The Three Miracles of John Henry Newman (Part I)

Due to constraints involving both time and energy (I am physically ill, while also getting ready to attend Midnight Mass with a friend), I need to divide this year’s Christmas reflection into two or more shorter parts. The theme of this year’s reflection will be hope, and mostly it will track experiments with different styles of devotion/spirituality, with John Henry Newman occupying a central role. I hadn’t really planned this for my theme, but Newman and his intercession keep finding their way into any story I might tell, so I might as well go along with it and organize my account in that manner.

Despite illness and a few dark clouds, it’s turning into a hopeful Christmas. It may sound superstitious to say so, but the house itself seems to know the time of year and my presence in it, and there’s been a definite uptick in the number of odd visions and auditions perceived by both myself and the renters upstairs. My upstairs roommate thought to ask me “Your grandmother, busy for Christmas?” before I thought to make the connection. Maybe she isn’t wrong. Friends have been eager to organize Midnight Mass and a pseudo-family meal with me, even though I would have been too sick up until roughly tonight to benefit from the gesture. My sleep schedule is seriously off between illness and end-of-semester stress, but not so much as to keep me from the family tradition of listening to a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols for Advent from King’s College Cambridge on public radio early this morning – normally a pretty challenging endeavor requiring the coordination of several alarm clocks. Spot-on Anglo-Catholic ceremonial from one of Britain’s ancient universities, tugging at the heart and giving hope in the way that fussy old liturgies from the Oxford Movement and the Book of Common Prayer only seem to manage. The BBC. Tradition. Our family always doing this thing for Christmas because we’ve always done it this way at Christmas. Britishness, although marginal (Anglophile American of mixed Scandinavian/Eastern European and Scots-Irish “Ulster Scot” Border Reiver blood). Universities that are seats of the church, and seats of the church which are universities. Nashotah House. The Oxford Movement John Henry Newman. All that music, a perfected union of the truth and goodness and beauty. In the beginning was the Word, and all things made through that Word. Light shining in the darkness, which the world comprehended not. The jostling of sacred and secular such as in this popular song about the conlficted soul of Northern Ireland, only transfigured into harmony rather than dissonance:

In the name of United
And the BBC
In the name of Georgie Best
In the name of the Father
And his wife the Spirit
You said you did not
They said you did it
In the name of justice
In the name of fun
In the name of the Father
In the name of the Son

Instead, of course, an intelligent musical offering back to God from all the treasures both old and new of the British Catholic patrimony, from Anglo-Saxon Adam Lay Ybounden to mainland Catholic songs popularized in rock and roll form and re-nativized as ecclesiastical music.

All of which, of course, mainstream Roman Catholicism will never do for me unless in some far-away eschatological dream, the See of Canterbury is restored to communion with Rome – meaning that such pleasures are usually guilty, uneasy, something on the order of a stolen kiss.

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