Jesus with hands extended


This is the second post in a three-post series on Blessed John Henry Newman’s masterpiece, The Dream of Gerontius. This poem can help us on the Sunday that the Church honors Christ as Universal King showing us what type of king Jesus truly is: just and merciful, unlike many kings. His is an everlasting Love.

As the Universal King, the Church teaches us that Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, will come again in glory to judge all peoples and nations. But before then, at the moment of death, Jesus will judge each soul, and reward or punish accordingly. Newman likens this first judgment  to an anticipation or rehearsal of the universal judgment.

The poem begins with the moment in which Gerontius is dying and then quickly passes on to a conversation of his soul with its guardian angel. This conversation is anticipating the moment of judgment of the soul – which forms the high point of these verses.

Even though Christ is an all-just and all-merciful judge, nevertheless, before this judgment a soul would naturally have fear; however, Gerontius feels a peace which he cannot explain. His guardian angel will tell him the reason why:

 “It is because

Then thou didst fear, that now thou dost not fear,

Thou hast forestall’d the agony, and so

For thee the bitterness of death is past.

Also, because already in thy soul

The judgment is begun.”

At the moment of death, as portrayed in The Dream,  demons can tempt souls to despair and fear. Gerontius gladly accepts the resulting purification by fire:

“His will be done!

I am not worthy e’er to see again

The face of day; far less His countenance,

Who is the very sun.”

Newman presents the judgment of those who die in a state of grace as a blessed encounter with Christ the King. The guardian angel explains to Gerontius:

“One moment; but thou knowest not, my child,

What thou dost ask: that sight of the Most Fair

Will gladden thee, but it will pierce thee too…

“Learn that the flame of the Everlasting Love

Doth burn ere it transform …”

At this point for the soul, there is a crescendo of emotion in the poem as five choirs of angels praise Christ the King with the following refrain, later put into music beautifully by Elgar, and is also included almost universally in all Catholic hymnals as a free- standing hymn:

“Praise to the Holiest in the height,

             And in the depth be praise:

         In all His words most wonderful;

             Most sure in all His ways!”

As in the liturgy of the Mass, the angels in the poem extol the just King:

“Glory to Him, who evermore

             By truth and justice reigns;

         Who tears the soul from out its case,

             And burns away its stains!”

Newman offers us reasons to consider Christ as a most loving king and judge:

“When then—if such thy lot—thou seest thy Judge,

The sight of Him will kindle in thy heart

All tender, gracious, reverential thoughts.

Thou wilt be sick with love, and yearn for Him,

And feel as though thou couldst but pity Him,

That one so sweet should e’er have placed Himself

At disadvantage such, as to be used

So vilely by a being so vile as thee.”           

Just as both St. Paul and Dante felt inadequate to describe  paradise fully, Newman as well takes us to the throne of heaven, but goes no further. He only imagines the soul of Gerontius after its appearance before Christ the Loving Judge:

“And scorch’d, and shrivell’d it; and now it lies

Passive and still before the awful Throne.

O happy, suffering soul! for it is safe,

Consumed, yet quicken’d, by the glance of God.”

Thus Newman’s verses and the Solemnity of Christ the King both invite us to praise God with all the angels and saints. We are moved  to love and obey Him in all things, and to consider Him as the most loving and just King who will one day judge each one of us. But is this the image we have of Jesus as our King and Judge, and our loving Savior?

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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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