Boris, Brexit and Newman — Interesting Times for Britain Indeed

The canonization of John Henry Newman will be a morale-boost to many in Great Britain, and following that, some good things may flow.

Boris Johnson in 2016
Boris Johnson in 2016 (photo: U.S. Department of State/Public Domain)

These are rather exciting times in Britain. A new government, the prospect of a major new chapter in history opening in the autumn (leaving the European Union) — and a saint soon to be canonized!

Via the internet, the whole world could now watch what was once a private journey: a prime minister-in-waiting going to the Sovereign to be invited to form a government. When Boris Johnson was driven up the Mall to Buckingham Palace he had to endure a very 2019-style inconvenience as campaigners from the extreme Extinction Rebellion group attempted to block his journey. That problem overcome, he arrived safely at his destination and was duly photographed bowing to HM and receiving from her the request to form a government at Westminster.

An invigorating speech at the front door of 10, Downing Street, followed, and now we have, effectively, a new government — although that will, strictly speaking only be true following the next general election. This government is a completion of that formed by the Conservative party following the 2016 election. On one of the hottest days on record, Members of Parliament gathered the next day to hear the new Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, incidentally a prominent Catholic, answer questions on what will be happening in the days and weeks ahead.

What of the wider realities of life in Britain? We are a confused and often unhappy nation. While politicians explore our future, large numbers of our young seem not to have much interest in it: the youth suicide rate remains high, we have a massive drug problem, and a rising tide of knife violence in our cities.

Boris Johnson has promised more police. He also spoke about spending more on education. But are these the best or only solutions? The breakdown in family life is really a major part of the subject. We are seeing fewer and fewer people getting married, schoolchildren being fed propaganda promoting lesbian and homosexual lifestyles at public expense, and the penalizing of Christians in public life who want to speak out about these things with truth and vigor. These are not trivial issues: it is families, based on the lifelong commitment of a man and a woman in marriage, that create and foster civilization.

Which brings us to the topic of a spiritual renewal. Although an event in Rome in October seems an obscure thing to link with public life in Britain, it will in fact be of relevance. Declaring John Henry Newman to be a saint, Pope Francis will be making history: the first saint from Britain since the martyrs of the Reformation era. Newman was a man of prayer, an educationalist, a man who grasped and understood the centrality of truth, a man of quiet courage who followed what he knew to be true and spoke and wrote about it in ways that affected Britain in the century that followed, and affect the country still.

The canonization will, in short, be good for Britain. It will cheer us all up, it will present a scene of dignity and beauty as the great ceremony unfolds across the mass media, it will bring together the Catholic bishops of the country with great numbers of the faithful with joy and goodwill. Newman is a figure recognized across Christian divisions and there will be ecumenical pilgrims to Rome for the canonization, and general expressions of interest from many who are outside the Christian faith but recognize greatness and goodness when they see it.

We may hope — and work to ensure — that Newman’s ideas on the importance of truth, on prayer, on what education should really be about, and much more, will become better and better known over the next months and years. It’s not going to be dramatic, but the canonization will be a morale-boost to many of us, and following that, some good things may flow.

These are interesting times for Britain.