Recently we have the opportunity to interview Father Juan Velez who is an expert of the life of the Blessed John Henry Newman.
Can you think of a person who doesn’t know anything about the church, and tell him who Cardinal John Henry Newman is?
John Henry Newman was a priest and writer in England in the 19th century. He was originally Anglican and became Roman Catholic while teaching at Oxford University. He was declared blessed, the step before being made a saint, by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. He is one of the most important English writers in the history of the Church. It is good for people to get to know him and learn from him.
Why write books about John Henry Newman, and who is Blessed Newman for you?
I write about Bl. Newman because, as author Victor Garcia Ruiz said, “ … up to now he has been a saint for European intellectuals.” However, Newman’s teaching is very rich and applicable to all, especially in a climate of materialism, agnosticism and growing secularism, and to the Church’s circumstances today.
For me, Newman is a teacher, guide, and friend. I have been studying him now for 25 years and have much more to learn from him.
The title of one of your books is “Cardinal Newman a Saint for today’s world” Why?
Pope Francis has spoken about everyday saints. Likewise, Blessed Newman encouraged men and women to take seriously their relationship with God, and to love and imitate Jesus Christ. We are not meant to copy the saints – each of us has different personalities, talents, and circumstances – but we should imitate their love for Christ. As Pope Benedict XVI explained, each saint underlines something of the life and teaching of Our Lord. For examples: St. Francis of Assisi with his detachment for material goods and service to others, or St. Theresa of Avila, and her life of prayer. In the case of the soon-to-be saint Newman, we could say that Newman imitated and emphasized Jesus’ love for truth, and in response he preached the truth without holding back.
What does it mean to be a saint?
A saint is a son or daughter of God who, moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit, lives a life of deep friendship with Christ, serving God the Father. He is someone who, through prayer and the sacraments, is close to God, and who brings Him to others through his family, social, and work relationships. As St. Josemaría Escrivá would say, all men and women are called to be saints, to live in friendship with God as His children in their ordinary lives. Blessed Newman did not say this in the same way but he taught
How does the Church prove the holiness of a person who lived almost two centuries ago, because unlike saints such as the founder of Opus Dei or Mother Theresa, you cannot resort to the testimony of living people? For example, in the ceremony of canonization of the Argentine priest Brochero, the child who received the miracle through the intercession of the Argentine saint was present.
The Church singles out some men and women and declares them blessed or saints when there is evidence that they lived the Christian virtues to a very high degree. As you point out, usually the Church studies the lives of people for whom there are living witnesses but sometimes she studies people who lived centuries ago and declares them saints. This is possible, as in the case of Newman, because he was known by thousands of people, and many wrote about him. They were witnesses to his life. Also, from the many books, articles, and letters that Newman wrote, we can have an accurate and detailed account of his life.
Last February of 2019, Pope Francis authorized the promulgation of the decree of the miracle attributed to Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman, the final step before his canonization ceremony. The miracle attributed to the intercession of Cardinal Newman is the healing of a pregnant woman in 2013. What can you tell us about this and has the Vatican announced the date for the canonization ceremony?
Miraculous cures, that is, cures that cannot be explained by medicine, continue to happen in the world as they did in the Gospel, and through the lives of saints throughout the ages. These cures show us God’s fatherly love and remind us of His divinity. I don’t have many details about the most recent miracle attributed to Newman, but I know that it has to do with a married woman who at an early stage of a pregnancy had bleeding that threatened the child in her womb. She prayed to God, invoking the help of Cardinal Newman, and her bleeding stopped. Months later, the child was born healthy.
We will know the date of Newman’s canonization on July 2 at a meeting of Pope Francis with the cardinals, but it is very likely to be in October of 2019, and possibly on Sunday the 13th.
Please tell us about some of Newman’s books.
Cardinal Newman wrote many books. One of these is the Apologia pro vita sua, the story of his religious ideas. Another is the Development of Christian Doctrine written the last year before his conversion to Catholicism. It was a sort of test of the Roman Catholic truths. He decided to convert before actually finishing the book. Another of his well-known books is Idea of a University which explains the true purpose of university education: to form the mind or to impart a philosophical habit of mind. He also wrote two novels: one of these, titled Callista, is the story of the conversion of fourth-century pagan youths in Northern Africa. It gives us a good idea of Newman’s thinking about how a person comes to believe in God and to know Jesus Christ. Lastly I would mention his sermons of which there are many volumes. These are rich in biblical and spiritual teaching.
In my recent book Holiness in a Secular Age, the Witness of Cardinal Newman (Scepter Publishers, 2017), I go through some of these works and other contributions by Newman. An adaptation and translation of this book has just been released, titled Cardenal Newman, un santo para el mundo de hoy (Ediciones Logos, 2019).
What is a novena to a saint and why should we make a novena?
A novena is a nine-day period of prayer asking for a saint’s help. A novena also helps the one who prays it to consider teachings from the faith as explained by a given saint. There are many novenas to saints. I have prepared a novena to Bl. Newman which is available at no charge at www.cardinaljohnhenrynewman.com
Was it hard for you to leave your career in medicine and become a priest? Why did you change your life 360 degrees?
I met Opus Dei, the Work of God, while studying medicine and became a single member, or numerary. After completing medicine and training in internal medicine I went to Rome and studied theology. I was ordained a priest for Opus Dei in 1998. It was not difficult to leave medicine because becoming a priest is another way to serve, and also to help many students and doctors, as well as people who suffer illness – which is what I also wanted to do as a young doctor.
What is Opus Dei? is there any similarities between St. Josemaría Escrivá and Blessed Newman?
Opus Dei is an international institution of the Church called a personal prelature, which has as its goal to spread the teaching of holiness in everyday work; and the universal call to apostolate (teaching people that each Christian should be a modern-day apostle.) It was founded in 1925 by St. Josemaría Escrivá. There are various parallels in the lives of Blessed Newman and St. Josemaría Escrivá that I find compelling, such as God’s call to holiness, and the importance of the laity in the Church as well as the need for them to learn and study the faith.
Fr. Juan R. Vélez, a priest of the Prelature of Opus Dei, is also author of Passion for Truth, the Life of John Henry Newman (TAN/St. Benedicts, 2011)