A visitation aims to accomplish something. It is symbolic of a greater encounter which it seeks to be the conduit for. The visit by the Holy Father to the UK in September will be a grace given by God to the UK, so that an encounter between the country and God might take place.
The Holy Father, Pope Benedict, is himself a grace; he is a part of Christ, a gift from Christ, because Christ has willed and desired both the Petrine Office and the bishop who he calls to receive this Office. His visit to the UK will take place in the order of grace; in other words, God wishes to express something of Himself to the country. Many - led by the Press - will endeavour to pervert this intention.
What is it that makes the UK so pretentious and intractable in its closedness to God? A psychologising of faith hasn't taken place until recently (I am referring to the Blair faith Foundation). The UK has never drunk deeply from German rationalism which infected so much of continental Christianity. Furthermore, the UK has the cultural legacy of conservatism and phelgmatism. Yet in Britain today, the only person to mention God on the TV on Christmas Day is Her Majesty the Queen. I have lived in the UK for most of my life and I am still at a loss in understanding why its culture and its people are so closed to God!
The Beatification of Newman - like lighting a candle in the darkness - is a humble gesture of hope and faith given by God to a people who are labouring in darkness. Newman himself showed that it is faith which brings us before the Mystery of God, opening our lives to His beauty and His love for us.
The coming Beatification is a clear indication of God's patient and gentle manner of handling the UK, and of His desire that all its people should know how much He loves them and wishes to draw them to Himself. In the midst of this Benedict XVI is the figure of beauty and truth whom He sends to the UK. What great gifts of grace are Cardinal Newman and Benedict XVI for the UK!
We should join in praying grace into the whole nation at this time, that its people might open up their souls to the Mystery of Christ.
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