In his sermon “The Contest Between Truth and Falsehood in the Church,” St. John Henry Newman portrays the individual believer, no matter how insignificant in the eyes of the world, as instrumental in the fight against evil, evil both in the world and within the precincts of the Church. If it is true that the contest between good and evil occurs within the Church, not just between the Church and the world; and if it is true that the smallest of deeds hold weight in this battle; and if it is true that one cannot be neutral in the fight, then St. John Henry Newman is right to hold a very high standard for every member of the Body of Christ: “there is a right and a wrong … it is not a matter of indifference which side a man takes … a man will be judged hereafter for the side he takes.” No member may be neutral in the battle. It is perhaps the slyest tactic of the Enemy to attempt to persuade us of the possibility of moral neutrality. The real site of the contest may often be our own apathetic hearts.

In all matters, no matter how seemingly trivial, every day, or small, we will each face tests of our fidelity, or “trials of our obedience,” to the truth of “God’s unerring judgment.” Newman’s illustrations of this are too beautiful to not quote in full:

How is our devotion to Christ shown? Ordinarily, not in great matters, not in giving up house and lands for His sake, but in making little sacrifices which the world would ridicule, if it knew of them; in abridging ourselves of comforts for the sake of the poor, in sacrificing our private likings to religious objects, in going to Church at a personal inconvenience, in taking pleasure in the society of religious men, though not rich, or noble, or accomplished, or gifted, or entertaining; in matters, all of them of very little moment in themselves.

How is self-denial shown? Not in literally bearing Christ’s Cross, and living on locusts and wild honey, but in such light abstinences as come in our way, in some poor efforts at fasting and the like, in desiring to be poor rather than rich, solitary or lowly rather than well-connected, in living within our income, in avoiding display, in being suspicious of comforts and luxuries; all of which are too trifling for the person observing them to think about, yet have their use in proving and improving his heart.

How is Christian valour shown? Not in resisting unto blood, but in withstanding mistaken kindness, in enduring importunity, in not shrinking from surprising and hurting those we love, in undergoing little losses, inconveniences, censures, slights, rather than betray what we believe to be God’s Truth, be it ever so small a portion of it.

Newman also takes time to refute the idea that “religion has nothing to do with politics,” which would only be true if God did not “govern the world” or “rule in human affairs” and thus demand obedience of his servants. Religion has everything to do with everything in life; there is nothing about which God is simply indifferent, and therefore nothing about which we can be simply indifferent. In all things we must choose a side. We have an obligation to “raise the standard of faith and obedience” in ourselves and for others, and cannot merely tolerate those who take sides against the truth without warning them. It is true that some take part in this contest with a “mixture” of “right principles and defective temper, or of sincerity and partial ignorance,” and with varying levels of charity and peaceableness. But this does not diminish the fact of the contest itself, in which we all must take part. If life is a journey, then we must always choose a single path when we reach a fork in the road—to stop journeying simply to delay the choice, or to attempt to choose both ways, is to our own peril. 

Newman is not giving advice. He is reminding us of a “solemn” truth: “That there is nothing indifferent in our conduct, no part of it without its duties, no room for trifling, lest we trifle with eternity.” It is dangerous for us to choose our own way and not discern God’s way. Whatever social or political “rights” we might have merely “impose duties on us in God’s sight.” We are each either a “vessel of mercy or a vessel of wrath fitted to destruction;” we cannot be both or neither. Without judging our brothers’ and sisters’ spiritual states, it is still our duty to find out what is right, to oppose what is wrong, and to “witness against others when we think them wrong,” showing them our seriousness through personal and caring manners, lest we merely tolerate their sin and “so become partakers of it.”

It is perhaps the great failing of our modern age to reject the idea of “sin.” We would do well to heed Shakespeare’s character Edgar, who says in King Lear, “The Prince of Darkness is a gentleman.” It is genteel, respectable, bourgeois, civilized, in the eyes of our world, to deny the existence of sin, deny moral agency in the battle against evil, to reject our dutiful obligation to oppose falsehood. But we do so at our peril, and neglecting to do so in even the most trivial ways brings us in league with the devil. Instead of sinners in need of redemption, man has remade himself in his own image as one who is at worst a mouth to feed—a liability—or at best a sophisticated animal with desires to be gratified at any cost—a despot. Alexis de Tocqueville thought that the danger of democracy was that it would make every citizen “more than kings and less than men,” dehumanized by their own individualist egos. Newman’s reminder is that we are all, in our own measure, called to be champions in a fight of good and evil: the fight, the good, and the evil are all real. To deny their reality is to deny the real dictates of conscience, our moral responsibility and agency, which would be to deny our very humanity, as well as to deny our divine, religious calling. We must live in the truth as children of the light, boldly making headway against evil and falsehood through our prayers, works of mercy, and holy deeds, always vigilant with the help of saints and angels, through Our Lord Jesus Christ, to truly be the Church Militant at spiritual war with the powers of darkness.

Like this article?

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.

Leave a comment

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."

Our Books

About Cardinal John Henry Newman

Purchase Book

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)

Purchase Book

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

Purchase Book

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.  

Purchase Book

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.

Purchase Book

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.

Purchase Book

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.
Sermon Blog
David Warren

The Mystery of the Holy Trinity

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.”

Read More »
About Newman
Fr. Juan Velez

The Eucharistic Presence

We call His presence in this Holy Sacrament a spiritual presence, not as if ‘spiritual’ were but a name or mode of speech.

Read More »
About Newman
Prof. Barb H. Wyman

The Priestly Office

The sacrifice of the altar as a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary is a “bloodless rite,” but nevertheless, like that sacrifice, it too is a “fire of Love,” and a “Fount of Light.”

Read More »
About Newman
Fr. Juan Velez

The Indwelling Spirit

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.

Read More »