Five Insights on Death and Dying From St. John Henry Newman

The most important theologian to write in English, St. John Henry Newman gave up a life he loved to enter the Church in 1845, at the age of 44. He went on to found the Oratory in England and to write many enduring works, like The Development of Doctrine, Grammar of Assent, and his autobiography Apologia pro vita sua. Pope Leo XIII made him a cardinal in 1879. He died in 1890. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 and Pope Francis declared him a saint on 13 October 2019. In the following, some of the quotes have been a little abridged or simplified. 

The story of his death can be found here.


A Sudden Unexpected Blow

We seem to live and die as the leaves; but there is One who notes the fragrance of every one of them, and, when their hour comes, places them between the pages of His great Book.

[The death of an old friend was] a sudden, unexpected blow — I shall not see him now, till I cross the stream which he has crossed. How dense is our ignorance of the future, a darkness which can be felt, and the keenest consequence and token of the Fall. Till we remind ourselves of what we are — in a state of punishment — such surprises make us impatient, and almost angry, alas!

I wonder what day I shall die on — One passes year by year over one’s death day, as one might pass over one’s grave.

— Letters and Diaries

The Soul After It Dies

Let us follow the course of a soul thus casting off the world, and cast off by it. It goes forth as a stranger on a journey. Man seems to die and to be no more, when he is but quitting us, and is really beginning to live. He is gone, he now belongs to others; he now belongs entirely to the Lord who bought him; to Him he returns; but whether to be lodged safely in His place of hope, or to be imprisoned against the great Day, that is another matter, that depends on the deeds done in the body, whether good or evil. And now what are his thoughts? His lot is cast once and for all, and he can but wait in hope or in dread. We must die, the youngest, the healthiest, the most thoughtless; we must be thus unnaturally torn in two, soul from body; and only united again to be made more thoroughly happy or to be miserable for ever.

— “The Lapse of Time” in Plain and Parochial Sermons

Every Day Nearer to Death

We are going on right to death; a truism, yet not felt. We are on a stream, rushing towards the ocean; every morning we rise nearer to death; every meal we take; every time we see our friends, etc.; nearer the time when we shall lose them. We rise, we work, we eat; all such acts are as milestones. As the clock ticks, we are under sentence of death. The sands of the glass run out; we are executed; we die. Seek the Lord therefore; this is the conclusion I come to; this world is nothingness. Seek Him where He can be found, i.e. in the Catholic Church. He is here in the same sense in which we are.

— Sermon notes for the first Sunday of Advent, 1850, Sermon Notes

Prayer for a Happy Death

Oh, my Lord and Saviour,
support me in that hour in the strong arms of Your Sacraments,
and by the fresh fragrance of Your consolations.
Let the absolving words be said over me,
and the holy oil sign and seal me,
and Your own Body be my food,
and Your Blood my sprinkling;
and let my sweet Mother, Mary, breathe on me,
and my Angel whisper peace to me,
and my glorious Saints smile upon me;
that in them all,
and through them all,
I may receive the gift of perseverance,
and die, as I desire to live,
in Your faith,
in Your Church,
in Your service,
and in Your love. Amen.

— “Prayer for a Happy Death” in Meditations and Devotions

When We First See Christ

What a day will that be when I am thoroughly cleansed from all impurity and sin, and am fit to draw near to my Incarnate God in His palace of light above! What a morning, when having done with all penal suffering, I see Thee for the first time with these very eyes of mine, I see Thy countenance, gaze upon Thy eyes and gracious lips without quailing, and then kneel down with joy to kiss Thy feet, and am welcomed into Thy arms. O my only true Lover, the only Lover of my soul, Thee will I love now, that I may love Thee then. What a day, a long day without ending, the day of eternity, when I shall be so unlike what I am now, when I feel in myself a body of death, and am perplexed and distracted with ten thousand thoughts, any one of which would keep me from heaven. O my Lord, what a day when I shall have done once for all with all sins, venial as well as mortal, and shall stand perfect and acceptable in Thy sight, able to bear Thy presence, nothing shrinking from Thy eye, not shrinking from the pure scrutiny of Angels and Archangels, when I stand in the midst and they around me!

— “God Alone” in Meditations and Devotions


Image: Bust of Cardinal Newman at Trinity College, Oxford. Chihwiedavidliu/Wikimedia Commons

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