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Lead Kindly Light

St John Henry Newman 1801-1890

This week members of the Senior Student Leadership team have been giving assemblies about England’s first “official” saint for 43 years – St John Henry Newman. Newman was proclaimed a saint by Pope Francis in St Peter’s in Rome on Sunday 13th October 2019 and a group of Year 9 students together with Miss Lee and Mr Carney were present at this very special Mass.

Newman is known for his many achievements as a scholar and a priest. In later life he set up a church community of priests called an ‘Oratory’ in Birmingham where the priests helped the local people, many of whom were very poor. Newman helped set up a school and taught the violin there.

In his younger days he converted from the Church of England to the Catholic Church and this caused a big rift with his family and friends, many of whom refused to speak to him again. He insisted that he follow his conscience. He said: “We can believe what we choose. We are answerable for what we choose to believe.”

Newman wrote many prayers and hymns. One of his poems, The Dream of Gerontius, was set to music in an oratorio of the same name by the famous English catholic composer Sir Edward Elgar. The beautiful poem describes the journey of Gerontius, as he is dying and describes his feelings as he is received by God to eternal life in heaven.

Another very well know text is the hymn, Lead Kindly Light which has been sung for us this week by students in Year 9. Newman was in Italy and became very ill. He prayed that God would save him so that he would be able to return to work in England and wrote the words when travelling on a boat laden with oranges, headed for Marseilles.

This hymn quickly became very popular with Christians of all denominations. Among the many famous stories of people to whom it was special is the sad description of Dutch Christians, Betsie ten Boom and her companions, singing it as they were led to the gas chambers in Ravensbruck on 16 December 1944, where they were subsequently martyred.

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.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou

Shouldst lead me on;

I loved to choose and see my path; but now

Lead Thou me on!

I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,

Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still

Will lead me on.

O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till

The night is gone,

And with the morn those angel faces smile,

Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

In his homily at the Canonisation Mass, Pope Francis encouraged everyone to be “kindly lights” for one another. “Let us ask to be like ‘kindly lights’ amid the encircling gloom,” he said.

He also quoted one of Cardinal Newman’s sermons where he urged Christians to be “cheerful, easy, kind, gentle, courteous, candid, unassuming and without pretence”. These are indeed helpful pointers for us as we try to live our lives of faith today.

St John Henry: pray for us.

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