After the Israelites passed through the Red Sea, God instructed them to take 12 stones as a memorial to their miraculous crossing. When future generations asked what was meant by these stones, they were to share the story of God’s saving power so no one would forget Israel’s reliance on God.

All throughout the Old Testament the Israelites are burdened by forgetting and are often forced to repeat the cycle of forgetfulness, sin, punishment, repentance, forgiveness. As Christians we experience greater graces than those under the Old Covenant, yet we have inherited the same forgetful and sinful nature. We fall into our own lazy patterns and come to believe after a particular recovery that we have it all figured out. This is precisely what St. John Henry Newman longed for his listeners (and now us) to understand in his sermon, ‘Contracted Views in Religion.’

Newman sees this lesson in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, not by looking at the younger brother’s depravity, but the older brother’s discontent. In the parable the older brother becomes angry because his younger brother, who has squandered his money and reputation, is received back into the family as if he had never left and even celebrated for returning. The older brother should receive some understanding from us, Newman says, because it seems unfair that the sinful brother should be treated the same as the righteous: “At first sight, the reception of the penitent sinner seems to interfere with the reward of the faithful servant of God.  Just as the promise of pardon is abused by bad men to encourage themselves in sinning on, that grace may abound; so, on the other hand, it is misapprehended by the good, so as to dispirit them…What a temptation is this to unbelief!”

God is aware of this temptation and he reminds his people repeatedly of the reward coming to the righteous, and the punishment awaiting sinners so they do not lose heart in following Him. Newman says God repeats himself “to give us that one fixed point for faith to rest upon, while all around us is changing and disappointing us? viz., that we are quite sure of peace in the end, bad as things may now look, if we do but follow the rule of conscience, avoid sin, and obey God.”

Though understandable, the older brother’s anger is unjust, rooted as it is in fear and distrust of the father. The father reassures him by saying all the father has is his and always has been. This answer “ … sanctions the great truth, which seemed in jeopardy, that it is not the same thing in the end to obey or disobey …” Newman says. It is simple math – the older brother loses nothing by the father’s mercy to the younger brother.

The older brother refuses to accept this calculation because it does not fit into his “contracted” (narrow) understanding of life. How similarly we can act as Christians, according to Newman: “And so in religion, we have need to watch against that narrowness of mind, to which we are tempted by the uniformity and tranquility of God’s providence towards us. We should be on our guard lest we suppose ourselves to have such a clear knowledge of God’s ways, as to rely implicitly on our own notions and feelings.” Possessing the revelation of Christ and almost 2,000 years of Church history and magisterial teaching, we are more knowledgeable than past generations, but perhaps more susceptible to prideful complacency.

Instead of becoming more humble with time, how easy it is to settle more deeply into our own opinions of God, the Church, and how we believe they should be! Christians who fall into this state “ … do not like to be contradicted in their opinions, and are generally most attached to the very points which are most especially of their own devising. They forget that all men are at best but learners in the school of Divine Truth.”  A common contracted view during Newman’s time was the marginal role of the laity in the life of the Church.  Newman challenged this notion, explaining the importance of the laity as witnesses of what Catholic tradition is and thus confirming what is Catholic.  His study of history demonstrated how vital were the laity of the early Church who held firm to the faith despite the defection of many clerical leaders to Arianism.

We should not confuse humility with doubt, as if we cannot be certain of that which God has revealed. At the same time, we should distinguish between faith in dogmatic truths and belief in lesser truths and opinions. Even with the essential truths of our religion, we hold them by faith; but having faith in the Trinity, for example, does not mean we possess this divine mystery as a fact to be memorized. Rather, it possesses us as a wonder to behold.

The memory stones of the Israelites were reminders to them that God was their salvation, lest they forget and believe they had rescued themselves and had no more need of Him. We, too, need this reminder daily. Invoking the intercession of St. John Henry Newman, we pray: Lord, save us from a self-satisfied attitude and give us humility before you, who are too big to fit into categories, too real for our two-dimensional reality, too beautiful and dangerous to contain, but too good to let go of us.

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Newman lays down a firm rule in the light of life's abundant blessings: the Christian is not allowed to be gloomy.

Newman wrote, “I have been accustomed to consider the action of the creator on and in the created universe, as parallel in a certain sense to that of the soul upon the body.”

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We need to remember our mortality, so that we may be ready to meet Our Lord each and every day. Lent and lenten mortifications have a role in this preparation. We must die to self daily, so that we may be brought to the glory of His resurrection. 

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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)

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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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