Reflecting on the last day of the State Visit, I indulge a couple of personal thoughts. First, the Rite of Beatification took place near Coventry which, as Pope Benedict mentioned in his homily, suffered from the blitz of November 14, 1940 (there were earlier raids in July and August of that year, as well as April 1941 and August 1942). One of my mother’s cousins in the British army returned there on leave, not having been told of the attack, and found a hole where his house had been. His wife and daughter had been buried in a mass grave. I do not know the medical term, but he died six months later from what the human race has always accurately called “a broken heart.” Cor ad cor loquitur.
It was also gratifying that the Pope expressed thanks to “Das Werk.” This “Familia Spiritualis Opus,” or, “The Spiritual Family, the Work,” is a Family of consecrated Life of Pontifical Right, founded in Blegium in 1938 by Mother Julia Verhaeghe. Among their works is the custody of Newman’s retreat in Littlemore outside Oxford, and a center in Rome with a Newman library. This mission was encouraged by the late Cardinal Wright whose favorite spiritual lights were Newman and Joan of Arc. It would be hard to imagine two more different saints, and their beatitude today certainly is an reminder both joyful and whimsical of how comprehensive the Communion of Saints is.
Newman once said that he hoped someday to be worthy enough to shine the shoes of St. Philip Neri. Perhaps he is now offering to polish the armor of the Maid of Orleans. I am happy to have Sisters of “Das Werk” as catechists in my parish in addition to the work they do at the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations.
After I defended a doctoral dissertation in Rome, I joined some members of Das Werk in a “Te Deum” in their house in Rome. Six years later, after my oral examinations in Oxford, we did the same thing in LIttlemore. Only when by God’s grace we get to see all those “angel faces smile,” will we know more of what providence variously has done for us through the influence of Newman who, as the elderly daughter of one of his Birmingham schoolboys once told me, was called “Jack” by thembut only out of earshot.