On the ninth of October in 1845, Blessed John Henry Newman was received into the Catholic Church by the Passionist priest Blessed Dominica Barberi.
On the 150th Anniversary of that meeting of saints, to the very hour, I had the privilege of offering Mass in the little room where it took place.
Newman's decision was hard, as he had devoted his life to many souls whom he would have to leave. On September 25, 1843, he preached his sermon of farewell — "The Parting of Friends" — in the church he had built. This means that next week will be its 175th anniversary. His sermon ended with lines that belong to literature as well as to piety:
And, O my brethren, O kind and affectionate hearts, O loving friends, should you know any one whose lot it has been, by writing or by word of mouth, in some degree to help you thus to act; if he has ever told you what you knew about yourselves, or what you did not know; has read to you your wants or feelings, and comforted you by the very reading; has made you feel that there was a higher life than this daily one, and a brighter world than that you see; or encouraged you, or sobered you, or opened a way to the inquiring, or soothed the perplexed; if what he has said or done has ever made you take interest in him and feel well inclined towards him; remember such a one in time to come, though you hear him not, and pray for him, that in all things he may know God's will, and at all times he may be ready to fulfil it.
Some years before, Newman had traveled to Italy where he entered unfamiliar churches: "I neither understood nor tried to understand the Mass service — and I did not know, or did not observe, the tabernacle Lamp — but now after tasting of the awful delight of worshipping God in His Temple, how unspeakably cold is the idea of a Temple without that Divine Presence! One is tempted to say what is the meaning, what is the use of it?"
Newman would later realize the effect of the Blessed Sacrament reserved for adoration, and what he said could describe our situation on 34th Street: "It is really most wonderful to see this Divine Presence looking out almost into the open streets from the various Churches . . . I never knew what worship was, as an objective fact, till I entered the Catholic Church."
Ours is a restless city, and no more serene these days is this earthly part of the Holy Catholic Church. Visitors stop by hourly to look at our building, and whether known or not, the axle on which our world turns, often shakily, is that Presence with the candle burning by it.
Father George W. Rutler. "The Parting of Friends." From the Pastor (September16, 2018).
Reprinted with permission from Father George W. Rutler.
Father George W. Rutler is the pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. He has written many books, including: The Stories of Hymns, Hints of Heaven: The Parables of Christ and What They Mean for You, Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943, Cloud of Witnesses — Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.Copyright © 2018 Father George W. Rutler
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