John Henry Newman’s pro-life poem

Cardinal Henry Newman (CNS photo/courtesy of the Catholic Church of England and Wales)

If she gives birth to her baby she may well die: that’s what I understand when I hear of a pregnant mother diagnosed by doctors as having a ‘life-threatening pregnancy’. If such a mum is like St Gianna Molla, she will decide to give up her own life so that her newborn baby will live while she will be buried. It is an unthinkable choice for most ladies. In my own case, I would like to think I’d give my own life in place of my innocent baby. Yet I pray I’d never have to decide between my life and that of my baby.

There is a pregnant mum in America who was told her pregnancy threatened her life and so she prayed to Blessed John Henry Newman. Her prayer may have wrought a miracle – she has since been told that she has enjoyed a complete recovery which has no medical explanation. This may be the second miracle needed to canonise Blessed John Henry.

Hats off to the pregnant mum – I think she shows a high degree of insight in praying to Blessed John Henry. Had I not heard of this miracle and were I pregnant and having a difficult pregnancy, Blessed John Henry is not a saint I would have thought to pray to. From looking at him each day as I pass his statue outside the London Oratory, I see a stern, manly figure and the last person I would ask for intercessory help with something like pregnancy. I’d be too embarrassed, a difficult pregnancy is to be vulgarly frank never a man’s problem. I pray to saints in the same way I talk to friends over the phone, and in my ‘conversations’ with Blessed John Henry I have asked him for help with writing my articles, but never for sensitive health problems.

I have underestimated him. For starters, he had several sisters growing up which made him no stranger to women on the domestic front. He also had delicate health and he had a fear of illnesses that could caused the medics to wring their hands in despair. I don’t think it is a coincidence that Jack Sullivan’s cure flabbergasted his doctor, Dr Banco. Jack Sullivan had a devastatingly painful spinal compression, and after praying to Cardinal John Henry, he was completely cured of his serious back condition. Dr Banco said, ‘it was a miraculous recovery’ and that which gave it away was that Jack Sullivan had absolutely no symptoms of ever having had a back compression and most astonishingly had no symptoms of ever having had back surgery.

During his life, when Blessed John Henry had health problems, it lent him a compassion towards those who suffer with serious illness that might push the person into the grave. There was that time in 1833 when as a young 20-something he was travelling in Sicily and contracted a severe fever. Having survived this physical crescendo, John Henry felt that God had spared his life because God had a unique role for him to perform in England.

The idea that God gives each of us a precise job to do that is ours alone to fulfill would inspire Blessed John Henry to compose his great meditation Some Definite Service, which has the hugely uplifting lines, ‘God has created me to do Him some definite service, He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another…He has not created me for naught.’

I take it as a pro-life poem. It will be interesting to find out if the mother with the life-threatening pregnancy was guided by this meditation.