Here's what I love: Blessed John Henry Newman

So Pope Benedict XVI is visiting the United Kingdom this weekend; the highlight of his stay will be the beatification of the Anglican convert to Catholicism John Henry Cardinal Newman, the scholar, author, and theologian who is so beloved by both Anglicans and Catholics -- in England and around the world. I will be fizzing with excitement and joy, since I have regarded Cardinal Newman as my personal patron for years.

When I was a young English major I studied Newman's poetry; many of you may be familiar with his poem, "the Pillar of Fire" -- more commonly known as the hymn, "Lead, Kindly Light." He wrote it while he was stranded in Italy, as he yearned to get back to England and enter into the fight for the soul of the Anglican Church.

Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th'encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

Later I went to graduate school, where I studied the history of the university system. Again, John Henry Newman was there to inspire me. As he worked to found The Catholic University of Ireland, The Idea of a University gathered his thoughts about the true purpose of education in the most succinct prose.

And when eventually I came to study the literature of Victorian England as a graduate student, Cardinal Newman's fierce light and clear voice again moved and inspired me. His Apologia Pro Vita Sua is an emotionally vivid and intellectually powerful defense of his decision to become a Catholic. It can also be seen as a reassuring response to the shock felt by many Christians when they considered the implications of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species. But even more, it's just so beautifully written! It shows us the purity of this good man's soul, and the brave greatness of his spirit as he faced the anger and repudiation of his friends, colleagues and even his family, when he left the Church of England. And it stands as a clear and reasoned defense of faith itself.

I know without a doubt that among the reasons I was drawn (sometimes against my will) into the embrace of the Catholic Church is the fact that Cardinal Newman was guiding me, and interceding for me with the Lord.