By Beth Griffin
NEW YORK (CNS) — The earthly Church, despite its failings, is such a depository of God’s riches that each of its members should be like a business card, proclaiming a new appreciation for the Church’s inner strength and beauty, Auxiliary Bishop James D. Conley of Denver said at a New York conference.
To do so would reflect the lives of Blessed John Henry Newman and Mother Julia Verhaeghe, who founded a religious community inspired by Blessed Newman’s example, Bishop Conley said in his homily at a Mass at St. Paul the Apostle Church opening a daylong conference on the newly beatified English cardinal.
The Oct. 23 conference, sponsored by Fordham University and the religious congregation The Spiritual Family The Work, drew 200 people to hear Newman scholars discuss his writings, their influence on Mother Julia and their relevance to 21st-century Christians.
Blessed Newman left the Anglican Church to join the Catholic Church in 1845. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI Sept. 19. Bishop Conley also became Catholic as an adult.
He said Blessed Newman and Mother Julia “took the promptings of conscience very seriously,” and used them to achieve to a deeper understanding of their faith. He said they both submitted to the interior authority of conscience and the exterior authority of the church.
Bishop Conley said that both saw failings of the Church and Blessed Newman “suffered from wounds caused by its members,” but they had strong faith in divine providence and confidence that the weaknesses of the Catholic Church would “be overcome in God’s good time.”
Bishop Conley said Blessed Newman and Mother Julia did not wait passively for God’s intervention but “gave it their all. They were people of action, sensitive to signals and strong in their faith and hope.”
He said saints and people of great faith cannot and should not be copied, but they can serve as inspiration as they “accompany and assist us from their eternal home.”
Mother Julia established The Spiritual Family The Work in Belgium in 1938. She recognized its intersection with Blessed Newman’s writings in the 1960s. Her congregation of priests and women religious is now engaged in social, cultural, pastoral and education work in 12 countries, most in Western Europe.
In 2001, The Spiritual Family The Work was granted papal recognition as a “family of consecrated life.” At the time, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said: “It is not by chance, I think, that The Work considers itself a friend of Newman, with his motto, “Cor ad cor loquitur” (Heart speaks to heart). Mother Julia thought from the heart and knew the heart of Jesus — this pierced heart, which is the source of the Covenant, the source of our life — from the heart.”
The Spiritual Family The Work founded and runs specialized Newman libraries in Austria, England, Hungary and Italy. In the United States, members serve at the Holy See Mission to the United Nations in New York and at Gannon University in Erie, Pa. The group will celebrate the centennial of Mother Julia’s birth Nov. 11.
Father Paul Willi, international superior for priests of the congregation, told Catholic News Service that the group’s name reflects its mission to participate in the work of Jesus Christ for the redemption of the world.
At the conference, Newman scholar Father George W. Rutler, pastor of Church of Our Saviour in New York and a former Episcopalian, said Blessed Newman dedicated his life to studying personality and what it means to be made in the image of God.
He said the Christian sees personality as a mystery that does not contradict reason but compels it to acknowledge its depth. “A mystery is not a mountain you climb, but descend to conquer,” he said.
Father Rutler said Blessed Newman’s motto, an expression of St. Francis de Sales, described his empathetic preaching style, in which the cardinal seemed to read the minds of people in the congregation and speak to them as individuals.
Sister Kathleen Dietz, a member of The Spiritual Family The Work and professor of theology at Gannon University, said Blessed Newman considered Christians to be foreigners in this world, watching zealously for the coming of Christ while remaining detached from worldly things.
“The very thought of Christ should cheer us, inspire us and urge us on,” she said. “If we live with the church, we wait for Christ. We are sojourners in a strange land.”
Sister Kathleen said Christians hold the world together by their holiness, “not as a bandage holds a wound together, but as nourishment and good care heal a wound from within.”
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