, to the will of God, whatever the personal cost. Bishop Boyce said: “doing something beautiful for God demands obeying and following God’s holy will. If we do not act in accordance with that will then our actions, however glorious, do not sanctify us”. Newman’s conversion, according to the Bishop, was irrevocably linked to his salvation.

Later, Father Paul Chavasse, Actor  of the Cause for Newman’s Canonisation, gave an update on the present state of the arrangements for Newman’s beatification. Father Chavasse said: “Plans for a beatification in Birmingham are at an early stage, but with the news of a Papal visit to England next autumn, it will take some time to co-ordinate between Birmingham and Rome.”

Father Chavasse went on: “I encourage you to pray for the planning and preparations for Newman’s Beatification, but also to pray for his canonisation, and the further miracle that is required for that to take place. We should also pray that Newman may, in God’s good time, be declared a Doctor of the Church.”

There had been various suggestions about when and where the Beatification might take place, but Father Chavasse emphasised that, especially in the light of the Papal Visit, neither the location nor date of the ceremony had yet been decided.

Newman was the Vicar of St Mary’s Oxford, the University Church, which had Littlemore, a village outside Oxford, within its parish. After the talk, there was a visit to Littlemore’s Anglican church, which Newman built in the mid-1830s. The Anglican journal *The Ecclesiologist* in 1845 spoke of the church as “being in itself the first unqualified step to better things that England has long witnessed: the first building for many a long year erected, showing itself to be not so much a sermon-house, as a temple of the MOST HIGH ….” It is now adorned with a modern icon of Newman.

The day also saw visits to the College, which Newman bought and moved to in 1842, when his doubts about the ecclesial integrity of the Church of England were growing increasingly strong. The College now contains his private chapel, and an extensive library of books by or about Newman.

Pilgrims finished the day with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at the Oxford Oratory, which days before had seen 6,200 visitors during the visit there of the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux. The Oratory church has recently been partly restored, and there is an appeal to raise funds to complete the work and extend the Oratory buildings. Both Newman and Gerard Manley Hopkins preached in the Oxford Oratory church.

For the official website for the Cause for Cardinal Newman's Canonisation see:

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