The smallest of deeds, allied with the good and offered to God in humble prayer, can, in time, be fully revealed as in fact evidence of heroic virtue. Who would have known that St. John Henry Newman’s humble deference to God’s will—to become Catholic, to found an Oratory in Birmingham, to disciple Oratorians for years and years—would give rise to an orphanage; and to a later Oratorian, Fr. Francis Xavier, who would adopt, disciple, and raise the great Catholic literary artist of the 20th century, J.R.R. Tolkien? Without Newman’s faithful obedience, there would perhaps be no Lord of the Rings.

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous The Lord of the Rings, the heroic ring-bearers Frodo and Sam are resting on the treacherous rock-stairs of Cirith Ungol, following their beastly guide Gollum into the evil realms of Mordor. Frodo has just witnessed the evil armies of Minas Morgul pouring forth to decimate the kingdoms of men and elves, and he loses nearly all hope. He fears he is too late in his mission to undo Sauron’s evil, and thinks that even if he succeeds, no one would ever know, and the good would already be defeated. On the stairs, Frodo and Sam reflect on what kind of story they are in, wondering if their story will turn out happy or tragic. They are given a new kind of boldness by realizing that in the greatest stories, the heroes never know how things would turn out, and “we wouldn’t want them to.” Otherwise it would not be a great story. These greatest of heroes in the best legends become heroes precisely because they make a single decision, or a series of small definite decisions, to persevere in the good. What at the time may seem small, inconsequential, and even ineffective, becomes, in the broader story, part of the portrait of great deeds and heroic adherence to the good. Sam and Frodo thus continue, one step at a time, to choose courage even while marching into blackness and death. 

St. John Henry Newman’s sermon “Contest Between Good and Evil in the Church” is a timely reminder of this truth as we face evil, lies, and immorality in our own Church. Newman reminds us that, ever since its beginning, truth and lies, good and evil, exist alongside one another within the Church. And, he argues, this is a fact relevant to every member of the Church, in that each is called to resist the evil in his or her own measure. No one is above, aloof from, or exempt from, the contest between good and evil, but each must choose a side and actively maintain it. 

The Church has faced evil within, not just without, since the Apostolic Age. From Judas’ treachery to St. Peter’s failings and St. Thomas’ unbelief, there has always been “United in one and the same body… faith and unbelief, humbleness and pride, love and selfishness.” It is perhaps a temptation to forget that we are still here in the Church Militant, not yet the Church Triumphant. We still have time to err, and those who err still have time to repent. The Church has “unholy members,” whose unholiness must not be left unaddressed. Newman sees this mixed state of the Church’s holiness in Matthew 13:47-48, which serves as this sermon’s epigraph: “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.”

If evil and falsehood are mixed within the very body of the Church here on earth, then our duty as believers in that body is to resist, oppose, and root it out. But rather than opposing evil and seeking its defeat within the Church, Newman worries that some invent an “Invisible Church … peopled by Saints only,” scorning the “visible Church” as “nothing but a mere part of this world, an establishment, sect, or party.” One would thus be inadvertently inventing one’s own Church, refusing the possibility of a Church in which unfavorable persons were present. On the other hand, Newman worries about the opposite excess, a flattening of the “Divine ordinance” of the Church into a low standard of “faith and holiness,” thinking the “communion of saints” nothing but a name, effectively “destroying all notions” of faith and morals by assuming “all Christians to be about alike.” This extreme would have the effect of glossing over all unholiness, and no longer calling sinners to the high standards our Lord holds for us. 

Newman’s point in this sermon is not to weigh in on any definite issue, although he thinks that all of us in this life are, on a regular basis, faced with issues that have two sides between which one must choose. However, his point is that the above two excesses both diminish the responsibility of the individual believer to actually be an agent in the contest between truth and falsehood. We all must make decisions to follow the good and oppose the evil. Sadly our secular world, and perhaps sheer cowardice, seem to have trained us to approach evil and unholiness in ways that are entirely out of keeping with the Gospel: to try to appease what is unholy by tolerating it in small amounts, or to ignore what is unholy hoping that it will dissolve of its own accord, or to explicitly make our peace with what is unholy and commend it in order to curry favor or lobby for power. 

None of this is in accord with Our Lord’s teachings. In fact, Newman clarifies that if we do anything merely because it is our own choice, developed on our own standards of what we think is within our rights, or what might be most effective, alluring, or consequential, and not because our conscience cues us into God’s will, we are in fact “following the devil’s pattern.”

Newman’s thoughts here are reminiscent of St. Therese of Lisieux’s “Little Way”: all of us are called to the heroism of every-day holiness, of taking every thought captive for Christ, of making every act of self-denial and sacrifice a total oblation of love and service to God.

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What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

The true light of Christ’s divinity was made visible to the Apostles at the Transfiguration.

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What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

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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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