Abbey, Scottland

Are there times when you feel you are all alone, that your prayers are going unanswered? Does sorrow, or pain, or loneliness dominate your thoughts? Does God seem far away? This is desolation, a spiritual state.  Many saints experienced periods of desolation, and we can take comfort in this knowledge. Blessed John Henry Newman is no exception. 

While his ship was becalmed off Sardinia in 1833 during his Mediterranean voyage,  Blessed Newman wrote a powerful poem, “Desolation.” Contrary to the title, however, the poem could be named, “Dispelling Desolation.” In these verses, Newman tells us all the ways that we can be sure that God has not, and will not, abandon us. We know that on this voyage,  Newman had been very ill, and he was homesick. He was also worried about the Church of England. This poem, then, can help us when we, too, are feeling blue or desolate. 


“O, SAY not thou art left of God,

Because His tokens in the sky

Thou canst not read; this earth He trod

To teach thee He was ever nigh.

In the first stanza, Blessed Newman reminds us that we are not “left” of God, that is, God has not left us, even if we are unable to see Him in His “tokens” in the sky, His glorious creations of clouds and stars and sun and moon. And it’s because many did not see Him in these tokens  that God sent His son to walk the earth as one of us. Since Christ walked on earth, we know of God through stories of Him as shown in the second stanza:

He sees, beneath the fig tree green,

Nathaniel con his sacred lore;

Shouldst thou thy chamber seek, unseen

He enters through the unopen’d door.”

In this stanza, Newman recalls how Christ saw Nathaniel and called to him;  Christ knew Nathaniel’s heart. Since Nathaniel remembered the sacred teachings of the Old Testament, he, through faith, recognized Christ.  We, too, remembering God’s promises, can likewise recognize Him in faith. Though we may try to hide from Him, He will come in through the closed doors of our hearts if we let Him, even while we are asleep, as the next stanza illustrates:

And when thou liest, by slumber bound,

Outwearied in the Christian fight,

In glory, girt with Saints around,

He stands above thee through the night.”

This comforting stanza gives us a powerful image to remember, that Jesus is standing over us, with us, all night, even as we sleep, and, with Him, the angels are also encamped around us, as the Old Testament has promised. 

In the fourth stanza, Newman alludes to the time when he was very sick with fever on the voyage; and during this illness, he was sad, like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. 

When friends to Emmaus bend their course,

He joins, although He holds their eyes;

Or, shouldst thou feel some fever’s force,

He takes thy hand, He bids thee rise.

But just as the two disciples at first did not recognize Christ, still He made Himself known to them, and He will do likewise for us. Lastly, Newman leaves us with the uplifting thought that no earthly thing, like the sea, is an impediment to Christ, Who can walk on the sea and give wind to the sail, for it is He who made them all. 

Or on a voyage, when calms prevail,

And prison thee upon the sea,

He walks the wave, He wings the sail,

The shore is gain’d, and thou art free.”

And so on our own voyage through life, our ships, too, may stall and we will suffer loss and illness. But Christ is ever with us, in sickness, in sleep, through closed doors, even if we don’t recognize Him. He will stretch out His hand to us, He will walk on the sea to us, and His wind will blow us to Him. We will reach the shore and be free. 

If you are feeling desolate, if you do not recognize Him on the road, continue with prayers and the sacraments, for He will make Himself known to you again, in the breaking of the bread. 


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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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