Face of Cardinal Newman

Many Catholics today know very little about their faith. Their faith is reduced, in the best of cases, to attendance at Mass on Sunday. But they have little understanding of religion, and their beliefs do not have a significant effect on the way they live. This problem is not only one of modernity. In the 19th century as well, Christians were poorly formed.  Blessed John Henry Newman dedicated his life to the intellectual and religious education of youths and adults. The great majority of these were lay men and women.

In a series of lectures given in 1851 titled “Present Positions of Catholics in England,” Newman wrote: 

 “What I desiderate in Catholics is the gift of bringing out what their religion is I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it. I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity I wish you to enlarge your knowledge, to cultivate your reason, to get an insight into the relation of truth to truth, to learn to view things as they are, to understand how faith and reason stand to each other, what are the bases and principles of Catholicism and where lies the main inconsistencies and absurdities of the Protestant theory. You ought to be able to bring out what you feel and what you mean, as well as to feel and mean it; to expose to the comprehension of others the fictions and fallacies of your opponents; to explain the charges brought against the Church, to the satisfaction, not, indeed, of bigots, but of men of sense, of whatever cast of opinion.” 

In the 19th century, these were novel concepts. This type of education was deemed necessary for priests only, or for members of religious orders, not the laity. Newman, however,  believed that this education was necessary for all the baptized. And he advocated, we could say, the cultivation of an intellectual faith, the faith that goes hand in hand with reason, or, as St. Anselm had said centuries earlier, faith seeking understanding.

 Today, as in Newman’s time, most parents do not have a good grounding on their own Catholic faith and are thus not able to form their children properly, and they often rely on Catholic schools to teach their children, unaware that many Catholic schools have lost their Catholic identity. How can this be countered? Newman calls the laity to acquire knowledge in different areas:

Knowledge of the creed – what the Church believes and teaches. As quoted earlier, Newman expressed the desire for laity “… who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it.”  They should know the “bases and principles” of Catholicism. This is precisely what the Apostle Peter teaches us: “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet 3:15).

Knowledge of the Catholic faith includes knowledge of its dogmas and tradition. This knowledge cannot remain at a superficial level. It begins with knowledge of the Catechism, but it should go beyond this. It includes knowledge on Revelation and the Bible, on the sacraments and apologetics. Laity should also study the basics of natural theology which provides the arguments for the existence of God.

 Knowledge of Church history is also very important to better understand and defend the Church. Newman also advocated for a laity  “who know so much of history that they can defend it.” It is helpful to know about the rise of Christianity, the major doctrinal controversies, the history of missions, the Crusades, the Protestant Reformation, and the Church in modern times. Newman went as far as to say that “to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.”

 All this may seem a daunting task, but is not only possible, it is necessary. There are many good books and resources available through different colleges and institutes as well as online lectures.

Each of us must consider what he or she is doing to study the faith. And with the help of others, each must have a plan to study the creed, dogmas, and history of the Church. Christians must realize that to remain stationary is to fall back. The Christian is called by God Himself to grow in His knowledge and love.

Similar to Blessed Newman, only years later, St. Josemaría Escrivá insisted that, in the Church, the laity are not second-class citizens. Lay persons have full rights and obligations in the Church. They are called to the same holiness and apostolate as priests and members of religious institutions. Yet this calling requires a commensurate formation.

In his letters and his activity, Newman stressed that the Catholic laity should have knowledge of education, religious art, architecture, and music, as well as other aspects of the faith. He encouraged men and women to place that knowledge at the service of the Church and society. A living faith is thus manifest in the life of groups and society. And that is what our faith in Christ must be: a living faith that transforms people and culture.

In another reflection we will consider Newman’s ideas  on the importance for the faithful to be witnesses of Christian teaching and tradition. To be those witnesses, however, all the faithful, composed in its great majority by the laity, must decide to move forward. No matter how much or how little a person knows, there are steps to take to improve formation. Do you try to read books on doctrine and spirituality? Do you listen to Catholic radio? Do you participate in opportunities offered by your parish?  




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The world which sees only appearances cannot comprehend the hidden reality of a heart captive to Christ. 

With this indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we have the indwelling of Christ in our souls. Christ is born in us. The Holy Spirit makes us children of God, crying out Abba Father, and restores in us the likeness of Christ.

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About Cardinal John Henry Newman

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A Guide to John Henry Newman will interest educated readers and professors alike, and serve as a text for college seminars for the purpose of studying Newman.

Review by Catherine Maybanks
(Catholic Herald, April 1, 2023)

Review by Serenheed James
(Antiphon, April 2023)

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Fr Peter Conley takes us on an exciting journey into the spirituality and inner life of Saint John Henry Newman.

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Endorsement by Neyra Blanco (Amazon)
I bought this book for my son and he loved it, he wrote this review and urged my to submitted: “I think this book has a very beautiful message, because it shows how the young Newman was so determined to achieve his dream of becoming a priest, but even after his dream he continued to work in the church with passion until the day he died, it’s so admirable that even Newman so old and so weak still had that urge to continued his work of being a priest. And the book is well written with words not too complicated with very enjoyable texts and well illustrated pictures. I highly recommend this book for a 5th grader.  

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What is a Classical Liberal Arts Education? Why is it so important for the development of a person?

Fr. Juan R. Vélez answers these and more questions you might have about University Education in the 21st century. This book is aimed for parents, prospective University students, and educators. It will help you discern why adding Liberal Arts electives to your education will help it form it better, and help the student learn to reason, and not just learn.

He also explains how many Universities have changed the true meaning of Liberal Arts, and the subjects, and gives advise on how to choose College Campus, Subjects, and Teachers.

A wonderful book that every parent should also read way before your children are College bound. A Liberal Arts education can start earlier in life, even from home.

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Endorsement by Christopher Moellering (Goodreads, September 14, 2019)
In Passion for Truth Fr. Vélez gave us an outstanding biography of Cardinal Newman. In this work, he provides a concise overview of his thought and his devotion. This is a great work for someone who, perhaps hearing of Newman for the first time because of his beatification 13 October, 2019, wants to know more about this English saint.Vélez is a wonderful writer in his own right, and the frequent quotations from Newman round out the work nicely. I especially appreciated the frequent citing of Newman’s Meditations and Devotions, which show a different side of his spirituality than his more well-known works, Development of Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Assent.

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Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman, endorsement by Illow M. Roque (Amazon, September 3, 2010)
“There is a time to put direct inquiry on hold and give ourselves to prayer and practical duties.” Sound advice from one of the earlier, thought-provoking reminders in this sparkling gem of a book: Take Five | Meditations with John Henry Newman, written by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Juan R. Vélez and published by Our Sunday Visitor. This particular paragraph, referenced above, which begins with a direct quote from soon-to-be canonized priest, cardinal and poet, John Henry Newman: “Study is good, but it gets us only so far . . .” is actually the 15th in a series of 76 concise, logically organized meditations moving from the elementary to the sublime. Each meditation–one per page–is built upon the great man’s writings and remarkably rich spirituality. Whether taken whole in one reading or in part page-by-page over a course of weeks and months, these wonderfully insightful meditations will open up, even to the busiest reader in the midst of the world, a unique pathway into prayer and contemplation. My advice to spiritual inquirers at all levels, from the novice to the spiritually adept, is to follow the authors’ recommendation to use this book as a guide for daily prayer and meditation. The structure of the book itself is ideal: first, the authors introduce us to Cardinal Newman, the man, where we are given the opportunity to get to know him through a brief sketch of his life and spirituality at the beginning of the book. This is something readers will likely find themselves referring to again and again, prompting many, I suspect, to even wider explorations of this most gifted Christian leader. Then comes the meditations, consisting of a short summary of Newman’s thoughts on subjects taken, as the authors explain, from various salient points for which Newman is justly remembered: The pursuit of objective religious truth; Teaching on the Virtues; Defense of the Catholic Church; A devout spiritual and moral life; and Generosity and loyalty in his friendships, which sets the topic and tone for each meditation to follow. Each meditation consists of an excerpt taken from Newman’s thirty-plus volumes of writings and diaries. Next comes three brief and extremely useful sections entitled: “Think About It,” which establishes a prayerfully resonant tone throughout the book; “Just Imagine,” which provides a vivid, prayerful experience of the Scriptures that tie in, and finally, “Remember,” a pithy summation which the authors suggest may be used as a daily aspiration. Each meditation is given its own page, which makes it ideal for daily reflection for readers on the go. This book is a must have for every serious Catholic who wants to take their faith to the next level, which is to respond appropriately to the universal call to holiness and seek interior union with God.
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