SS Peter and Paul, Naperville, 2015

Christians often think of public prayer held in the Church as a duty. This is the frame of mind many frequently have in the Church. They consider Sunday Mass a tiresome obligation. In a sermon titled Daily Service St.John Henry Newman told his congregation that daily prayer in common is a privilege. At the end of the sermon he admits that because of man’s fallen condition the Gospel privilege comes at first with an obligation. 

Newman gave this sermon in 1834 when he was introducing into his parish the practice of a daily service established by the Common Book of Prayer, the Anglican order of prayer from the time of the Protestant Reformation. The service, which corresponds to the Catholic office of readings or matins consisted of readings of the psalms alternating with readings from the Scriptures, called lessons, and some short periods of quiet prayer. A few years later, in 1837, he instituted a weekly communion service at his parish.

 He begins the sermon citing Scripture passages from St. Paul and St. Peter that call Christians to continuous prayer.

Newman writes: “some of us in our secret hearts have at times been tempted to imagine; that is, we have been disposed to think that public worship at intervals of a week has in it something of natural fitness and reasonableness which continual weekday worship has not.” The Letter to the Hebrews, however, urges Christians “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the Day approaching.”

 It could well be said of our age, as Newman spoke of his: “the present age loves conversing and hearing about religion, and does not like silent thought, patient waiting, recurring prayers, severe exercises, that therefore we must obey it, and, dismissing rites and sacraments, convert the Gospel into a rational faith, so called, and a religion of the heart.”

In reply to this way of thinking Newman showed his listeners that the Scriptures teach us to pray continuously and that the Lord’s Prayer is a “social prayer” that sanctions a “daily united prayer.” Then he goes to his central point: family prayer is not only a fulfillment of Christian duty, it is a privilege that corresponds to Jesus’ words: “where two or three are gathered in my name I am there in their midst.”

In addition to celebrating the Holy Eucharist on the Lord’s day, Christians met on Wednesdays and Fridays for prolonged prayer and fasting, and in some places on Saturdays. Festivals of martyrs were observed, and often vigils were added the night preceding these and the Lord’s Day. With these and other examples, Newman indicated how highly the early Church valued the privilege of united prayer. “So far (it) must be clear to every candid person who considers the state of the case, that they found some sort of pleasure in prayer which we do not; that they took delight in an exercise, which—(I am afraid I must say, though it seems profane even to say it)—which we should consider painfully long and tedious.”

Newman noticed the laxity of Christians in his time. He realized the need for private and common prayer. (This was a basic tenet of the spiritual renewal sought by the Oxford Movement.) He told his congregation: “I have now said enough to let you into the reasons why I lately began Daily Service in this Church. I felt that we were very unlike the early Christians, if we went on without it; and that it was my business to give you an opportunity of observing it, else I was keeping a privilege from you.”

In the sermon, he replied to another objection: that few people would attend the daily service. He explained that the minister should draw men to God as Christ did. Those who gather represent the Church at prayer, and men and women who are not present at the church, can join themselves to this common prayer. Those engaged at work and other daily occupations, or those who are ill and cannot attend, can think at times of the readings and prayers, thus finding consolation in this.

 For the multitudes of men, however, daily common prayer will seem excessive, unnatural, or a sort of “bondage.” St. John Henry Newman’s hope is that “ … these men, through His great mercy and the power of the Holy Ghost working in them, will at length find persevering prayer, praise, and intercession, neither a bondage nor a barrenness. But it is in the nature of things that Christ’s word must be a law while it is good tidings.”

There is an echo of Newman’s exhortation in the invitation in the documents of Vatican II for the renewal of the practice of the prayer of the liturgy of the hours, especially vespers, in parish churches. These and other meetings for common prayer are indeed a Christian duty, but foremost a privilege. They are also the Christian’s first response to the needs of a secularized world that without God gropes along in the dark.

 

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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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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.

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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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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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